21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
- · Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
- · Quote of the Day
- · Today’s Gospel Reading
- · Gospel Reflection
- · Reflection Prayer
Two years ago FAN (Franciscan Action Network) introduced the “F.R.A.N.C.I.S. Commitment to Civility in Discourse”. I encourage each of you to take this commitment. Send it to all your friends and ask them to take it. Also, along with yourself, ask your friends to send it to candidates for local, state, and federal offices, and consider sending it to the media as well.
The F.R.A.N.C.I.S Commitment to Civility in Discourse
Take a quiet moment in prayer and then recite the following out loud or to yourself. Each verb begins with a letter which, when taken together, spells out the name FRANCIS:
- FACILITATE a forum for difficult discourse and acknowledge that all dialogue can lead to new insight and mutual understanding.
- RESPECT the dignity of all people, especially the dignity of those who hold an opposing view.
- AUDIT one’s self and utilize terms or a vocabulary of faith to unite or reconcile rather than divide conflicting positions.
- NEUTRALIZE inflamed conversations by presuming that those with whom we differ are acting in good faith.
- COLLABORATE with others and recognize that all human engagement is an opportunity to promote peace.
- IDENTIFY common ground such as similar values or concerns and utilize this as a foundation to build upon.
- SUPPORT efforts to clean up the provocative language by calling policymakers to their sense of personal integrity.
“I am not moved by what I see. I am moved only by what I believe.” ~ Smith Wigglesworth, “Ever Increasing Faith”, Pentecostal Classics
Today’s reflection: Simon Peter confesses his faith by saying Jesus alone has the “Words” of the eternal life. What do you TRULY say about your faith? Is it hot, cold, or lukewarm?
(NAB John 6:60-69) 60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” 61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? 62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” 66 As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. 67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
For our Gospel today we hear the conclusion of John’s sixth chapter, known as the “Bread of Life” discourse. In the preceding verses proclaimed in the Mass over the past few weeks, we have heard Jesus explain that He is “the Bread of Life”, given so that those who believe may come to share His eternal life (cf., John 6:47-48). Today’s reading follows the miracle in which Jesus feeds more than five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish (cf., John 6:11-13). This particular reading is about how “hard” it is to be a disciple of Christ. My question: What is SO hard about following Christ? Well, possibly because the “hard” in today’s reading is the audience “hearing” Jesus talking about what they perceive as cannibalism, the most serious heresy for any Jewish person. Many in the “crowd” consider His “Words” as blasphemy. Thus, John’s Gospel describes the crowd as “murmuring”, unable to accept Jesus’ “Words” as literally true. Influenced by the crowd’s response, Jesus turns to His disciples, asking a question:
“Does this shock you?” (John 6:61)
Jesus’ “Words” certainly shocked a good portion of His followers. This leads to the challenge for the usually outspoken Simon Peter to declare his faith and understanding of “who” Jesus truly is: the Holy Son of God!
Why do many of us (including some Catholics) find it easy to accept the claims which Jesus made in today’s Gospel, and others find it so “hard” to accept? Some accept Jesus when it was (is) easy to see Him doing great works, but not when it was (is) difficult to accept His “Word” that HE is the true Son of God sent down from God the Father as Moses had prophesized. Many are attracted to Jesus solely because He offers something irresistible: a visible sign of God the Father’s mercy and love which Jesus demonstrated (and still demonstrates today) through His supernatural works of healing and freeing us from evil through the mystery of the Eucharistic grace.
After witnessing everything transpired during Jesus’ public ministry, I cannot believe that some of Jesus’ disciples – – His devoted followers – – were still not convinced about His divinity and true nature. Decades later, there STILL were some in his own faith community finding it difficult to accept Jesus. This is the reason John zeroed-in on this portion of his Gospel. The issue here is the importance of faith as a divine gift which enables us to see and believe Jesus as what He says He truly is!
Just as the larger crowd (the 5000) struggled with Jesus’ teaching, many “disciples” present in today’s story somehow also cannot accept Jesus’ “Words”. Jesus knows about their murmuring and responds by acknowledging their unbelief. At the same time, Jesus reveals that only those drawn by God the Father will choose to believe in and follow Jesus to the end. John’s Gospel reports here that many of those who had been Jesus’ disciples “murmured” and ceased to follow Him at this point in His public ministry. The number of people following Jesus then dwindled from a crowd of more than 5,000 to possibly only 12 men and a few women and children. It is to these Twelve men (Apostles) to whom Jesus now turns His attention; asking:
“Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67).
Jesus saying this provided John the opportunity, through Simon Peter, the central, essential statement of faith, the core essence of our Catholic faith. In essence, Jesus was asking if their faith was full and true, or if their faith had conditions attached to it. Like most politicians today, some of whom are members of the Christian religion, and even the Catholic faith, they (and we) are siding with the majority are favorite stance instead of the morally correct position on serious issues, especially “life” issues: i.e., abortion, euthanasia, health and medical care, immigration, and so on. So, you can see I believe Jesus’ question is being asked of ALL Catholics and other Christians – – universally. (That means you, dear readers – – and me as well!)
The question, “Do you also want to leave?”, is meant to inspire our declaration of faith in Jesus then, as the Holy “One” now, as His supernatural real presence in the Holy Eucharist.
To me, this text makes me think that Jesus could be giving us an insight to His supernatural AND natural true union in the Holy Eucharist today. My question: Is Jesus not only giving us His dual-nature union of body and blood (plus His soul and divinity) in the Holy Eucharist, but also the path we are to take on our journey to His kingdom? I am drawn to what was written by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. So, too, it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being,’ the last Adam[Jesus Christ] a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one” (1 Corinthians 15:44–49).
The last Adam, Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:21–22) has become a life-giving spirit, a life-principle transcendent, spiritually different from the natural soul of the first Adam. Furthermore, the “last Adam”, “Jesus the Christ”, is not just alive, but, life-giving – – a truly divine source of a real, everlasting life for others indeed.
So, in today’s reading, Jesus states:
“The words I have spoken to you are spirit AND life” (John 6:63).
By saying, “spirit and life”, Jesus is declaring that HIS “bread of life” – – the “RISEN HIMSELF” – – IS the revelation of the Holy Spirit. WOW indeed!!!
Many stumbled on their spiritual path when Jesus made claims which only God can make. Jesus claimed to be “the bread of heaven” – – the very life of God – – given to us freely as the spiritual food to sustain us on our journey to the promised land of heaven. Jesus’ discourse on “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” (cf., John 6:51-59) not only caused many of His followers to feel offended, but also pointed to – – pre-figured – – the “Last Supper”.
Jesus did not leave any middle ground for those listening to Him. They could either accept, that is believe His “Word” as divine and fully true, or they could reject it as the claim of an imposter. It seems there is no “in-between”; forcing one to be either “hot” in faith, or “cold”. A “lukewarm” faith is as unacceptable and as deadly as a “cold” faith:
“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelations 3:15-16).
Even the “Twelve” of His closest disciples (the Apostles) admitted His “Words” on “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” was a “hard saying” to understand (but not to believe). Jesus promises His disciples (then and still now) nothing less than the full and complete blessing of eternal life along with a fully complete union with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus assures His disciples (then and now) that it is His (and our) heavenly Father who invites and gives the grace to follow Him – – even when it comes to the “hard sayings”.
Jesus knew some would not only reject Him and His “Word”, but would also be offended. Through this offended “spirit”, these people would eventually betray Jesus to His enemies. After all, Jesus always knew that there would be those who would not believe Him, plotting to destroy Him as agents of evil:
“‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray Him” (John 6:64).
Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus would again reiterate His prior knowledge of betrayal by others:
“For he [Jesus] knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, ‘Not all of you are clean’” (John 13:11).
I cannot even fathom how someone who witnessed Jesus’ public ministry, and believed in Him at one time, could now NOT believe any longer. Everything Jesus had promised had been fulfilled (so far), yet some still could not believe. They saw, yet they were still blinded. Humans can be a stupid bunch at times!!
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:44).
Even with this stern yet loving warning, many of Jesus’ disciples had lost heart and returned to their former ways of life:
“As a result of this, many [of] His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (John 6:66).
Was this abandonment because they could not comprehend what Jesus was truly saying when He talked about eating the true body and blood of Christ? Or, did they leave due to an underling fear of their families and other Jews shunning them for following a man going against Jewish food laws?
Thankfully, those who stayed (and us), know a few things, however. We know that the Holy Eucharist is a gift – – a grace – – from Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. We know the Holy Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ – – transubstantiated. And, from today’s reading, we know Jesus did not chase after anyone who left Him; giving further proof the Holy Eucharist IS the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, to be shared with all who believe!!
“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Simon Peter’s response reminds me of the reports of Peter’s confession of faith in the Synoptic Gospels (cf., Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20). Peter announces, on behalf of all the Twelve, that they have come to believe all Jesus has taught about Himself:
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:68-69).
“Simon Peter said, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” (Matthew 16:16);
“[A man with an unclean spirit] cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’” (Mark 1:24);
“Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34);
“She [Martha] said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’” (John 11:27).
Sometimes, you definitely CAN believe what you read!!
Today’s conclusion of John’s “Bread of Life” discourse focuses on a intimately personal faith in a life of Christian discipleship. Each person must make his or her own judgment about who Jesus is in their own life. In doing so, we determine the way of our life, our personal path, which we will follow to eternity. God’s grace invites each of us – – personally – – to be a disciple of Jesus. However, each of us must also respond to the grace of God by confessing a full and true belief in Jesus Christ being truly the “One” sent from God the Father for our redemption and salvation. This absolute, non-conditional, faith then commits us to the righteous path of life, leading us to eternal life in a heavenly paradise.
Real faith is not blind or uninformed; faith seeks understanding and is ACTIVE – – always at work in our lives. This is why God the Father imparts to us the help and comfort of the Holy Paraclete – – the Holy Spirit – – to enlighten the eyes of our mind and soul to understand His truth and wisdom:
“The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of Him. May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call, what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones” (Ephesians 1:17-18).
Jesus offers His life-giving “Word” and “spirit” to those who truly and fully believe in Him, obeying His “Word” without ANY conditions. Simon Peter’s profession of faith and loyalty was based on a personal relationship with Jesus! His belief was not simply based on what he knew about Jesus, but in knowing that when Jesus spoke, God spoke(!); when Jesus acted, God acted! (PERIOD!!!) . . .
Through the personal grace (gift) of faith, Simon Peter came to understand Jesus as the true Messiah Savior, the Holy “One” of God the Father. Simon Peter believed in the “Words” Jesus spoke, because he accepted Jesus as the Son of God and therefore Savior of the world. “Faith” is a personal response to God’s revelation of Himself to each of us. “Faith” is the key to understanding and experiencing God’s action and work in our own personal lives. Ask the Lord to increase your faith so you may grow in your relationship with Him and in the knowledge of His unlimited love for you.
At baptism, we (or our parents) promised to believe (or teach) all articles of the faith. In the example of Simon Peter, we learn each person must also make his or her own profession of faith in Jesus as the one sent by God the Father to save us. As we matured in the faith, we learned, accepted, and believed (and still believe) Jesus Christ IS the “Word” of eternal life. We also chose to follow the way of Christian discipleship at some point in our adult life, and hopefully still choose the same today.
Think about the promises made at your baptism (even if by someone else on your behalf). What is the importance of this promise made by you then and now? How are you trying to honor this commitment in your daily lives? Please pray that you continue to grow in your faith, always remembering Jesus is the true “One” sent by God the Father – – who alone – – has the “Words” of eternal life.
Promises are decisions; and we make numerous small decisions every day (and a few significantly important ones) which determine the course of our (and others) lives. Being a parent, I have recently been reminded (with brutal honesty) that young people can hardly wait to be free of their parent’s – – to make their own choices. We, as adults, learn (sometimes painfully) that certain decisions have consequences so serious that they should not be made lightly. Just as some disciples in today’s reading did then, some people still today find it easier to give their decision-making responsibilities over to another: i.e., someone in the household, a politician, a religious leader, and so on. In today’s first reading at Mass (from Joshua’s 24th chapter), Joshua doesn’t mince words:
“… decide today whom you will serve …” (Joshua 24:15).
Do NOT put off to another day, but decide now, today, about your faith. Remember, Joshua’s people, reminded of all God had done for them, decided to:
“… serve the Lord, for He is our God“ (Joshua 24:18b).
Today’s Gospel account opened with Jesus’ disciples murmuring:
“This saying is hard …” (John. 6:60).
“Hard”, without a doubt – – and Jesus knew it is “hard”. His “good news” – – the “Word” – – is not for lukewarm, fair-weather, or timid followers. Because of this “hard saying” in today’s reading, many of Jesus’ followers became disillusioned and left Him. The decision of the “Twelve” to stay with Jesus was NOT made because they had no other choice – – all of them had homes and families to whom they could have returned – – but was made because Jesus had “the words of eternal life“. They were convinced and knew without any conditions that Jesus was truly the “Holy ‘One’ sent from God the Father.”
Many of Jesus’ “Words” are not easy to hear; they actually are quite challenging to one’s faith-life. It is difficult to “love your enemies”, “lose your life for His sake”, and so on. Like Simon Peter, those who follow Jesus Christ today, do so out of love for this Holy “One” who has the “Words” of eternal life, even though some “Words” are very “hard” and challenging indeed: yet, they are all trustworthy and BELIEVEABLE!
“O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen”
(Collect Prayer for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time)