When we dismiss others, we only starve ourselves
A Reflection for Friday of the Third Week of Easter
Can I be honest with you? Nine times out of 10 when I see that the Gospel at Mass is going to be from John, I back away slowly and hope it didn’t notice me. John has some great stories—the washing of the disciples’ feet, the resurrected Jesus cooking the disciples breakfast. (Ain’t no bacon and eggs like resurrected Jesus’ bacon and eggs, I’m thinking.)
But as a text that we read aloud in church, so much of John is just trouble. He’s either attacking the Jewish people as a whole—note that in our Gospel today, it’s not some group of people that is confused by Jesus or the crowd, but “the Jews,” or he’s got Jesus repeating vague phrases or words like “light” or “truth” over and over in different combinations until you just have no idea what he’s saying.
Put simply, John is a writer who requires a lot of preliminary explanation—like, so much that you basically need to do a “Previously in…the Gospel of John” almost every time he comes up.
Today’s Gospel is a case in point. On its own it sounds like those listening to Jesus are asking a very reasonable question, one that every kid in religious education still asks, and every non-Christian, too: What do you mean, “We eat the body of Jesus?”
We never know where the Holy Spirit might be trying to offer us life.
But in fact this Gospel is occurring at the end of a very long chapter that started with the feeding of the five thousand, followed by Jesus walking on the water and now his Bread of Life discourse. (It was a very big day for everyone!) And in the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus has laid out what today we might call his theology of the Eucharist, but what for him was a way of explaining how he saw his mission: He was here to be nourishment for the people, not only in his actions or words, but in the sacrifice of his very life. He sees himself as the latter-day manna in the desert, falling from heaven to feed the people.
While the question being asked here seems very legitimate from our modern eyes, in the context of the overall chapter—in which this same crew has already complained about Joseph and Mary’s kid suggesting he’s anything special—they’re really just looking for reasons to dismiss or undermine him. Reasons they don’t have to listen, in other words. “I don’t have to listen to this, because this guy is nobody.”
This isn’t some ancient phenomenon, unfortunately. We issue all kinds of blanket dismissals in the church to justify ignoring the words of others. A few examples: Bishops are just a bunch of old celibate men who don’t know anything about real life. Women just want power they can’t have. L.G.B.T. people are just sinners. Kids don’t know anything yet.
But the point of the Gospel is more than just “Hey, don’t do that.” It’s “Hey, when you dismiss others, you get in the way of the good that God intends for you.” Just as at the start of the chapter, Jesus is offering his listeners food; but in contrast to then, here, they’re refusing the meal they’re being given. They’re not hurting him; they’re hurting themselves.
When it comes to dealing with other people in the church, it may be harder to find the nourishment being offered and easy to provide reasons why we can’t possibly consider what they’re saying. Today’s Gospel is a warning light against going down that road. We never know where the Holy Spirit might be trying to offer us life.