We are praying with our being invited to declare our personal position in relationship to Jesus in TODAY’S readings. We are aware of all the recent controversies Jesus has been having with his Jewish listeners about his being the “bread of life” and being told to eat his flesh. Jesus creates controversies all through the four Gospels. His invitations reach deeply into our human fears, pride, and self-images.
We pray to receive Jesus’ invitations to follow him from one Eucharistic encounter to the next. We pray that our beliefs may move from our heads through our hearts and hands into the hands, hearts and minds of his sisters and brothers. Our belief in his being, “the Holy one of God”, is a commitment to our letting his life be more a part of our own. We pray to see if there is enough room for both of us in our own personal lives.
Joshua, in the final two chapters of this book, is having a great farewell celebration. In the previous chapter to the one from which our First Reading is taken, Joshua tells the people of Israel to follow the laws and customs of their covenantal relationship with the Lord. God has been fighting against their enemies and now the land is their own.
In our reading, we skip past a kind of “victory lap” in which Joshua relates specifically the history of the Lord’s care for Israel. In those verses he calls to mind the great people and events that constitute them as God’s own people. What we do hear is the consequence or response Joshua offers his listeners.
Based on all that the Lord has done for Israel, which way will they choose? They have been invited to look backwards through their national history to see God’s goodness to them. Joshua is asking them about their looking forward. Joshua, as Moses’ replacement declares that he and his folks choose the Lord. The people reply that they too know their history and they are sticking with the winner who has made them victorious themselves.
In the Gospel, we have reached finally the great conclusion of the discussion about Jesus’ being the “Bread of Life”, and his being the one ”sent”. Some of His disciples find these words offensive to their senses and so boggle their minds. They have to leave and return to their former ways of seeing, thinking and believing. They did see the miraculous distribution of bread and fish and ate their fill. Their senses told them something they could grasp. Jesus stretches their minds and asks them to be as open to something even more miraculous, but which goes beyond the information provided by the senses. They choose the path of the “flesh” while Jesus is inviting them to walk the walk of the Spirit. They stumble over what they can not see or imagine.
Many leave, but some stay including Peter. So Jesus puts the big question to them and him, “Do you also want to leave?” As with Joshua, Peter professes that they have seen enough to trust what they can not see with the eyes of their “flesh”.
This communal affirmation comes at the end of the first half of John’s Gospel’s “Book of Signs” in which John presents Jesus’ doing “signs” which actions are sense-based, but intended to lead to such an act of believing as we hear from Peter. In other sections of this “book of Signs”, there are miracles of water becoming wine; blind and lame being healed as well as bread being multiplied. There is evidence, but just enough to allow the act of believing to be made freely, that is that non-believing is also possible. Why do some believe and others just “be leaving”? Jesus tells us that the “spirit” draws some and the “flesh” attracts others.
Most of you are reading this on the Internet. After finishing, you can bring up an almost miraculous amount of data, facts, records, pictures, and collections. You may even grow impatient as you search when something does not come up immediately or you have to click a few more times. Hand-held phones, MP3s, Ipods and all kinds of other devices, allow you to take a great amount of this anywhere you go and you will have maps in your palms and lights to make sure you get there even in the dark. When you do arrive you can phone or email those whom you left behind to tell them you are safe, and to check if there is anything “new”.
I sometimes think faith of any kind and trust in anybody has been injured by our increased reliance on technology .We desire to the point of demanding to see the replay before the play. Signs lead only to wanting clarity and conviction.
It seems that faith in the “beyond” or “transcendent” or “God” was more a part of a time past when night was dark, trails and roads led “out there” and signs were both indicators and invitations to continue.
God continues to offer us invitations, “signs” which are invitations to trust, while they can also be taken as nothing more than non-“sense” and not to be followed. There are signs that can indicate there is no God, that religion is absurd and the Church an “opiate of the people”. Belief is a non-sense experience, in a sense. Faith is a human way of responding to what we sense, but our senses can take us only to the threshold where the signs say, “Go beyond!” Living with and through faith is not an easy way to go. We rely on the Spirit of God to draw us beyond what we can see, taste, touch and reason to. For us, it is the way we desire to go against our technological security-centered human inclinations.
As for me, I’m with Peter who has seen enough, but not enough as his stumblings will prove. As for me, I think after finishing this, I will turn off the computer, the lights, the phones, the radio, the TV, and try to believe that there is life without them all.
“Lord, the earth is filled with your gifts from heaven;” Ps. 104
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