Spirituality of the Readings
Jesus has been distressing the disciples by his words, at least in John’s Gospel.
For instance, last week he said we have to consume his flesh and blood in order to have eternal life. His followers could not possibly have understood this. They whispered, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?"
This Sunday his words would make it harder still.
Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the Spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail. …
As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their
former way of life
and no longer accompanied him (Gospel).
A sad scene, and puzzling too. Why is Jesus saying such mystifying things to his followers, and, just as a side issue, how are we ourselves supposed to understand them today? Do they make sense?
Here is a key: whenever an event or saying does not seem to make complete sense in the Gospel of John, we have to seek deeper meanings. There is often a delicious significance hidden behind events that John describes in a bewildering way.
Alright then, what does he mean in the line 5 and 6 of the Gospel reading by what seems like a non sequitur:
What if you were to see the Son of Man
ascending to where he was before?
Well, likely, he was talking about the Ascension. Where was the “before”? We know that he had been in the bosom of the Holy Trinity! God’s love had leaned out to us in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. At that point Jesus had to “go to the next life.” He was still a human being, as well as divine. He was telling them that if eating his body and blood was shocking to you, wait till you see me ascend into heaven!
Then the words a few lines later, “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is to no avail.”
We already celebrated the Ascension. There, Jesus said he would not desert us but would be present on earth in a new form. The third person of the Trinity would come to dwell within people who believe. Since the members of the Trinity share everything they are with each other, Christ would be within the Holy Spirit. That Spirit would offer to live deep within each believer, within each human who says yes to its presence.
How then do we acquire the Holy Spirit? Through Baptism, definitely. And of course, as in Jesus’ command from last week, by eating and drinking his body and blood. Communion lets us “become what we have eaten,” the body of Christ. We are to let Christ have flesh again, in our hearts and in our actions. By communing each week, each day, we are more and more carriers of Christ. When we are part of the “Body of Christ,” we therefore have eternal life, as he told his followers in this week’s Gospel.
Peter sums it up. “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Let us make that statement too. Let us open wide to this Holy One of God as we celebrate Mass this Sunday.
Let us become bearers of the Word to the world.
John Foley, SJ
**From Saint Louis University