Reflections of the Spirit


AUGUST 25, 1991

Joshua 24. 1-2, 15-17, 18  -- Psalm 34 -- Ephesians 4.32 - 5, 2, 21-32 -- John 6. 53, 60 - 69

Gerald Regnitter; lay presider.

The readings of today's liturgy present us with some really interesting images and messages. The first reading shows us the people of Israel, newly delivered to the promised land of Palestine, proclaiming and celebrating their determination to serve the Lord.

The second reading from Paul raises the hair on the back of the necks of people who believe that it demeans women and distorts the relationship between men and women. And yet, we know that Paul is searching for an example from his time and culture which would explain just how deeply Christ loves his people, his church.

The third reading from the Gospel of John concludes the series from the last three Sundays where Jesus tells us how intimately we need to be united with him in order to have eternal life. We see that many were unable to accept his invitation to eat his flesh, the bread of life.

While preparing this reflection on the readings, I considered a whole series of choices. I could talk about the example, of the Israelites accepting Jahweh because he had proven his love for them, and how we could reflect on God's love for us in the past and then make a similar declaration...

I considered talking about what kinds of examples you or I would create to illustrate the incredible and deep love of Christ for his church. What culture and time-images would we use? I even dug out some old record albums to listen to the love images our culture uses.

If you had the task I have today, you would have found many additional choices coming from our readings. The word of God is rich.

I found myself being pulled back to the opening of today's Gospel and what I find to be a very uncomfortable message.

In the Gospel we hear that the Jews and many of the disciples of Jesus thought that what Jesus had been saying about eating his flesh was " Intolerable language".

What would that mean? The word the original language of the New Testament uses for flesh means a body that is corruptible, smelly, diseased, and very, very human. It was not some sanitized and germ free piece of unleavened bread.

Well, what would be intolerable language for me today?

Intolerable language would be some message that does not make sense according to my thinking or values. It would probably be something that I do not want to hear.

Maybe it would be a message that told me that if I want eternal life I should sell everything I have and live a life of poverty and service for the rest of my life. That could be "intolerable". After all, didn't I work hard for the benefits I have? Was I not just enjoying the results of good efforts and initiative?

Maybe it would be a message that told me that if I wanted to love God I would have to really connect with some pretty undesirable people. People that I considered slimy and pretty awful in nearly every respect. That message might do it for me....

I have heard intolerable messages in my life more frequently than I care to recall.

One that haunts me even after many years is one I came across nearly 28 years ago. This was the message :" If you want to know how much you love God, ask yourself how much you love the person you love the least ... because that person is God."

I would like to argue and say that this is not really so ... Have I not been told as well that whatever care and love I show to any person is an expression of love for God? If I am going to show love for the other parts of his Body, why does it have to be the stinking and unpleasant parts?

If I am being honest , I can't get away with that kind of logic.

And then I remember that the message said that what I did to the "least" of his brothers I was doing to him...

At the Saturday evening mass at St. Michael's when I picked up the consecrated hosts for our service today, Fr. Sheldon had a story that he used in his homily that really fits our message today;

"There was a rabbi going down the road with his disciples, and he asked them 'How can you tell precisely when darkkness becomes the dawn?' One of the disciples thought for a while, and said, 'Rabbi, it must be when there is enough light that you can tell the color of the flowers beside the road.' ' No that is not the answer.' After a while a second disciple siad, 'Rabbi, darkness becomes dawn when you can tell the difference between the Eucalyptus and a fig tree.' ' No that is not the answer either,' said the Rabbi. After more thought, a third disciple said, ' Rabbi, darkness becomes the dawn when you can tell the difference between the sillouette of a horse and of a donkey.' ' No, that is not correct either' said the Rabbi. Finally a fourth disciple said ' Rabbi, we know you are trying to teach us something, please tell us the answer. When is it that the darkness becomes the dawn?' The Rabbi replied: ' It is darkness until when you look into the face of your neighbour and see the face of God.' "

When I recite the creed or hear a reading like today's message from St. Paul, I want to turn away from certain messages and sort of not hear them -- you know what I mean. I am sure you have a way of not really hearing all kinds of things that are said to you by other people...

For example, do we really hear Paul's message that we are all connected as parts of Christ's body -- like a leg is attached to the torso, like the hand is connected to the arm .... like a husband and wife are connected....

Well, that connectedness brings us pretty close to and interdependent with an awful lot of body parts that I have trouble liking.

For example, I have trouble liking someone who is all over me slobbering drunk ... I have trouble caring about someone that I have seen being cruel to a child... I have trouble caring about someone who promotes a political or economic policy that creates war and poverty in our society .... I have trouble caring about someone who puts me down and makes me feel cheap -- especially someone who points out my faults to me... someone who does not like me at all...

Just take a second and think about the people you really don't like and consider to be slime or garbage kind of people....

I don't want to think about being connected to them in a dependent and caring interrelationship, even if that is what we pray about when we say in our Creed ... I believe in the Communion of Saints. The Saints we pray about is the entire community of God's people throughout time and geography.

When we proclaim that basic statement of our Christian faith we are declaring something that has implications that can be pretty intolerable. What we are declaring is our belief that we are parts of Christ's body -- and that the connectedness bought about by our baptism connects us to EVERYONE that has ever become connected through God's call and invitation to them. That is all of us!

It connects us to the Blessed Virgin that Trevor talked to us about last Sunday.... but it also connects us to Hitler and to that father-in-law that is always putting me down, and it connects me to people that have not even been born yet --- it connects me to the people that are dying in convulsions or in cancer pain or of hunger or in a drunken coma --- it connects me to the brand new child that is right now being born in a slum in Receife Brazil...A child who will become an abandoned child and be killed by a death squad hired by a merchant to clean up the streets in front of his store.

Think about it for a moment .. we are part of this communion of saints -- we are part of this body of Christ. We have been invited to become part of that body by God's initiation to baptism ... and we have been united to Christ by partaking of the Eucharist -- by eating his flesh and drinking his blood --- the same flesh and blood that he was asking the Jews and his disciples to consume if they wished for eternal life... That was the intolerable message that Jesus delivered Can I accept this message, or it also intolerable to me today?

Dare I approach his altar and eat of this eternal bread? Dare I acknowledge my connectedness and all of the frightening and glorious implications of that?

Of course not .. I don't dare and I don't deserve --- I am not worthy to receive him . We repeat that every Sunday before we accept his invitation to eat.

You and I are invited and have been declared worthy by the actions of that same Jesus who asks us what he asked his disciples ... " Does this upset you ? ... What about you, do you want to go away too?"

By ourself we do not have the courage to accept this intolerable message ... we have however the courage and strength that comes when we recognize God's incredible love for us . We can look to the Israelites who had come to know God's love by considering how God had cared for them during their deliverance from Egypt and their 40 years in the desert. We can reflect on our personal and community experience and say along with Peter ... "Lord, whom shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God."

Let us eat of the bread that brings eternal life -- knowing that even though we do not find ourselves worthy, God does, and his judgement is better than ours .

Candesna Cun Wakan Oksina


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