Click hereThe running man is eager and respectful. He is a true seeker. He calls Jesus 'Good Teacher' and he is right! But Jesus needs him to shift his focus elsewhere - to the goodness of God. Eternal life is God's gift to us. It flows from the heart of love. In this Sunday's Gospel, both seeker and disciple will receive a masterclass in how to understand God and the goodness of God.
The seeker has a problem or two! He is focused on being good in order to get the best. He lives in a world of action and reward. He has kept the commandments from his youth. He has a young person’s spirituality, all
eagerness, energy and EGO! Before Jesus takes him to the next level, He looks at him and loves him. All he has done has brought him to Jesus. He has completed step one and now step two beckons him. What Jesus is about to say is not a criticism but a leg up to the answer to his question. How does someone receive the life that flows from the goodness of God?
Suddenly Jesus starts talking about 'treasure in heaven' v.21. The thing we must prize more than anything else is our relationship with God. The path to this 'God centredness' is to let go of all that now possesses him and give it to the poor. The seeker understands but cannot believe what he is hearing! In shock and grief he turns away. Jesus sweeps a penetrating gaze towards his disciples and suggests that all who are weighed down by wealth will find it difficult to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples are first puzzled and then astonished by this. Then Jesus escalates the situation from 'difficult' to 'impossible'. Now His disciples are in shock. The Teacher waits, then makes His final thrust. He must lift them out of conventional consciousness to illumination. What is impossible for human beings is possible for God! This is the karate chop which will dismantle the obstruction and open their hearts to another Way.
The good God wants to give them eternal life and they must look to Heaven as Jesus does so often. Humans are addicted to looking everywhere else. No earthly treasure will be a ticket to eternal life. Owning and accumulating does not work in the world of the Spirit. If the heart longs for 'eternal life' it is wrongheaded in the
extreme if the heart thinks it can do this by accumulating good deeds.
Peter jumps in. "Okay, let’s not talk about this guy or other rich people. We haven’t walked away. What's in it for us?" Peter is still playing 'quid pro quo' with God. In return for his sacrifice he expects a reward. Peter is fearful of being cheated. He may have left everything but his mind has not. Jesus addresses his fear with comic exaggeration. All you have given will be returned with interest - the good God is not stingy. But the spiritual law still applies - If you want to be first, you will be last. But if you are last, thereby opening yourself to the goodness of God, you will be first. Every blessing has to be received as a free gift.
The drive to assuage insecurity can be ruthless. It can make us extremely self-absorbed and, worse still, it leads to terrible injustices. Even worse, we may tolerate injustice and cruelty as long as we benefit from them! Couple the moral defects which come with the drive to accumulate, with spiritual ignorance, and the whole project is doomed to failure. Accumulation is futile in the face of death. Temporal life is insecure by its very nature. No strategy within time will ever change that.
In Anthony de Mellos' 'The Song of the Bird', there is a great little Parable about holding onto life with an open hand.
In the 19th century an American tourist visited the famous Polish Rabbi Hafez Hayyim. He was astonished to see that the Rabbis' home was only a simple room filled with books. The only furniture, a table and a bench. 'Rabbi, where is your furniture?' asked the tourist. 'Where is yours?' Replied Hafez. 'Mine? But I'm only a visitor here'.
'So am I," said the Rabbi.
As someone who dances to the rhythms of time and eternity, we must live in time but have our eyes fixed on heaven. This will turn our lives around, we will instantly cure ourselves of anxiety and the desire to have power over others. We must not delude ourselves. Even while we have possessions, we must disown them. We cannot allow them to own us in such a way that they close our hearts to the suffering of others or to the astonishing generosity and goodness of God. to edit.
It is interesting that Jesus does not engage in questions about divorce. When is it possible? What are good reasons to do it? How should property be divided? For Jesus, divorce is a symptom of human immaturity. It is a 'breakdown' in relationship. Friends are lost, communion is lost. The One who came to restore creation wants it otherwise.
When people choose to separate, they tend to focus on the surface of things, to break connection and become detached. Spiritually mature people work to build community and have a huge impact on the world of breakdown and separation. As Martin Buber said, "The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap". (The Sphere of the In-Between)
For Jesus, marriage is the most beautiful symbol of this overlap. Two are not two, but One. The cause of this joining, and it's destiny, is the love of loves that is drawn from the wellspring of Gods heart. Divorce is the culmination of an inability to do this. Individuals break and then break away from each other. This is also a breaking away of the surface from the depths. This happens because their hearts have been broken or hardened. A person who is turned in on their self cannot melt, flow and merge. Jesus, the second Adam,(1 Cor 15) wants all life to be healed and permeated by the truth of communion, the truth of 'the Garden'. This presents a huge challenge for His disciples and for the community of disciples - the church. How do we become relational artists? How do we nurture the physical, social, moral, psychological and spiritual maturity of a person which makes them ready for this depth of living?
I recently came across this poem. It is not about marriage but about a lost relationship. I thought it was beautiful and I hope you do too. It is written by a father who gave his son up for adoption because he was unable to look after him. It is called,
THINGS NOT SAID
Things not said, advice not given, envelopes unstamped, regrets enveloping me.
Is it easier there? I wonder. I ponder. I guess yes. I guess - yes.
Do you think of me as I do of you my son, my son, my son.
The things you'll do, I'll never know the pain, the secrets.
Oh, to be given a chance, a start, the restart, the fresh start.
Will love come for you as it did for me? Find you, wreck you, save you, change you?
And if life breaks for you, the way that it would not break for me,
If love hunts you, finds you, captures you,
Will you hold it tight, nurture it, protect it.
I hope you will. I hope you can.
This fathers advice is not required. It has no call.
So instead I'll share some from another.
It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
And now an addendum to my earlier advice.
If I am so lucky as to still have your ear.
I love you.
I lost you.
And I advised you, 'Twas better than to never having loved at all.
But now with more years
With more time and more perspective
I see things in a slightly new way.
So here my good son is a fathers advice
Updated and recalled.
It is better to have loved and lost - surely!
try not to lose it at all
Salt is a symbol of the highest value. It is a treasure of incalculable worth, so excellent that, if its flavour is lost, nothing higher can restore it. In the Gospel, 'Salt' is the symbol for the works of Peace. Jesus final exhortation for those who desire to be great is, 'Have salt in yourself and be at peace with one another'. (v.50)
Jesus, the Teacher, has told His disciples that their desire to be 'great' will sabotage the work of the Kingdom. But they have not understood, or integrated, this teaching. In their defence, this is not an easy thing to do. Now they are reacting to an exorcist who does not belong to their inner circle. He is immediately seen as a threat. They guard their turf against anyone who might steal their sense of self-importance. They are so competitive, they do not even see the ones who have been liberated. The fact that a sister, or a brother, has been freed does not enter their minds. They have become, in their own minds, a tight knit power group. When good is being done, and they do not benefit, they want to stop it.
The fact that they 'tried' to stop it may indicate that they failed. Now they want Jesus to intervene. But Jesus, as usual, has a different vision of what is happening. His heart is set first on the coming of the Kingdom. Anyone who is helping that happen is a welcome guest. They are part of the family because they are doing the Fathers will. He urges His disciples to be more generous. All are for them, unless they prove otherwise. Until people exhibit hostility and hold values that go counter to the new humanity, they should be welcomed as allies. Disciples must not exclude anyone.
'Servants of the Kingdom' includes those who offer welcome, hospitality and who perform small acts of kindness. They should not be overlooked. Those who want to “Lord it” over others sabotage the Kingdom and might make those who do the little things question if what they do has any value. For Jesus, the little ones will not lose their reward. Their welcome, their hospitality, their kindness stand shoulder to shoulder with the great acts of teaching, preaching and exorcising.
The best way for disciples to avoid causing hurt or scandal is to eliminate the causes in themselves. The drive to be great, to save our self, to have power over others or to harm others in order to save ourselves are the ways of the world. They are second nature. They are like a hand, an eye or a foot. If disciples choose to serve, to losing their lives for the sake of the Kingdom, being least of all and servant of all and not harming others, there must be clarity about what is at stake and a commitment to whatever surgery is needed to remain faithful. When disciples amputate from their hearts whatever is preventing them from entering life, the fire of damnation becomes a purifying fire. The emphasis here is clearly on what is kept and not on what is lost.
The desire to be great is in us all. We weigh everything, and probably everyone, in terms of whether they promote or diminish us. The craving to be promoted and not diminished might drive and steer the course of our day to day lives! We see examples of this all around us. Hierarchies are everywhere and become the benchmark of how we are doing. So how can Jesus command us to make ourselves last of all? He can't. He has to add one last piece to the jigsaw if disciples are not to become resenting servants. Disciples must come to understand why Service is the only true greatness.
Sam Keen (To a Dancing God [New York: Harper & Row,1970]17), was asking the question, 'What can I do to give my life meaning, dignity, density?’ In response he wrote, "The answer came suddenly jumping up and down in my mind with the force of an obvious fact long denied. I woke one night in Manhattan with the words, 'Nothing, Nothing,' on my lips. As I started to laugh at the comedy of my seriousness, my vertigo began to subside. I saw that I had been obsessed with the wrong question. In the face of uncertainty of life and the certainty of death, no
human act or project could render existence meaningful or secure ... Either dignity and meaningfulness come with the territory or they must forever be absent. Sanctity is given with being. It is not earned".
This is so true! And Jesus with absolute clarity teaches this. He asks us to imagine the worst possible thing that could happen to us. Then adds that it doesn't come close to the horror of extinguishing the light of love in another person’s heart. The stakes are indeed very high. Very high indeed!
Jesus, the Beloved Son of God, does not seek fame and recognition. He does not want to be the centre of attention. As he travels with His disciples He wants to avoid notice. This is especially true when He is teaching His disciples about the fate of the new humanity. It is a difficult teaching. His disciples are puzzled by it. But it is blunt
enough: the Son of Man is guided by the hand of God, but He will be killed by human hands. They hear the words, but can the disciples understand what He is saying? Their minds and hearts are still bound to the 'Things of the Human' and not the 'Things of God'. They want to avoid suffering and pursue high status. As they are so deeply self-centred, they are naturally afraid of losing. They are so afraid, they won't even ask Jesus to expand on His theme. Instead .....
On the way, they were having an argument - the same old one that is around today. Who is the greatest? Jesus, the Teacher, sits down and gathers the Twelve, who will guide the new humanity (notice there were others there too, since a child is at hand as a prop). For Jesus, the Great are those who engage and work with the Fathers Love. These are not interested in their own status. Rather, the new humanity goes out to meet all and to lift their basic humanity to a new level. And so, those who would be first do not seek their own glory, but the health and wellbeing (salvation) of others. How it is with God, who is the first and the greatest, should be how it is with all who seek to be the first and the greatest.
We have to be careful here that our all too human mindset does not doctor the teaching of Jesus to make it fit our own purposes. We might tell ourselves that we have to endure a period of doing 'lowly stuff' in order to get to the higher stuff. If being a servant is the quickest route to being the greatest, then we will be servants! But all the while we will be thinking that we are in reality better than everyone else. It's hard for disciples to let Jesus break open the meaning of 'first' and 'greatest' and fill it with a new meaning. They sidestep Him and renegotiate the terms. Consider Luke's ironic suggestion, 'When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. That they cannot repay you means you are blessed, and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous'.(Lk 14:13-14)
Jesus places a child in the heart of them. The child is a tragic and eternal symbol of the powerlessness which many will seek to exploit. Jesus, in setting the child before them as their spiritual director, commands a mystical transformation to the mindset of his disciples. It goes something like this .....
When we begin with the least we subvert the normal ranks of society. Those at the top - the rich - are refusing invitations because they receive too many. Those at the bottom are excluded. At first glance, it seems they have nothing to offer. But, when we say that the path to the Fathers heart goes through the welcome we offer to those whom no one else will invite, we undercut the world and turn everything on its head.
Furthermore, the word least has another meaning. In this meaning it can be applied to the socially least and the socially most. Dag Hammarskjold once said, " People comment of Jesus' lack of moral principles. He sat at table with publicans and sinners and consorted with harlots. Did He do this to obtain their votes? Or did He think that,
perhaps, He could convert them by such appeasement? Or was His humanity rich and deep enough, to make contact, even in them, with what in human nature is common to all people, indestructible beauty, and upon which the future has to be built?" (Markings, p.157)
Here is the great breakthrough. The naked face of our shared humanity reveals the face of God to all. This is what is most beautiful and most valuable. It is the greatest and the first precisely because it is the least. When we make ourselves the servants of this last, welcoming what is common to all and excluding none of it, we find ourselves strangely in pole position.
The question, 'Who is Jesus?' will be asked sooner or later. His closest disciples talked about this when they were alone. But now it is Jesus who asks the question. The people place Him within the prophetic tradition. Some identify Him as having the Spirit of Elijah and of John the Baptist. This means He is the one who is ushering in the Messianic Age. But does Jesus fit this picture? Peter is the one who calls Him Messiah. Peter has the right word, but he doesn't have the right meaning.
The Messiah is the Son of Man. The Son of Man is one who lives in solidarity with God and Creation. This is certainly Jesus Himself, but it is also true of His disciples. They are the new humanity that His teaching will bring to birth. The new humanity, however, will not be welcomed by the religious and political elite. They will be rejected. They will suffer for it and be killed. But their efforts will not be in vain. The Father’s energy (three days) will resurrect it.
Peter is not happy with what Jesus is saying. He obviously has something different in mind when he uses the word Messiah. Although he is only a disciple, he rebukes Jesus, reversing their roles. But Jesus pulls him to a deeper understanding. One rebuke deserves another. Jesus reasserts His role and commands Peter to get back in line and follow Him. If he rejects Jesus teaching on the role and destiny of the Son of Man, Peter will join the ranks of those who wish to subvert God's plan.
David Rhoads contrasts the 'things of God' with the 'things of humans'. The Things of God are faith, courage, losing one’s life for the sake of the Gospel, being least, being servant and doing good. The Things of humans are lack of faith, fear, saving one’s life, being great, lording it over others and doing harm. (Reading Mark: Engaging the Gospel. p.88). It is time to be clear about what discipleship is all about. It is not about the chronic concern to save and enhance our lives at the expense of others. The larger, more valuable life flows from God's love and follows the impulses of that love. Instead of wanting to become great, we become small. Instead of wanting to have power over others, we grow in service. This way of thinking is deeply troubling to the rich and powerful who will not just look the other way. They will want to make us suffer but we must accept this as the price of loving in a loveless world. This is the way of heaven.
Will Jesus’ straight talking dislodge one of our favourite fantasies?
We are little people. Even if we have status it is never high enough. Even if we have money, we are never wealthy enough. Even if we command respect, there will always be someone who demeans us. We long to be important and we eagerly promote ourselves as much as we protect ourselves. We sense the utter fragility of our lives. A fall from the little Grace we have, haunts us. We fear becoming sick, and old, and dying. So, we fantasise. We become Tevye from 'Fiddler on the Roof' and sing of the days when we will have enough! We can even spin this fantasy into scenarios of revenge. We imagine ourselves being 'in charge', making decisions that impact thousands who offer us due adulation. We may be little in reality but in our dreams, we are large.
Some Messiahs will feed this fantasy, and, for a short while it looked as if Jesus would do the same. But perhaps the real reason He came was to free us from our fantasy. The Son of Man walks a different pathway and commands all who follow Him to do the same. He chooses a life of trusting in God and of service to others. He does not harm anyone to secure His own status or His own life. In fact, saving Himself is the last thing on His mind. And that is why He will not sanction our chronic concern with our own status and position. That is why He will not permit us to look the other way while others suffer so we can have a better life. In short, the True Messiah is revealed in the precise moment that He will not give us what we want
The Gospel story for the 23rd Week in Ordinary time, in this year of St. Mark, is astonishing and rich with lessons for growing disciples!
Jesus is on the move. He is a Jew among Gentiles. His reputation has preceded Him so they bring to Him a deaf man who has an impediment in his speech. They are looking for a miracle but they are not going to get it without a masterclass in discipleship. Jesus must take the man away from the miracle mongers. They are well intentioned but they are spiritually weak. They are not yet ready to know 'the secret of the Kingdom of God' (Mk.4:11,34).
Ears detect sounds. Tongues produce sounds. But it is the heart, the spiritual centre of a person, that speaks. If the heart is open to the Spirit, then a person can hear and speak about spiritual things. If a person cannot hear or speak, it is because they have hardened their hearts and closed themselves off from the truth.
When Jesus pits His fingers in the man’s ears, he reverses the flow of attention. The man is no longer struggling to hear what is happening outside of himself. He listens inwardly, to his heart. Jesus spits on His hand and touches the man’s tongue with His spit. Spit comes from the inside and symbolises the Spirit. Jesus is connecting His spirit, the Holy Spirit, to the man’s spirit. Now He, and the man, are in full communion with each other.
Then Jesus looks up to heaven. Since His own Baptism, the heavens remain permanently open to Jesus. God is available, the Holy Spirit always descending as Love. But people must look Up! They must open their hearts to sacred things. With a sigh, Jesus opens the man to God through His own openness to God. His words, 'Be Opened' are not addressed to the man’s ears. It is a command to the heart to be open to the Love that is flowing through the Beloved Son. When he opens his hearts, his ears are unplugged and his tongue is loosened. This should be the story that is told - but it isn't.
In Marks Gospel Jesus is portrayed, not as powerful, but as one who has given up on power and moved to strength. His gentle strength is a key brushstroke in Mark’s portrait. His strength comes from the certainty that He is loved by God and the certainty that He is the bearer of the Holy Spirit into a world of suffering and darkness. His strength is constant. It permeates all that He says and all that He does. No one can pull Him away from His core conviction. He holds fast to The Voice He heard at His Baptism.
But what is amazing is to watch Him in His endless quest to give this steady strength to his disciples. He only engages with what gives Him life; and that is giving life and love to others! It's such a beautifully simple teaching. That if we can hold onto the inner strength that comes from a heart drenched by love, if we can avoid getting sucked into the power mongering of others, we will make miracles. Here is testimony to the power of one. It is even greater testimony to the strength of a Community which refuses the lure of power over others.
Jesus, the healer, holds onto wholeness in a broken world. He will not allow anyone to suck Him into their chaos. Instead He brings Himself. If we let Him, He will stick His fingers in our ears so that we will be guided by the spiritual centre of our hearts. He will give His Spirit to anyone who asks. When our heart is United with His Heart we are fully open to God. Only then, when we hear God speak can we act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly in the world.
The heartbeat, the core of the 'Great Charter for Justice' (sometimes called the 10 commandments) is a Command to Love God, and a Command to Love our neighbour as ourselves. Each generation adapts the charter to meet the new situation. In theory, they might add something new, but they must never do it is such a way that it causes heart failure. In reality, new traditions take on a power of their own. The distinction between the heart and the edge becomes unclear. What was once a matter of the heart can become an obsession with externals.
The problem is that the heart is on the inside. It cannot be measured directly. External behaviours are on the outside and can be, or so it seems, be more easily measured. Clean hands, pots and pans can be scrutinised. But the heart may not be available for inspection. Therefore, the guardians of the 'tradition' are prone to policing externals.
They ask trivial questions and forget to ask the important one. They can no longer distinguish God's Command from human custom.
But the Beloved Son of God lives out of the Heart, the Centre. He confronts their hypocrisy. He confronts their refusal to hold the inner love of God and neighbour and the outer ways this can be embodied as one dance.
These guardians of the law, the Scribes and the Pharisees, are concerned with ritual defilement, about putting something 'unclean' inside yourself. They move from the outside in, and fret about contamination. With this in mind, all of their energy is focused on the outside world and whatever might make someone unclean.
But Jesus, like all good spiritual teachers, is more concerned about moral defilement, and the havoc it unleashes in the world. This happens in exactly the opposite way. It begins and grows in the human heart, in the cultivation of evil thoughts and intentions. People are destructive from the inside out if their hearts are fixated on fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, slander, envy. Discover what is driving these things and you may know how to make Peace.
But this is the problem. We can agree with Jesus that the heart is a strange landscape, but the reason why we do certain things may not be clear to us. This is why we need to know ourselves well. This is why we need to come regularly to confession. This is why we need the gift of a friend who challenges our worst behaviours and tells us the truth about ourselves. As we become more aware of what drives us we have better choice in whether to go with it or not. If we surround ourselves with 'flunkies' who only tell us what we want to hear, we might never grow in wisdom or understanding. Worst still, we might be destroying love and not know how to reverse the trend.
Over the course of my life, I have been invited by certain events and challenged by friends to take a good hard look on the 'inside'. I do not find this kind of inner scrutiny easy or enjoyable. Knowing my hidden self doesn't always match the scrubbed up persona I like to present to the world. Lifting the veil and humbly acknowledging who I really am is not an activity most are willing to do. But when I have found the courage to shine a light into my darkness there has always been a payoff. I find I can be a better person. Perhaps this is what Carl Jung meant when he said that we grow up, not by entertaining figures of light, but by making our darkness visible.
It is true that some of the teachings of Jesus are hard to take. We should not be afraid of this. In the Gospels, some people like Him and some do not. But in today's Gospel, even those who liked Him are struggling to trust Him and to understand what He is teaching.
The core message of St. John's Gospel is stated one more. Jesus has come from the Father. His origins are in God and the life He speaks of is born in that place. His identity as 'Beloved Son', flows from this relationship. He offers this same experience to anyone who can trust Him and make His teaching their own. This is something completely new. The older consciousness cannot transcend death; it turns people, who are afraid, in on themselves. Here is a teaching that frees us from fear and opens us up to 'eternal life.'
The pairing of flesh and blood and eating bread from heaven sets the stage for the disciples to unwrap the gift they are being offered. They have been brought up to believe in the utter transcendence of God and their own smallness. What Jesus is saying does not fit well into that mindset. He understands how His teaching might give offence. Perhaps the offence could be less if He, the Beloved Son, started with Earth and ascended to Heaven. But even if it makes for an easier beginning, we still have to trust Him when he asks us to notice the partnership between the physical and the spiritual, earth and heaven, ascending and descending Angels and a descending and ascending Son of Man. Everything comes from above and it is there that we must look to find the truth. This change from 'flesh to spirit', to 'spirit to flesh', is a difficult shift. Many will walk away with their old mind intact rather than trust in the new possibility. Those who stay, do so because they trust the Father.
Staying with Jesus is always a decision and it is a decision that is not made only once. The disciples who left were unable to make the shift. They were not ready to eat the food that the 'bread' who 'came down from heaven' had prepared. The Twelve did stay because they were already eating. The words of Jesus had opened a window into eternal life. If Jesus could give them eternal life, He must come from God. This is the beginning of something amazing which will require them to trust and grow even more.
So, we have two choices. To leave or to stay. But it is the reason for staying that is intriguing. When Jesus asks the question, 'Are you going away too?', Peter answers, 'We have come to believe and know..'. What begins with trust is completed in a depth of understanding and flows as eternal life whenever we gather to fulfill His command, 'Do this in memory of me'.
The community of disciples - the church- only exists to disclose the meaning of Christ as the embodiment of God in the world. We exist for the salvation - health and well-being - of all people, not just for the comfort and consolation it brings us. This means that the only way to build the community of those who 'choose to stay' is to look outwards, to see how we might bring this Good News to the poor. The Church, like the Kingdom of God, cannot grow through following a programme. It will grow through the joyful witness of those who celebrate the gratuitous blessing of Christ. We have to return to the service of the Gospel and the command to spread it to all peoples. Today's Gospel is a heady reminder that this is a painful and costly process precisely because it means stripping away our old safety nets, our addiction to personal comfort and our riches -whether secular or not - which we think are so important for the maintenance of the church.
We must respond to the urgent promoting of the Spirit who gives Life and who through the community, upholds the life of all people. As Jesus clearly tells us; The power of God is at work in the world, the story of Salvation is being told, and we are the privileged and responsible stewards of God. This, it seems to me, is the solid ground of our trust and the reason why we are constantly seeking to deepen our understanding of the Beloved Son of God.
The image which stands out in the teaching in this Sunday's Gospel - St.John,6:51-58 - is "Eating". Eating is something we all love to do. It is an intimate action where we take something that is not us and make it part of us. I often joke that I am fifty percent chocolate! On a more serious note, eating should also help us to remember how we depend on the world and cannot thrive if we are separated from it. Jesus uses this human activity for spiritual purposes. We eat a piece of bread and 'it' becomes part of us. But when we eat Him; when we take in the spiritual nourishment He offers, we become Him.
His audience focus on the word 'flesh' and you can see them struggling with a possible invitation to cannibalism! But Jesus presses on. The division of flesh and blood symbolises his death and reveals the way He is going to make His awareness our own. How Jesus understands his own death is something every disciple should know by heart. Seriously! Jesus uses many images; seeing His own death as a movement from 'a grain of wheat' into 'much fruit'. Far from being an experience of loss, He will be more. He will also be more accessible and available as the Risen Lord than He is as The Jesus of history.
We enter His Sacred Heart whenever we take part in the Eucharist. In this Sacred act, the meaning of His death will be revealed to those who eat and drink. Each time we do this we will deepen our understanding of the divine love that transforms death into new life.
So while it is true that we can eat good food and make it our own without paying any attention to the process, we cannot do that with a new mind. Disciples have to eat and drink in a certain way. The original word Jesus uses for this kind of eating is literally translated as 'munching'. A far cry from the days when we were not allowed to let the host touch our teeth! Bob Noznick's description of what munching looks like is thoroughly described in his book, 'The Examined Life'. "
We meet the food in the anteroom of the mouth and greet it there. We probe and explore it, surround it, permeate it with juices, press it with our tongues against the roof of the mouth along that hard ridge directly above the teeth, place it under suction and pressure, move it around. We know it's texture fully; it holds no secrets or hidden parts". (p.56).
A priest was serving on a World War 1 battlefield in France. He carried the Eucharist in a pyx next to his heart. He suddenly realised just how disappointing it was to be thus holding so close to himself the wealth of the world and the very source of life without being able to possess it inwardly, without being able to either penetrate it or assimilate it. This is the true meaning of the Gospel text. There is only one way to have His life within us, we have to receive this most precious gift. We have to eat His Body. We have to drink His Blood. And if we do this regularly, or even every day, it is good from time to time to pause and to contemplate the infinite preciousness of the Eucharist. And having renewed our mind to His we discover how awesome He really is.
It looks like the crowd are following Jesus but they are really following miracles. Jesus sees through their immaturity and tries to help them to grow up. They seek Him because he has filled their bellies with bread. But they have still not understood what the bread means. They are well aware of their physical hunger and are very focused on filling it. But they are less acquainted with their spiritual hunger and are not sure how to fill that. Jesus tells them that He, Himself, is the one who feeds them with 'Bread from Heaven'. Now He begins lesson number two. They ask him about keeping the law or the works of God. To be faithful, they must do what God does. He teaches them that they can only do these works (the many) if they are united to the work (the One). They must join the One who has been sent. For while, "The Law was indeed given through Moses, Grace and Truth have come through Jesus Christ." (Jn 1,29)
Now comes lesson number three. These ‘would be’ disciples need proof. If Jesus is the work of God, what work will He do that will help them to believe in Him? They know that the Law, the great charter for Justice, is from God, because Moses, the lawgiver, provided manna in the desert. The manna is the only validation Moses needs. But Jesus says, 'Think again!' The manna was not given as proof that Moses was from God. It was meant to reveal the One who put it there. The Father is the One who gives Bread from Heaven and He is giving it all the time. Now they must see that the True Bread which comes down from Heaven is given for the whole world. It cannot be contained within the borders of Israel. It is a gift for the whole of Creation. The Bread is its own reality. It does not point to something else. If you let Jesus in you will have all the proof you need!
Now, lesson number four! The crowd need time to take in the full impact of what Jesus is teaching them. For now, all they can hear is the promise of manna every day. Since the 'Bread of Life' is the spiritual nourishment that flows from God into Creation, and since Jesus is the Beloved Son of God who rebuilds the connection, He himself is the Bread of life. Whoever comes to Him will kiss eternity and they will never feel spiritual hunger or thirst ever again. The Teacher invites those who are locked in the prison of the visible, the material and the temporal to embrace the freedom of the invisible, the spiritual and the eternal. Can they do it?
Once upon a time, there was an exhausted mother who stood up at a retreat and announced that she was tired of giving. Her friends were quick to offer solutions and advice; daycare, part time employment, more husbandfather involvement. Then a voice broke through this conversation, "Honey, you gotta learn how to sing". She told the exhausted mother that she had to change her whole mind, her whole attitude. Nothing suggested so far would provide lasting help. Tinkering with the edges was no substitute for inner change. She had to transform the moments of giving into moments of meeting.
Spiritual Teachers value interior change as the forerunner to new and decisive action. They often tweak and tease the consciousness of their disciples to see things in a new way. Like the other day when I was driving back from visiting my best friend who is dying, I saw, on the billboard of a church, 'Tweet others as you yourself would like to be tweeted'. Brilliant! Or the story Jack Kornfield tells of his spiritual Teacher. 'There is a road I know well, but it can be foggy or dark. When I see someone travelling this road about to fall into a ditch or get lost in a sidetrack on the right hand side, I call out 'Go to the left.' So too, if I see someone fall into a ditch or get lost in a sidetrack on the left hand side, I call out, 'Go to the right.' That's all I do when I teach. Wherever you get caught, I say, 'Let go of that too.' (After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path)[New York:Bantam 2000. Pp268-169]
Jesus, the Teacher, knows the path well and can help others who are in a fog or in darkness. I like to see Him calling out to us, "A little to the left," or "Go to the right". And I imagine Him saying, "Don't keep hungering after wonders or miracles. Notice the deeper hunger within you for what lasts forever. Turn your mind from doing things and enlarge the inner space from which you are able to do things. Gods' work is always done with God. Stop asking, 'How will I know if this is true?' Instead ask, 'Am I in communion with God and receiving His gift of life. Manna every morning will not solve your problems. Give your heart to me and you will be satisfied for ever." This is the deeper level where Love elevates us and things become easier, less trying, happening more by themselves. If you think you need more of this, you are right.
CATHOLIC PARISH OF ST JOSEPH & ST MARGARET CLITHEROW
St Joseph’s Church. 39 Braccan Walk, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 1BE (Directions)
Tel: 01344 425729
South Berkshire Pastoral Area
The parish is part of the Diocese of Portsmouth.
Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust registered charity 246871
St Joseph’s Church. 39 Braccan Walk, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 1BE (Directions)
Tel: 01344 425729
South Berkshire Pastoral Area
The parish is part of the Diocese of Portsmouth.
Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust registered charity 246871