When we have made a mistake, done something hurtful, or are simply wrong about something, and someone else is bringing that to our attention, that can be very difficult to hear. Depending on the state of our soul, we may or may not be able to listen. Depending on the disposition of heart, we may or may not be able adjust our behavior or opinions to align with the truth being presented to us. Depending on the depth and strength of our character, we may or may not be able to be grateful to the person delivering the message.
When Jesus was walking the dusty roads along the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, his listeners struggled to understand and embrace some of his teachings more than others. But none more than today’s difficult teaching. More than any other teaching it was the one that his followers and critics alike struggled to get their hearts and minds around. Nothing has changed since then in this regard.
Let’s take a look at today’s difficult teaching.
“Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
It is from John’s Gospel, chapter 6, verses 53-54.
This is a central moment in Jesus’ public life. There are two moments when the people really struggled to understand what Jesus was saying. When Jesus told them to tear down the temple and he would rebuild it in three days, and what he is saying today about being the Bread of Life.
There are three other verses in this discourse that I would like to explore briefly with you, but it’s worth reflecting on this whole section of John’s sixth chapter from verse 22 to 71. It is rich with meaning and foreshadows not only the rest of Jesus’ life, but also the life of the Church ever since.
How did the people respond? They had three reactions. Here is the first.
“The people then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’”
We make so many assumptions and we believe our assumptions. But in truth, in most situations, we should question, challenge, and test our assumptions. Because the wrong assumptions make it impossible to reach valid conclusions.
It’s subtle, but do you see the assumption in the verse I just read. I’ll share it again.
“The people then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52)
Did you catch it? “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
They are operating under the assumption that Jesus is just a man, and that assumption makes it impossible for them to understand what Jesus is saying, never mind believe.
If a homeless person tells you he is going to give you a letter of recommendation and a full scholarship to Harvard, you would be naturally skeptical and dismissive. That’s the kind of situation that is playing out in this part of the Gospel. They won’t accept who Jesus really is and so they are incapable of comprehending all he can do for them.
Then we move on to their second reaction. And this reaction is especially relevant today given all that is transpiring in our culture.
“Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60).
Notice, they didn’t say, “We don’t understand” or even, “We don’t want to live this teaching” or “Can you explain this a little more?” They didn’t even want to listen to it. They didn’t even want to hear it.
This is the attitude of today’s culture and not only in relation to matters of faith. The poverty of mind and spirit has descended such that this is now the attitude of the culture toward objective truths and scientific and biological realties.
For thousands of years a person who refused to acknowledge reality was considered a denialist and mentally ill. Today you can deny reality and be celebrated as enlightened. Is that not a sign that the culture itself is very sick indeed?
I was reading about mental illness recently for a project I am working on and came upon this description of Schizophrenia which is a tragic and desperately sad mental illness. “Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition that causes disordered ideas, beliefs and experiences. In a sense, people with schizophrenia lose touch with reality and do not know which thoughts and experiences are real and which are not.”
It was the last line that got me thinking about today’s culture. “People with schizophrenia lose touch with reality and do not know which thoughts and experiences are real and which are not.”
When we are not willing to even listen to the other side of an argument, we dangerously open ourselves to deception and tyranny of the worst kind. When a culture begins to deny objective reality it is teetering on the edge of destruction.
To understand how far our culture has wandered from the Gospel, you only need to consider that objective truth cannot even be uttered in many situations today.
But We digress. The people’s third reaction to Jesus in the bread of life discourse was to abandon Jesus.
“After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” (John 6:66)
On this Holy Thursday we are reminded that from the very beginning, the Eucharist has been a lightning rod, a point of contention and division. Regardless of what we have thought before or believe now, let us ask the Lord to open our hearts, minds, and souls to a deeper understanding of the Eucharist today, and with each passing day for the rest of our lives.
As we enter into this Holy Triduum I offer you one point to meditate and reflect upon.
There is a church in Avila, Spain, built in the site of the childhood home of Saint Teresa of Avila. In the sacristy where the priests prepare for Mass there is a large wooden crucifix on the wall. The crucifix is surrounded by these words, which have been painted on the wall.
“Priest of Jesus Christ, celebrate this Holy Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.”
Let this be our resolution this week. From now on, each time you go to Mass, let us participate and celebrate it as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.”
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