12th Sunday of Pentecost ~ August 12 Gerard Phillips
# 649 Breathe on Me Breath of God
Joke: Going over the church finances the pastor found a receipt from a local paint store signed by someone named Christian. He wasn’t aware of anyone purchasing paint, so he called the store to point out its mistake.
‘I’m sorry,’ he told the manager, ‘but there are no Christians here at St Mary’s Church.’
The first reading is taken from the second Book of Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31 – 33 and gives us the story about the king morning the life of Absalom exhibiting some sense of grief.
The second reading is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, in which he urges his converts to live in peace, harmony and love with one another.
The Gospel is from St. John 6: 35, 41-51. This week the real challenge of reflecting on John’s gospel in which the discussions focuses on a discussion between Jesus and the crowds about bread which comes from Heaven. To make matters more difficult, we have one more Sunday after this one which seems to be yet another round of the same conversation. A diet of bread, week after week, may get rather tiresome and stale—unless careful attention is paid to the movement of John 6. The main point of doctrine in this part of our Lord’s discourse, however as given by St. John, is the necessity for belief in Christ who has come down from heaven. It is only in the last verse of today’s text that Christ explicitly states that he is about to give his own very body as their spiritual food to those who believe in him. The description of himself as “bread from heaven” and the vital difference between the effect of this bread and the manna given to their fathers in the desert, are a definite preparation for the announcement of the doctrine of the Eucharist.
Verse 35 is included to make the necessary connection back to Jesus’ claim that he himself is the bread of life. The rest of today’s text acts as an explanation of that claim. In last Sundays’ text, the center of attention was upon Jesus as the gift from the Father for the life of the world. Building on that claim, this Sunday’s text focuses on Jesus as the center of faith to which the Father draws people. However, before they could even think of accepting this teaching on the Eucharist they had first to accept Christ as divine, as the Son of God. This was not easy for Jews, for whom strict monotheism was the center of their faith. To admit that Christ was God would at first sight seem like admitting two gods. Secondly, even though Christ had worked extraordinary miracles, to all appearances he was still a mere man—and the prophets of old had worked miracles. True, Christ was evidently claiming to be more than a prophet; he claimed that he alone had seen the Father, that he had come from the Father. This claim of equality with the Father would be sheer blasphemy if it were not true; could God give the power of miracles to such a great sinner?
There is theological irony at play here. The crowd’s professed knowledge of Jesus’ “father and mother” only reveals their complete ignorance of the Father who sent Jesus (verse 44). The truth is not found in knowing the human parents who have nurtured Jesus’ childhood. Rather, the truth is found in knowing that Jesus has come from the Father in Heaven. The crowd’s self-assured “knowledge” stands in their way of seeing the truth. We suffer from the same difficulty of seeing beyond what we “know” to be true (about the poor, about ourselves, about the line separating “the saved” from everyone else, etc) so that might see the divine Truth among us.
Perhaps some of them argued along these lines and accepted his claim later on. Others remained stiff-necked and stubborn and could see nothing in him but a native of Nazareth, a humble Galilean like themselves, but one who had developed strange ideas about who and what he was. These Galileans began a long line of unbelievers which has stretched down through the centuries to our own day. The reasons for the unbelief are the same today as they were in the year 29 A.D. Human being are proud of their intelligence; which they did not give to themselves. Whatever we cannot grasp within the limited confines of that intellect, we treat as non-existent as far as we is concerned. If a God exists, a doubtful possibility to these great thinkers, we mortals can know nothing about God; God is beyond our ken and we can be of no concern to him.
If there ever was a Jesus of Nazareth, he could be only a mere man who suffered from grave hallucinations! But his miracles? A simple answer: there never were any. His disciples invented these stories later. But these disciples were willing to die for these inventions of theirs! Thousands of Christians were martyred rather than deny the divine claims of Jesus! More hallucination, no doubt! Nineteen centuries of Christian history can be shrugged off as easily as that by those who will not believe. If certain statements do not fit in with preconceived ideas then these statements are false; if certain facts do not agree with history, as the unbelievers understand history, then these facts never happened. So humans limited, finite mind remains the sole judge and arbiter of all truth.
We believe in a loving God, and in his divine Son, Jesus Christ, who came on earth to bring us to heaven, and in the Holy Spirit who completes the work of sanctification in us. Surely, we owe this Blessed Trinity a debt of gratitude! We can never fully repay it. Because of our Christian faith which has come to us from Jesus, we know where we came from, we know whither we are going and we know how to reach that destination. Of all the knowledge a human being can acquire on this earth, the above facts are the most essential and important. Any other knowledge is of temporary value. The knowledge our Christian faith gives us concerns eternity and our journey toward it.
Today, we must thank God from the bottom of our hearts for giving us the Christian faith. This faith means that “God out of the abundance of his love, speaks to men and women as friends and lives among them so that he may invite and take them into fellowship with himself,” as Vatican II puts it. God did not put us on earth and leave us on our own with nowhere to go except to the grave. God sent his beloved Son on earth. God made us heirs to heaven and left to us, in his Church, all the instruction and aids we need to reach our inheritance. The unbelievers and free-thinkers may feel that they are free to do what they will here on earth, but we know that we have been given the freedom of the children of God for all eternity, if only we live according to the faith given us.
Those who belong to God and know themselves to be loved unconditionally by God find great confidence and freedom. There is nothing that God does not know. There is no place where God is not present. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. Nothing. Ever.”