August 22, 2021 | By Bishop Edward Braxton, Ph.D., S.T.D.
August 22, 2021 | By Bishop Edward Braxton, Ph.D., S.T.D.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I’m sure you weren’t expecting this. When you left your homes and headed for Mass and Communion at Blessed Sacrament Church, you weren’t expecting Jesus to confront you with this question: Will you, too, abandon me?
How can he be asking you that? After all you are here to participate in his great Prayer of Thanksgiving, the Eucharist. Fidelity to the Eucharist is just the beginning of discipleship. So many ways for “practicing” Catholics to walk away from Jesus: only think of Him once a week at Sunday Mass, week after week passes and you never meditate on his story in Sacred Scripture, we make little effort to obey His command to love all people as we love ourselves, you ignore tensions in your marriage and other relationships that require His healing love, you don’t return to Sunday Mass because it is easier to watch it live-streamed, and you rarely, if ever, confide in Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation.
When I teach adult Catholics a course called “An Introduction to the Gospel of John,” I often begin with three questions.
1. What is distinctive about the story of the birth of Jesus in the gospel of John? Most say John’s infancy narrative is very similar to the ones found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Once in a while, a participant says, “the story of the birth of Jesus is NOT in the Gospel of John. John begins his work with a long poem, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Someone who reads the Bible carefully might add, “There is no infancy narrative in the gospel of Mark either, only in Matthew and Luke.”
2. My second question is: When is Mary, the mother of Jesus, mentioned by name for the first time in John’s gospel? There are often one or two people who say, “Mary is mentioned by name for the first time in the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana.” They are surprised when I tell them that, while the gospel does speak of the mother of Jesus for the first time at the Wedding Feast, it does not mention her name. Indeed, if we had only the gospel of John, we would not know Mary’s name, because he never calls her by her name, even once!
3. My third question is: In John’s account of the Last Supper, what key part of the story is missing that is found in Mathew, Mark, and Luke? Usually, no one knows this. When I tell them John omits completely the “this is my Body, this is my Blood” narrative concerning the Eucharist, they are amazed. I explain that John replaces “this is my body, this is my blood” with Jesus washing the feet of the apostles, telling them “What I have done for you, you must do for others.” Furthermore, while he leaves out the Eucharist narrative, John includes a long reflection. “I am the bread of life that has come down from heaven. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, even though he may die, will live.”
The students then usually ask why? Why is John’s gospel so different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke? One reason is the fact that John was written much later that the other three. Another reason is that the author of John did not have before him a document scholars call the “Q” source. Q was a collection of stories, sayings, and wonderful deeds of Jesus, long since lost, that Matthew, Mark and Luke had from which they often copied word for word.
In today’s reading from John 6, 60-69, we hear many of Jesus’ disciples say, “This is a hard saying; how can anyone accept it? The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, even though he may die, will live.” Many of them returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also wish to abandon me?”
Simon Peter answered, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe that you are the Holy One of God.”
The “hard saying” that the disciples could not accept was this, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jewish people quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” Since He knew what a stumbling block His words were, Jesus asked His apostles, “Do you also want to abandon me?”
Jesus calling Himself the “Bread of Life” and telling people to “eat His flesh and drink His blood” was incomprehensible to His Jewish listeners. If you really think about it, Jesus’ words are also, in a sense, incomprehensible to us. What could He possible mean by, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood?” The author of the gospel of John knows how strange these words are to anyone who hears them. Jesus’ question, “Do you also want to abandon me?” is not just for Peter and the apostles. It is for each of us today. We should not hastily answer with Peter’s words, “Master, to whom shall we go?
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Every year for the past five years surveys of religious beliefs in the United States have shown that many Christians, including many Catholics, have drifted away from their faith. To whom did they go? Some joined eastern religious traditions which do not acknowledge Jesus Christ. Others joined New Age movements that are “spiritual” but not “religions.” Some have concluded that Jesus was only a good man, or a Prophet, maybe a subversive political revolutionary, or someone who never really existed… A fabrication of the early church. A former Catholic wrote to me last year saying, “I never really think about Jesus anymore. I don’t know who Jesus was. He does not have an impact on my life anymore. I’m doing just fine without Him…He is like a crutch for emotionally weak people who need to populate the heavens with gods instead of stars.”
Some former Catholics have embraced a minimalist version of Christianity. They think Jesus was a great man who had a special relationship to God. They don’t believe Jesus was the Christ, the Son of a God. Nor do they believe Jesus rose from the dead. They call themselves secular Christians, who respect Jesus as a great moral teacher. Critics of this popular secular Christianity are quick to challenge Catholics who think like this saying, “There aren’t many things that all Christians have believed throughout history. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ is first among them. Believing in the resurrection is the heart of Christian faith. If Christ has not been raised, then our faith has no foundation.”
The apologist C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity wrote “Some people say foolish things about Jesus like, “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I can’t accept His claim of divinity.” But if a man who was just a man like any other man made the sort of claims Jesus made about Himself, He would not be called a great moral teacher. He would be called a lunatic. Either this man was and is, who He said He was/is, or He was a madman.”
When Jesus Christ asks you and me this morning, “Do you also want to leave me?”
We must look into the depth of our souls and ask ourselves, with all honesty can we truly say with Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Did you and I live every day last week in such a way that everyone around us could see that, in the depth of our being, we believe that the Lord Jesus is the Holy One of God?”
Praise be Jesus Christ. Both now and forever. AMEN!