John's Gospel challenges us to a great struggle between the spirit and the flesh
Sunday, August 26, 2018
The disciples' heart tested by the Word of the Lord.
The challenge: to keep faith in the
Father and the Son
or to side with the evil one.
John 6: 60-69
1. OPENING PRAYER
Lord, Your Word is sweet, it is like a honeycomb, it is not hard nor is it bitter. It may burn like fire, it may be like the hammer that breaks rock, it may be the sharp sword that pierces and separates the soul… but, Lord, Your Word is sweet! Grant that I may listen to it, that it may be gentle music, a song and an echo in my ears, my memory and my intellect. I offer my whole being to You and ask You to grant that I may listen faithfully, sincerely, strongly. Lord. grant that I may keep my ears and heart fixed on Your lips, Your voice, so that not one word may be in vain. Pour forth Your Holy Spirit to be like living water watering my field so that it may bear fruit, thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. Lord, draw me, grant that I may come to You, because, You know… where shall I go, to whom on this earth if not to You?
a) Placing the passage in its proper context:
These are the concluding verses of the great
chapter six of John's Gospel, where the evangelist presents his "Eucharistic theology". This conclusion is the climax of the chapter, because the Word leads us deeper into and towards the center of things; from the crowd at the start of the chapter, to the
Jews who discuss with Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum, to the disciples, to the twelve, even to Peter, the only one who stands for each one of us, alone, face to face with the Lord Jesus. Here we hear the reply to Jesus' teaching, to the Word sown abundantly
in the heart of His listeners. Here we verify whether the soil of the heart produces thorns and weeds or green shoots that produce ears and finally good corn in the ears.
b) An aid to the reading of the passage:
v. 60: Some disciples condemn the Word of the Lord, and therefore Jesus Himself, who is the Word of God. God is not seen as a good Father who speaks to His children, but as a hard master (Mt 25:24), with whom it is not possible to enter into dialogue.
vv. 61-65: Jesus unveils the incredulity and hardness of heart of His disciples and reveals His mysteries of salvation: His ascension into heaven, the gift of the Holy Spirit and our participation in the divine life. But these mysteries can only be understood and accepted by the wisdom of a docile heart, capable of listening, and not by means of physical intelligence.
v. 66: This verse reveals the first great betrayal by many disciples who have failed to understand the true teaching of Jesus. Instead of turning their gaze on the Master, they turn their backs on Him and thus break communion and no longer walk with Him.
vv. 67-69: Jesus now addresses Himself to the twelve, His most intimate friends, and places before them a final and absolute choice, whether to stay with Him or go away. Peter answers on behalf of all and proclaims the faith of the Church in Jesus as Son of God and in His Word, which is the true source of life.
c) The text:
Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 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. 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. 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." As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" 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."
3. A MOMENT OF SILENT PRAYER
I have received the gift, the grace. I have listened to the Word of the Lord, now I do not wish to murmur (v. 61); I do not wish to be scandalized (v. 61); nor do I wish to yield to incredulity (v. 64). I do not wish to betray my Master (v. 64); I do not wish to withdraw and not walk with Him any longer (v. 66)… I wish to remain with the Lord at all times! In the silence of my heart, I repeat endlessly to Him: "Lord, to whom shall I go, if not to You??! Behold, Lord, I come…”
4. A FEW QUESTIONS
to open my heart and plow my interior soil with
a plow capable of pulling up the roots of hardness and incredulity.
a) What kind of disciple am I? Am I really willing every day to learn at the school of Jesus, to receive His teaching, which is not the doctrine of human beings but the wisdom of the Holy Spirit?
b) "This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?" Is it really the Word of the Lord that is hard or is it my heart that wants only to close itself and no longer listen?
c) "Jesus knowing in Himself…". He knows my heart and knows what is in each person (Jn 1:48; 2:25; 4:29; 10:15). How do I react to His gaze, to His voice that calls my name, to His coming into my life, to His constant knocking (Rev 3:20)? What choices do I make?
d) "It is the Spirit that gives life.” However, do I allow myself to be led like Mary (Lk 1:38) and Simeon (Lk 2:27), do I allow the Lord to take me where He wills, where He waits for me, or do I always want to decide for myself the direction of my life?
e) Do I answer Jesus' personal invitation "Come to Me! Come and follow Me!" every day, every moment, in the most diverse situations of my life, in various circumstances, in the presence of others? To whom do I go? Where do I turn to? Whose footsteps am I following?
5. A KEY TO THE READING
I ask the Scriptures to be my guide, to enlighten each step, each movement, because I wish to go to Jesus. I use the verbs He uses, the expressions He repeats, the silence of the unsaid words, to reveal to me the way… to find Him and not someone else.
• The Word of the Lord and the love relationship with it
In this passage, John presents the Word of the Lord as a meeting point, the holy place for an encounter with Him. I realize that this is the place of my decision, of ever deeper separations in my heart and in my conscience. I realize also that the Word is a person, it is the Lord Himself, present before me, given to me, open to me. The whole of the bible, page after page, is an invitation, sweet, yet at the same time strong, to meet the Word, to get to know the Promised One, the Bride who is really the Word that comes from the kiss of love from the mouth of the Lord. The meeting accorded is not superficial, empty, nor is it fleeting or sporadic, but intense, full, constant, uninterrupted, because it is like the meeting between the bride and groom. Thus does the Lord love me and give Himself to me. It is, therefore, important to listen carefully and lovingly so that not one word may be in vain (1 Sam 3:19); it is important to listen with the heart, with the soul (Ps 94:8; Bar 2:31); it is important to obey in practice for a lifetime (Mt 7:24-27; Jas 1:22-25); it is important to make a true and final decision that will choose the Word of the Lord even to making it my sister (Prov 7:1-4) or my bride to be taken into my home (Wis 8:2).
• Murmuring is closing one's heart
The theme of murmuring, of rebelling, shakes me up and creates a crisis in me; when I read the bible, even when I just recall it, I realize that murmuring against the Lord and His actions in our lives is the most terrible and destructive thing that could possibly live in my heart, because it takes me away from Him, it separates me strongly and makes me blind, deaf and insensitive. It makes me say that He does not exist while all the time He is very near; that He hates me when He loves me with an eternal and faithful love (Deut 1:27)! It is the greatest and most profound foolishness! In Exodus, Numbers and the Psalms, I come across a people of God that weeps, complains, gets angry, murmurs, closes itself, rebels, turns away (Ex 16:7ff; Num 14:2; 17:20ff; Ps 105:25); a hopeless, lifeless people. I understand that this kind of situation comes about when there is no longer dialogue with the Lord, when the contract with Him is broken, when, instead of listening to Him and asking questions of Him, there is only murmuring, a kind of continuous droning in the soul, in the mind, that makes me say, "Can God supply food in the desert?" (Ps 77:19). If I murmur against my Father, if I stop believing in His love for me, in His tenderness, that He showers me with every good thing, I am lifeless, I am without nourishment for the everyday journey. Or if I get angry, if I become jealous because He is good and gives His love to all, without reserve, and I act like the Pharisees (Lk 15:2; 19:7), then I am entirely alone and besides no longer being His child I am no longer even brother or sister of anyone. In fact, there is a close relationship between murmuring against God and murmuring against brothers and sisters (Phil 2:14; 1 Pt 4:9). I learn all this when I follow the trail of this word…
• The Gift of the Son of Man: the Holy Spirit
It seems that I see a road full of light, traced by the Lord Jesus and almost hidden
in these verses that are so compact and overflowing in spiritual richness. The starting point lies in a true and deep listening to His words and in welcoming them. From here we pass on to the purification of the heart, which from a heart of stone, hard and
closed, becomes, through the tenderness of the Father, a heart of flesh, soft, a heart that He can hurt, mold, take into His hands and hold tight, as a gift. Yes, all this is accomplished by the words of Jesus when they come to me and enter into me. It is
only thus that I can continue on my journey, overcoming murmurings and scandal, until I am able to see Jesus with new eyes, eyes renewed by the Word, eyes that do not rest on superficial things, on the hardness of the rind, but eyes that learn, every day a
little more, to go beyond and to look on high. "Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where He was before?" (v. 62). This is the welcoming of the Spirit, gift of the Risen One, gift of the One who ascended at the right hand of the Father, gift
from on high, perfect gift (Jas 1:17). He had said, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to Me" (Jn 12:32) and He draws me with the Spirit, He makes me His own with the Spirit, He sends me in the Spirit (Jn 20:21), He strengthens me thanks
to the Spirit (Acts 1:8). If I take a long look at the pages of the Gospels, I can see how the Spirit of the Lord is the strength that dwells in each person, each reality, because He is the eternal love of the Father, the very life of God in us. I pay attention
and dwell on the verbs and the expressions used, on the words that follow and enlighten each other, enriching each other. I feel that I am really immersed in living waters that gush and gurgle. I feel that I receive a new baptism and I thank the Lord with
my whole heart. "He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire" (Mt 3:11), so cries John and, as I read, this Word comes true in me, inside me, in my whole being. I feel the Spirit speaking in me (Mt 10:20); who, with His power, drives away from me the spirit
of evil (Mt 12:28); who fills me, as He did Jesus (Lk 4:1), John the Baptist (Lk 1:15), the Virgin Mary (Lk 1:28,35), Elizabeth (Lk 1:41), Zachary (Lk 1:67), Simeon (Lk 2:26), the disciples (Acts 2:4), Peter (Acts 4: 8) and so many others. I feel and meet
the Spirit who teaches me what to say (Lk 12:10); who really gives new birth to me so that I may never die (Jn 3:5); who teaches me all things and reminds me of all that Jesus said (Jn 14:26); who guides me towards truth (Jn 16:13); who gives me strength to
witness to the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8), to His love for me and for everyone.
• The struggle of faith: in the Father or in the evil one?
This passage of John's Gospel challenges us to a great struggle, a hand-to-hand fight between the spirit and the flesh, between the wisdom of God and human reason, between Jesus and the world. I can see that Job was right when he said that human life on earth is a time of temptation and a struggle (Job 7:1), because I too experience the Evil One who tries to discourage me by creating doubts concerning the divine promises and urging me to turn away from Jesus. He would like to send me away, tries by every means to harden my heart, to close me, to break my faith, my love. I hear him roaming around like a roaring lion seeking whom to devour (1 Pt 5:8), like a tempter, a creator of divisions, an accuser, like a scoffer mocking and repeating all the time: "Where is the promise of His coming?" (2 Pt 3:3f). I know that it is only with the arms of faith that I can win (Eph 6:10-20; 2 Cor 10:3-5), only in the strength that comes to me from the words of my Father; hence I choose them, love them, study them, scrutinize them, learn them by heart, repeat them and say, "Even if a whole army surrounds me, I will not be afraid; even if enemies attack me, I will still trust in God!" (Ps 26:3).
• Profession of faith in Jesus, Son of God
The appearance of Simon Peter at the end of this passage is like a pearl set on a precious jewel, because it is he who proclaims truth, light and salvation through his profession of faith. I gather other passages from the Gospels, other professions of faith that help my incredulity, because I too wish to believe and then know. I too wish to believe and be firm (Isa 7:9): Mt 16:16; Mk 8:29; Lk 9:20; Jn 11:27).
6. A MOMENT OF SILENT PRAYER: PSALM 18
A hymn of praise to the Word
of the Lord,
who gives wisdom and joy to the heart
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes.
Ref. Lord, You have the words of eternal life!
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Ref. Lord, You have the words of eternal life!
But who can discern his errors?
Cleanse me from hidden faults.
Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord,
my Rock and my Redeemer.
Ref. Lord, You have the words of eternal life!
7. CLOSING PRAYER
Lord, thank You for Your words that have re-awakened in me spirit and life; thank You because You speak and creation goes on. You overwhelm me. You still print Your image in me, Your unique likeness. Thank You because, lovingly and patiently, You wait for me even when I murmur, when I allow myself to be scandalized, when I fall into incredulity or when I turn my back to You. Forgive me, Lord, for all these faults and continue to heal me, to make me strong and happy in following You, You alone! Lord, You ascended to where You were before, but You are still with us and do not cease to draw each one of us to You. Draw me, Lord, and I shall run, because I have truly believed and known that You are the Holy One of God! But, please Lord, when I run to You, let me not run alone, let me be always open to the companionship of my brothers and sisters; and together with them I shall find You and shall be Your disciple all the days of my life. Amen.