Stop the compromise in the Catholic Church – 21st Sunday in ordinary time – John 6:60-69
The Gospel of this Sunday brings to a close chapter six of the Gospel of John; a chapter we have been listening to for the last five Sundays. To fully grasp the text of today we have to understand what is going on in chapter six of the Gospel of St John. While chapter six begins with the sign of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish it becomes a tool for Jesus to draw the disciples into a deeper understanding of what has come to be called the ‘bread of life discourse.’ Twice Jesus will declare that he is the bread of life and finally in verse 51 he will emphatically state that he is the ‘living bread that has come down from heaven.’
Perhaps the key verses to understand the text of today is verse 52 to 59. Jesus declares that unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man AND drink his blood we can have no life in us; we may be as many are physically alive but spiritually dead. Those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will have eternal life and he will raise them up on the last day. When Saint John used the word ‘eat’ in this text, he used two words. In verse 53 he uses the Greek word ‘esthio’ which means to eat as we would normally eat. We are invited to ‘eat’ his flesh which he ‘has given’(verse52). Remember the Eucharist is ‘given’ freely by Jesus because it draws us into a deeper relationship with him. However, in verse 54 the word for eat is not ‘esthio’ as in verse 53 but ‘trogo’ which translates as ‘ to munch or gnaw’. The Lord is clear, the reception of the flesh of Jesus must be as if ‘our life depended on it’ and in reality it does. And here in lies the question especially in pandemic days. Does our life feel incomplete without the Eucharist? Do we yearn for the flesh and blood of the Lord that can only give us life?
And so, today’s Gospel begins with these words, ‘when many of his disciples heard this teaching they found it difficult and in verse 66 we are told that they turned back and no longer went about with him.’ Why did the disciples leave Jesus? To answer this we need to answer a growing doubt in the minds of many Catholics. There are several Catholics who have come to believe that the Eucharist is merely ‘symbolic’. Sometime ago I heard Bishop Barron talk of how many catholics in the USA had come to this belief. For many the Eucharist is not the body of Christ but ‘symbolic body of Christ’. This belief is clearly seen in our liturgical actions at the Eucharist and sadly even by priests. Our external actions are reflective of our internal disposition. The evidence that the Eucharist is not symbolic but real is found in today’s opening lines of the Gospel. When the disciples heard this teaching they said it was difficult and questioned who could accept it and finally left the Lord. IF the disciples thought that this teaching on the Eucharist was indeed symbolic they WOULD NOT HAVE LEFT JESUS. They leave him because the Jews clearly understood that Jesus was indeed offering his own flesh and blood and that they could not accept.
Jesus does not change his teaching because some may be ‘offended’ (verse 61). Today, catholics do not want to offend people of other faiths or their fellow Christians and so they water down the teaching on the Eucharist. Jesus did not care because the numbers in his congregation dropped. He did not care that he was no longer popular. He had a clear mandate to teach the truth and draw all to the father. Perhaps many may still not believe in this teaching and Jesus is clear that ‘belief’ does not come from the flesh it comes from the spirit (verse 63) and yet we are told in verse 64 that ‘ among us there are many who do not believe.’
Today, the Gospel draws us to a watershed moment; we stand with the teaching of Christ or we don’t. There is no middle ground on this matter. When Jesus asks his apostles if they too wanted to leave, Peter answered, “ Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life,” Do not see these words as words of despair or resignation rather see in them what they are; words of faith. Because we believe where else can we go!
At the start of Chapter six we are told at the feeding of the multitude that there were 5000 men. Now at the end of the chapter six there are but 12 apostles. Perhaps this is what is required even in the Catholic Church. It’s ok if we are down from 5000 congregants to just 12 for this is the mind of Christ. It is time we stop playing the number game in the Catholic Church and demand grater faith from our congregations rather than watered down compromised beliefs .
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