Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, as we saw in yesterday’s reading, and that did not end so well, with his fellow Nazoreans running him out of town (Lk 4:29). In today’s reading, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. The initial reaction to Jesus’ teaching was similar in both accounts; the people were “amazed” and “astonished” with his teaching. But no one in either group makes the bold statement that arises today: “I know who you are – the Holy One of God” (Lk 4:34)! This phrase was professed by a demon. He who taunted Jesus.
From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry opposition was present. In Nazareth, the fallen nature of our humanity reared its head. The people he grew up with were unwilling to see beyond the ordinary Jesus they always knew. Wasn’t he just the son of Joseph, just the carpenter? Jesus was safe when he merely worked a quiet life, participated in the life of the synagogue, even when he returned from surrounding territories amidst words of praise, and even stepping up to read in the synagogue from the words of Elijah: he was the hometown boy making good. But once Jesus began to equate himself in the line of the prophets and share how God was working beyond the people of Israel, with his accounts of Elijah going to the Gentile widow, and Naaman, another Gentile, going to Elisha, highlighting that God worked beyond the people of Israel, even his own had enough. Jesus had to go (Lk 4:29).
In today’s account, another source of opposition is the taunting demon. Jesus rebuked the demon immediately and called him out of the man. Jesus faced time and again the fallen nature of humanity, disbelief, lack of faith, as well as the opposition of demons, and soon the failure of religious and civic leadership. Sound familiar?
Where do we find our self in the scenes of Jesus’ ministry and teaching, in our own time today? Following Jesus is a day to day commitment and we must be willing to face the same challenges that his disciples did. We need to be willing to face our weaknesses, our woundedness, and our own shortcomings and conform our lives to the will of Jesus. By doing so we will be confronted with the darkness and sin within ourselves. With true humility, we will be better able to resist defending and rationalizing where we fall short of the glory of God and instead be willing to repent, to turn away from our sin, to turn back to God, and be willing to be healed.
We also need to resist dismissing Jesus’ encounter with the demon in today’s Gospel too quickly. Demons do exist and play a role in the principalities and powers that influence us and our world. We ignore this reality to our own peril, for they will tempt and subtly attack us at our weakest and most vulnerable points. This is not a cause for anxiety and fear. The weakest Christian is stronger than the devil himself but we must be aware and vigilant. When faced with temptation by Satan or his demons, we just call on the name of Jesus and those of the dark will flee from the radiant light of Christ. This is why it is so important to regularly examine our conscience, to be aware of, and to confess our sin. In doing so, we will be free, otherwise, they can and will be used against us.
The closer we draw to Jesus, the more we experience his light and the more of our own sin we will see. This is not a cause to run and hide but to humbly embrace the truth so that healing will be possible. This also means that we will see more clearly the dark influences that plague us and our world which we are blinded to when we turn in upon ourselves and feed our own selfishness, embrace our own pride, and turn away from God.
May we instead place our trust and belief in Jesus today and each day, spend time in meditation, prayer, in his word, examine our conscience, and be willing to be led by him to serve one another, speak up for one another, and stand strong against the temptations and darkness of this world. When we fall short, fail, as we will, as did the apostles, we need to follow, not Judas, but Peter: repent, confess our love for Jesus, and begin again. Together, with our Loving God and Father, may we hold one another accountable, support, and lift one another up in love, for Jesus is at our right hand, and, even when we find ourselves in our darkest moments, turn to Jesus and we will stand firm because we will know that we are not alone.
A quiet moment as dusk approached about a month ago.
He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).
Jesus sat down after speaking these words to his hometown congregation in Nazareth who had just heard him read the passage from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus proclaimed that he was the one to whom Isaiah was talking about. Luke chose to place this event as the starting point of Jesus’ public ministry, of bringing glad tidings to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives, recovering sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming a year acceptable to the Lord (cf. Lk 4:18-19).
This is a message of universal healing for all of humanity. Restoration and reconciliation would come and Jesus would be the vehicle to bring all the nations, all people, back into communion and relationship with his Father. The poor mentioned were not just in reference to those experiencing material poverty but to those finding themselves on the margins of society, the outcasts, those on the peripheries. The captives were not only those imprisoned for debts or crimes but those bound in the chains of their own sin and addiction. The blind were not only those who could not physically see but those who experienced the spiritual blindness of pride and arrogance. The oppressed were not just those under the iron fist of totalitarian and dictatorial regimes but those pressed down through their own self imposed anxieties and fears.
In what ways are we in need of Jesus’ healing and restorative power? What is keeping us on the peripheries, apart from communion and fellowship? What sins and addictions keep us bound, what fears and anxieties keep us oppressed? Jesus invites us in today’s Gospel to be healed and to align ourselves with his will and ministry of loving service to others. The same words he spoke to his own hometown he is speaking to each one of us today. Will we hold on to our biases and prejudices and run Jesus out from our midst to hurl him over a cliff because he is not only offering his healing hand to us but also to others outside our group, racial or ethnic makeup, nation, or political party? Or will we come to Jesus, kneel before him, acknowledge our need for his healing and make him the Lord of our life?
JoAnn recognized her need for Jesus and accepted the invitation of his love and relationship. She often found rote prayers hard to do. She was much more comfortable speaking with Jesus as she spoke with our kids and me. JoAnn was also willing to admit her mistakes and confess her sins, which she was blessed to have had the opportunity to do twice in the final month prior to her death. JoAnn often told us as her condition declined further that her death would not be an end but just a change of address and that she would be close to us and love us forever and ever.
Life is too short to allow our pride to get in the way. Examining our conscience and coming to Jesus with a contrite, sorrowful heart for what we have done and what we have failed to do is a healing practice. As we do so today, may we experience his healing hands on our bowed heads and the warmth of his love pouring through us and purging us of our sin and pride. JoAnn has been at her new address for what will be two years this Thursday, September 2. May she intercede for us such that we are open to the guidance of Jesus so as to participate with him in bringing the invitation of healing, reconciliation, and love to others, that we may bring about an “acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:19).
Photo: Swan ride together at Echo Park in Los Angeles.
“But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile” (Mk 7:20-23).
We unfortunately see the words of Jesus today on full display in our country, on almost every level imaginable, politically, culturally, and religiously. What Jesus is calling for from his hearers then and us today is not to look or act the part, but to actually live a life with a heart dedicated to God with humility and integrity.
May we resist the temptation to be despondent or give in to despair, may we also resist contributing to the negativity that seems to have a megaphone right now. There are many people doing very good things, living their lives quietly and faithfully. Let us do the same. May we follow the guidance of St James and “put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in [us] and is able to save [our] souls” (James 1:21).
May we resist being shaped and conformed to the present culture of division, polarization and death, and instead be willing to be transformed by the renewal of our minds that we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (cf. Romans 12:2). To do so, may we turn our hearts and minds over to Jesus this day so that he will renew them with his love and grace.
Let us align ourselves with the will of our heavenly Father through examining our conscience and discerning with Jesus such that we come to know that which is truly good, pleasing and perfect, so that we may cloak ourselves in the mantle of integrity. May we be willing to hold ourselves and others accountable with justice and mercy by standing up for the dignity of the person in each and every situation.
We are not to be hearers of the word only but doers of the word. For: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26-27). Putting our faith into action means we are challenged to resist standing by silently witnessing or worse participating in the poison of gossip or engaging in demeaning, belittling, or dehumanizing words and/or actions. Instead, we are to shine a light of truth in the darkness.
We do so by putting the guidance we hear and read from Scripture into practice, we speak truth to power no matter who the person is because we serve Jesus not a political party. We are to stand up for each other with understanding and compassion and offer opportunities for reconciliation. We will be a guiding light when we keep our self in check, continue to be willing to have our heart and mind conformed to Jesus, meditate and pray daily, commit to respecting the dignity of each person we encounter within our homes and in our realms of influence such that what we think, the words that we speak, as well as our deeds, affirm, convict not condemn, empower, and heal.
“Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back'” (Mt 25: 24-25).
I used to struggle with this verse of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, not because I didn’t relate to it, but because I did. The problem was that I sided with the servant who buried his talent in the ground. What the servant did made sense to me, he kept his master’s talent safe and returned what he had been given. Historically, burying was considered a safe and acceptable practice in ancient Palestine when protecting someone else’s money. Even in reading carefully back to the beginning of the parable, I could see no reference to investing the talents. Though in the Gospel of Luke, there is an explicit demand to “trade with these until I come” (Lk 19:13). What is Jesus saying?
Actually, Jesus in this parable offers a microcosm of salvation history, the thread of which has been woven through all of Sacred Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. God, through his sovereign will, has consistently called, calls today, and will continue to call into the future a people to himself. In each age, God has bestowed upon humanity the generous gift of his grace, inviting us to receive and share in his very life, which is what we have been created for. This is a free gift, to be freely accepted or rejected. Once received though – no matter how little we choose to receive, we are directed to share what we have been given. Through a life lived of accepting, receiving, giving back to God and to one another, we are given even “greater responsibilities”.
In receiving the gift of God, himself, and sharing what he has given, ultimately his love, for God is Love, we not only mirror on earth, albeit dimly, but share in the divine communion of the love between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To reject this gift outright, or to receive some of the benefits and not to share, we cut ourselves off from the very life force and source of our being.
We can see this pattern emerge in this parable. The master gives his servants talents. To one he gives five, to another two, and to a third he gives one. All accept what they have been given. But differ in what they do with the gift. The first two double what they have been given and the third buried what he had been given. Two have received and multiplied their talents, the one refused to and kept it to himself. The master returns, commends and rewards the two, then berates and even takes the little the one had been given and gives it to the one who had more.
The message of The Parable of the Talents is as clear as it is challenging. John P. Meier summarizes that “Jesus is insistent; along with sovereign grace, serious demand, and superabundant reward comes the possibility of being condemned for refusing the demand contained in the gift. Indeed, one might argue that no aspect of Jesus’ teaching is more pervasive in the many different streams of the Gospel tradition, and no aspect is more passed over in silence today” (Meier 2016, 309).
God has created us and all of creation from the abundant outpouring of his love. Will we reject the gift of his love and invitation of communion? Will we receive, yet not actualize who we are called to be for our self and others because we would rather merely just exist, willing to be lured and entrapped by the temptations of anxiety, fear, apparent goods, and half-truths? Will we give in to the fear, too afraid to risk, to go out from ourselves to serve others? Or, will we appreciate the gift of our life and say thank you for the breath that we breathe? Are we willing to expand the love we have received by being willing to share, to multiply our talents, to embrace who God calls us to be, to love in kind, to will the good of others in the unique way God calls us to serve, whoever they may be?
I have lived the life of the wicked servant who buried his talent out of fear. I have embraced the sin of sloth and resisted opportunities to share what God has given me to invest. This was no path to fulfillment, but an experience of separation from the fullness of the One who wants so much more. To live a day to day existence adrift and dulled, is certainly not the way I hope to spend another day. I am trusting more in the love of God, seeking to discern and follow his will, though, at times, I still do so with indecision and trepidation. I do better when I reach out and seek the hand of Jesus and accept to be led by him. I have risked and fallen, made mistakes and duffed up time and again, but have learned, persevered, and each year of life, hopefully, there is a little less of me and a little more of Jesus shining through.
A big part of why I am where I am today is because of my wife, JoAnn. She supported me and encouraged me every step of the way to come out of my shell, to learn to trust, to take risks, and she constantly stretched me to break out of my comfort zone. She modeled for me the act of giving of herself to others, especially our children. But not even just those closest to her.
She often would complement something someone was wearing in her everyday encounters, she loved to give little gifts, write simple notes of affirmation, and the embodiment of her selfless giving was in her final week of life when she made sure that the Hospice nurses caring for her had something to eat, to drink, and that they were warm enough because we had to keep the AC cool because of her spikes in temperature. She even insisted that one of the nurses wore one of her sweaters. I am confident that when JoAnn began her journey from this life to the next, God welcomed her with the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
We are not alone. What Jesus invites us, gives us, and yes, demands of us to do, he will at the same time provide the support and energy we need to carry out the task given and to bring it to fulfillment. God has a talent or two to invest. May we allow the light of Jesus to shine through us as a prism in our own unique way so as to dispel the darkness of our current political, social, and Church climate. May we not be afraid to be who God calls us to be. May we not be afraid to love and to be loved. May we, in the words of Jesus and St John Paul II who echoed them as he began his pontificate:
“Be not afraid” (Mt 14:27).
Photo: JoAnn, my heart, and I early in the treatment phase of her pancreatic cancer.
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Probing the Authenticity of the Parables. Vol. 5. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.
“The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves'” (Mt 25: 8-9).
The above verse comes in the midst of Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Virgins. The bridegroom has been delayed in his coming so the virgins fall asleep. When they awake, five are prepared with oil for their lamps and five are not. From the first reading of this verse, we can be struck by the unwillingness of the wise not wanting to share their oil with the foolish.
The key to the lanterns being full or empty of oil had to do with the effort or lack thereof regarding those involved. All have been invited to the wedding feast, some are prepared and some are not. The oil in the parable may represent the invitation to relationship and discipleship with Jesus.
We cannot build a relationship with Jesus for others nor can others build a relationship with Jesus for us. No matter how full our lamps are, no matter how much of a blessing we find in our relationship with Jesus and our faith community, and no matter how we desire Jesus to have a relationship with our family members, friends, and colleagues, we cannot build that relationship for them. We cannot share our oil with them.
Also, if we do not have a relationship, or are resisting going deeper in discipleship, and we see others experiencing the joy, fulfillment, and fruits of a relationship with Jesus, and would like to have what others have, in the same vein, they can’t give us their relationship either. They cannot give us their oil. We need to be open to the invitation of the bridegroom, we need to be willing to develop a relationship, to do our part. Jesus knocks on our door, but if we do not open it and let him in, he will not impose upon our free will to keep him out.
Two examples may help to bring the point home. In Acts 8:9-24 there is the account of Simon the magician and in Acts 3:6 there is an example from Simon Peter. Simon the magician witnesses the works of the Holy Spirit moving through Philip, Peter, and John. He offers Peter money to be able to do what they did and Peter strongly rebukes Simon. Money can’t buy love, nor can it buy the fruits of the Spirit experienced by those who have developed an intimate relationship with Jesus. Regarding Simon Peter, in the account from Acts 3:6, Peter comes upon a crippled beggar and states that he has neither gold nor silver, but what he did have he would give him: “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk.” The man was healed and walked.
Simon the magician’s lamp was empty, because he spent years building himself up, putting himself first, and saw God’s grace as a means for his own self-aggrandizement. Simon Peter’s lamp had been filled with oil from having learned at the Master’s feet, having gone with him through the crossroads, the storms, his own failures, betrayals and humility, and repentance, so to be empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and willing to give what he had received to others.
The bridegroom has invited us to participate in the wedding, the union of Jesus and his Church. The time of his return is not yet, but we need to be prepared. May we resist pride, sloth, and self-interest. We come to know Jesus and build an intimate relationship with him through the discipline of daily time spent in prayer and being about his work by, in the words of Mary, doing what he tells us! We come to hear and recognize his voice when we make time to be silent for as St. Mother Teresa taught, “God speaks in the silence of the heart.”
We can’t fill other’s lamps, but we can invite, pray for, and model for others how to fill their own. We can do this by being present to those in our realm of influence where they are, assist them in their need, share our faith, offer to pray with and for them, invite them to fellowship, study, and worship, be a living witness, and offer the same invitation we have received to fill our lamps to be ready for the bridegroom’s return.
Photo: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (cf. Psalm 119:105).
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time” (Mt 24:45)?
Jesus is calling us to be that “faithful and prudent steward” and the household we are to serve is our own homes, churches, communities, states, countries, and world. For the world is our home and those we serve are our brothers and sisters. Jesus’ call is a universal call to solidarity. We are all invited to be united in this effort for and with one another because we are all created in the same image and likeness of our loving God and Father.
God has created us, not as automatons or robots, or drone worker bees. He has created us as unique persons, one of a kind, distinct wonders that have never been nor will ever be again. Within our uniqueness, there is also the gift of diversity. We are not intended to be separate from one another, for God has created all of us to be interconnected, to be loved, and to love. What affects one, affects all.
Jesus clearly emphasizes this distinction in his parable, often called the Judgment of the Nations, when he stated: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25: 37-40).
Being faithful and prudent stewards means being aware of and willing to attend to the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, those ill, and/or imprisoned, as well as so many others in need. How do we even begin to address the tremendous number of people who are hurting especially during this time of pandemic? Resist being overwhelmed by numbers and instead meet and engage with one person at a time. Resist judging someone as other but instead see a brother or sister. Resist tribalism and nationalism, and reach out to fellow human beings in Jesus’ distressing disguises.
Not all of us will be moved in the same way or for the same cause, but let us be open to God’s guidance regarding how and who best we can serve, help, reach out, and give of ourselves to others. When we have the humility to admit to and confess our prejudices, intolerance, or biases, where we have been unaware or indifferent, God can heal and transform our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
As we are forgiven and begin to heal, as we experience the love and mercy of Jesus, we can draw strength from him, begin to see the dignity present in one another, begin to see each person we encounter as God sees them and begin to take steps to accompany and love one another. We will be faithful and prudent stewards when we are willing to respect the dignity of each person we meet, in thought, word, and deed.
Photo: Participating in our first Hunger Challenge collaborative with St Peter and Cross Catholic Outreach a few years ago.
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Mt 23:27-28).
How many of us spend an inordinate amount of time regarding physical externals? Washing, makeup, the right clothes, the correct scents, teeth whitening, plucking, nipping, and tucking. How about time spent exercising through gym memberships, home exercise equipment, physical trainers, sports, stretching, running, or cycling. How about time spent towards a career through education, updating, professional learning, seminars, webinars, and networking. There are other categories that I can add, and the point is that there is not anything necessarily wrong with any of the above in moderation and each in balance is healthy in practice.
Though if external activities are all we are investing our time and energy in, then Jesus has a point. We may “appear beautiful on the outside” with great looks, a body that doesn’t quit, and a career to die for, but what is going on inside? Are we empty, unfulfilled, achieving goal after goal, yet feeling adrift or hollowed out? Do we have all the right social skills and etiquette down, know the right things to say in public, we have friends in the hundreds on our social media accounts, yet we feel alone and not a part of anything meaningful?
Worse yet, do we go to Church, say the right prayers, are active in ministry, we tithe, are members of boards, involved in the community, and doing some great works of charity, but when the door is closed, and no one is looking… what kind of “hypocrisy and evil doing” are we up to? It is easy to stay focused on Jesus chewing out the Pharisees, right now, yet, Jesus wants more for us as well. He shines his light on the imperfections and shadow sides of us as well.
We can spend our time whitewashing the outside, projecting a perfect image, while chasing the finite and material pursuits alone, which will more than likely leave us feeling anxious, restless, unsatisfied, and tired. Maintaining and protecting a false image on any level is exhausting. Instead, we can take a good look at the time we invest, where we focus our energies, examine our conscience, and assess the health of our relationship with God, family, significant friendships, our vocation instead of occupation, and our service to those within and beyond our intimate circle.
Making time for prayer, meditation, study, worship, exercising, eating healthy, discerning, and giving of ourselves in service helps to build a firmer foundation for developing the inside, who we truly are, and how God sees us. Making time to rest, renew, and reflect on the core of who we are in the depths of our soul will help us to face those areas we may be hiding from, those areas in need of healing or repentance.
Instead of attempting to project a perfect persona, we will do better to be in touch with our weaknesses, our faults, wounds, and prejudices so as to no longer defend or rationalize them but seek healing, reconciliation, and growth. By doing so, we may be more accepting, patient, understanding, and forgiving of others because we will come to realize that we are not perfect nor that the world revolves around us. This path will lead us to experience more meaning, fulfillment, and peace that we can then share with others.
Photo: JoAnn, me, Dakota, and Jesse in our happy place – with each other.
But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see” (Jn 1:46).
Many biblical scholars believe that Nathanael is the same man as the Apostle Bartholomew, who is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts. We see in today’s Gospel from John that his initial reaction to Philip’s invitation is doubt. Why? Because of where Jesus came from. Nazareth was a small peasant village with a population of about 1,600 people (Meier, 317). I don’t think its small size would be the main reason for Nathanael’s offering a bit of humor at the expense of Jesus’ hometown, though he must have had some reason to believe that nothing good could come from Nazareth. The more important point is that Nathanael did not allow his preconceived opinions of Nazareth to keep him from following Philip’s invitation to “Come and see.”
Nathanael would not only “come and see”, but after Jesus shared how he first saw Nathanael under the fig tree, Nathanael claimed that Jesus was “the Son of God… the King of Israel” (Jn 1:49). What he was able to see in Jesus, Jesus’ own townsfolk of Nazareth were not able or willing to see. Though, like the other Apostles, Nathanael was off the mark regarding the kind of messiah Jesus would be. Jesus would not be the warrior king, but the suffering servant of Isaiah. Jesus also told Nathanael that he would “see greater things than this” (Jn 1:50). Francis Moloney articulated that: “Faith based on miracles will not suffice; something more is needed. This greater faith will enable all disciples to see the revelation of the heavenly in Jesus, the Son of Man” (Harrington, 57).
Though we do not know much about Nathanael other than the encounter described in today’s gospel, we know that he was willing to set aside his initial doubt and prejudice of Jesus’ hometown. He was willing to encounter, follow, and remain with Jesus to become one of the Twelve. There is speculation that he traveled to India to spread the Gospel he received. Most likely he encountered those who had a doubt that anything good could come from the One from Nazareth. There would be those who refused to believe and so he was killed. Yet, before and after his martyrdom, some, though initially doubtful, some like Nathanael, came, saw, and believed.
St Bartholomew, son of Tholami; Nathanael, gift of God, pray for us that we may resist the temptations of our own biases, doubts, and prejudices, so to open our hearts and minds to “come and see” Jesus in those we meet today, especially in the distressing disguise of the poor. Help us not only to resist judging others because of where they come from, the color of their skin, or their beliefs but instead grow in our faith so that we come to see in each encounter a person, a child of God, a brother or a sister journeying with us along the way.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men” (Mt 23: 13).
Context, in any reading of the Gospels, or any scriptural text, is important, but certainly with today’s reading. Our country is already experiencing enough division, polarization, and racial unrest as it is. These comments have too often been used to fuel anti-Semitic rhetoric. We need to remember that Jesus is Jewish. “The criticisms are leveled with those of power and/or influence as in the prophetic denunciations, not against the whole people of Israel. The aberrations denounced by Jesus were also denounced by other Jewish teachers in the rabbinic tradition. The goal of the denunciations is to highlight the error, to preserve others from it, and perhaps to bring those who err to the way of righteousness” (Harrington 2007, 327).
Those who would use these verses to denounce people of the Jewish faith tradition, just for being Jewish, would be acting in the same way as those for whom Jesus was convicting. Jesus spoke to the specific actions of specific leaders he had encountered who were using their power and influence for their own means and agendas. The hypocritical behavior that Jesus brought to light unfortunately still exists in our civil and religious leadership, though not all. It is why so many people are disillusioned with our religious and civic institutions and leaders.
We seek truth, authenticity, and transparency because these qualities are foundational for building trust and relationships. St. Augustine, whose feast we celebrate this coming Saturday, wrote in his Introduction to his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and we are restless until we rest in you.” He experienced a life without God and with him, and regretted the days he had resisted his invitation. It is unfortunate how many today have not come to embrace the words of Augustine, because of their experiences with those, who in the name of Christ, have “locked the kingdom of heaven” before them.
It is very easy to point fingers at others and how hypocritical they are, but Jesus is also speaking directly to each one of us in today’s Gospel. How have we erred, been hypocritical ourselves? In what areas of our lives have we allowed past hurts and wounds, anxieties and fears, prejudicial and judgmental attitudes, to limit us from living a more authentic life aligned with his life and teachings? We all fall short in living the “Way, the Truth, and the Life” (cf Jn 14:6), but the good news is that when we have the humility to be contrite, to recognize and to be sorry for the hurt we have caused, to admit when we have been wrong, we have a loving Father with arms wide open to embrace, comfort, lead us to reconciliation, and offer us forgiveness and healing.
As we are more conformed to living our lives like Jesus, we have more credibility when we speak up, out, and against any act that diminishes or denounces the dignity of another, while at the same time resisting the temptation to do so in a way that diminishes those who inflict division and hate. Jesus invites us to convict others and hold them accountable as he and the prophets who came before him did with those who did not fulfill and unfortunately also abused their roles of leadership.
We just need to be careful to convict and hold ourselves accountable for our errors as we lead others from theirs with the intent of winning back our brother or our sister. Our intent will not be to humiliate, degrade, and/or shame them, but to lead them to a place of contrition and reconciliation, such that each of us can be people of integrity, transparency, and holiness. By doing so, we will not lock the doors of heaven with our hypocrisy but will open them with the keys of authenticity and integrity that Jesus gives us.
Even though Jesus had fed the five thousand and they were satisfied and there was plenty more where this gift of grace came from. Even though they followed Jesus to Capernaum seeking a sign, the discourse regarding eating his Flesh and drinking his Blood was just too far of a stretch for these followers to take. In fact: Not only did many of the disciples of Jesus who were listening say, “This saying is hard; who can accept it” (Jn 6:60)?, many of his disciples walked away from Jesus at that point.
Jesus had gone too far. Even though just a day before they were ready to embrace him as the Messiah and move to make them their king, they could or would not believe because they did not fully comprehend who Jesus said he was, the One from above, who was sent by the Father. They had not yet developed a deep enough relationship with him such that, even though this teaching was unimaginable, unintelligible, as well as abhorrent, they couldn’t continue to stay with him any longer. Jesus didn’t adjust his words, recalibrate his meaning, didn’t go after them. Jesus spoke the truth with blunt force and let them accept or reject the invitation he offered.
Jesus then offered the same clear choice 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” (Jn 6:67-69). Peter’s response is one of faith and trust. I am sure that Peter and the other eleven reacted in the same way, but their relationship was on solid enough ground such that they were able to still trust in Jesus. They believed he was who he said he was, “the Holy One of God.”
May this be our response as well. When we find some of Jesus’ teachings hard to digest, hard to put into practice, we need to resist the temptation to walk away. Instead may we follow Mary’s model of pondering, as she did when Gabriel shared she would bear the Savior of the world. She did not fully comprehend what the message meant, but she trusted God and said yes. May we follow Peter, who consistently, dealing with mixed emotions and doubts, impulsive behavior, putting his foot in his mouth on more than one occasion, remained firm in his belief in Jesus because he trusted that Jesus was the “Holy One of God”.
When we do not understand, may we dialogue with each other, read commentaries and the teachings of the Church to better understand the context, but above all, go directly to Jesus, bring our concerns and questions to him. May we consistently pray and be open for his answer, even directly from Jesus himself in the silence of our hearts. Often times we experience an aha!, or eureka moment from another person sharing an insight from a different perspective. We come to understand better the teachings of Jesus through graced moments of revelation when we remain trusting and open to God in our time of prayer.
Peter kept the lines of communication open with Jesus. He misunderstood early on more than he understood, yet, he did not leave Jesus. Peter kept coming back. The persistence of Peter and his openness, we see in today’s Gospel. Peter said: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Peter responded in like fashion to Jesus on another occasion when Jesus asked his disicples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter replied that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” Jesus followed with the words, “flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (cf. Mt 16:16).
That is exactly the point. In seeking to understand Jesus, his teachings and his Way, especially when they are hard, may we trust that he will accompany us each step of the way. Jesus does not give us burdens just for the sake to bear them, nor will he leave us to carry them alone. The gospels are very clear on this. Where Jesus invites us to go and what he requires us to do, he will provide the grace, strength and perseverance we need, when we are willing to trust in him and call upon his help.
The grace of God builds upon our nature, Jesus meets us where we are and leads us to actualize our potential and intellectual capacity to understand. He does not want us to be blind followers, but to be engaged critically with what he demands while at the same time trusting in the will of his Father. Our intellect and reason will take us to wonderful heights, but only so far. Jesus speaks to us in human words, but also through “spirit and life” (Jn 6:63). To come to understand the teachings of Jesus such that the Eucharist is his real presence, we need to access both our faith and reason.
Jesus is not asking us to do anything he himself has not done. Jesus requested that the cup of death his Father asked him to drink could be taken away, a hard teaching if there ever was one, but Jesus was willing to submit his human will to the will of his Father. He was able to do so because Jesus trusted his Father and knew he would bring about a greater good.
Jesus gave his life, died and in so doing conquered death, transcending the time and space of our present dimension so to be present to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist as he promised and as is recorded that he would do in John chapter 6. May we take some time to read, meditate, and pray with this chapter and ask God to reveal to us the fullness of the gift that Jesus offers to us daily, himself. Jesus lives. Jesus is the first born of the new creation, and he wants to not only lead us to eternal life, but impart his life in us that we may experience the Love and Mercy of his Father now, so to be one with him in this life and for all eternity! Let us trust and believe in the Risen One, for he has the words of eternal life. Amen?
Amen. Amen. I’m alive, I’m alive, Because he lives. Amen. Amen. Let my song join the One that never ends. Because he lives. – Verse from Matt Maher’s song, “Because He Lives (Amen)”.
Photo: Serving Jesus at my first Mass after ordination