Sunday, August 23

     With this Gospel reading, John closes his long discourse about the bread of life, a discourse occasioned by Jesus' feeding bread to thousands.  Here, John repeats old themes: doubts and inability to believe, even betrayal.  Also, here John repeats his claim that inability or refusal to believe is owed to a person's being governed by 'the flesh', which is an incapacity to believe.  There are many reasons for this incapacity; one of them is, as Jesus says, that the Father has not drawn the person to Jesus.  Paul, too, had written in letters earlier than John's Gospel that one must be 'spiritual' and not 'flesh' when facing belief in Jesus and living out that faith.  One must, for Paul, be blessed by the invasion of the Spirit to be able to believe.  If these affirmations seem difficult to understand perfectly, they do still have the value of what is centuries' old teaching: one does not reach full happiness or full knowledge without the gift of faith, the gift from God; I cannot reason myself to faith, but, while satisfying my mind as much as I can, I must admit that I need a gift, THE gift in order to achieve full happiness and full understanding and the strength to live a good, hopefully a perfect life.

     There is a common affirmation shared by the second half of the Gospel reading with the first liturgical reading.  In that OT reading, Israel was asked to choose its god, now that the life of shepherd and wanderer is ended by Israel's becoming a farming people in their newly acquired land.  Yes, Yahweh had led them through the desert, but who will look benignly on their crops, their new source of food and life?  Do they believe it will be Yahweh or the gods of the land in which they now live?  Jesus, too, asks, "Will you also go away?"  That is, will you find your final happiness in someone else or some other thing or idea?  Choice is crucial about the crucial things of life.  God assures us of His help, but we must accept that help - to choose, to repeat what Peter says: "You have the words of eternal life".  He needed help to say that, to live that, but like Joshua he did, with God's help, choose correctly and so enjoy life with God forever.

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John Kilgallen, S.J.

 

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