Feeding Line, Dividing Line Part III : From Mystery to Scandal

Jesus Holding The Bread

Often religion gets a bad rap and often for undeserved.  One example is being ethnocentric on God’s the favor. But the message of Christianity is a universal in design and meant to be expressed that way.  To be a Christian is to grow in holiness while being holy.  Christians have fallen short at times in keeping Christianity moved by the world rather than moving the world.

It is worth noticing how the gospel’s proposal is unfolded with universality, mystery and challenge.  Unfortunately the proposal is met with unbelief and cynicism.

Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,  because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets:

‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 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.”  (John 6:31-51).

It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven—  Jesus begins to challenge them to the transcendent.  If the manna, which means “What is it?”,  is drawn back only to Moses and the past then the faith is only a subjective religious experience.  Instead Jesus draws their attention to God the Father in the context of the present.

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world— The distinction here is that this sustenance, coming only come from God, is for the world.  This revisits John 3:16 in that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….”  Jesus is to be consumed and it is from divine love that resurrection life touches those from everywhere.

Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said… “whoever comes…whoever believes ….Everything that the Father gives me will come to me—  They have a hard time discerning how serious Jesus is about the nature of offering himself.  Jesus speaks to them with a qualifier about the “whoever”  and points to the heavenly Father.  To speak of this kingdom is by a family table and in mystery.  Also one can see the conversion is “both/and” in coming to Jesus by destiny and choice at the same time.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life— But the context is in coming and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  If it is just by a worldly point of view that he is just a carpenter, good teacher, great prophet or nice guy then there is little redemptive.  Such a perspective of all that Jesus is has  much emptiness.

Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’? —-  Paul addressed this to early believers who could have, and likely were, swayed by the philosophies of their day. Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  However, in the context of this whole passage it is worth considering the same for the Eucharist.  To the eyes of the flesh when Jesus died not he cross it was just a Roman execution.  Likewise, to the eyes of the flesh now one could just see a wafer at an altar of Catholic, Orthodox or Coptic parish and wonder what thus fuss is about.  But with eyes of faith the perspective changes when a priest hold up the Eucharist and says.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.

I will give is my flesh for the life of the world— A beautiful thing happens in the path of conversion to Jesus.  One does get that introduction through evangelization  like what happened with the first two disciples by John the Baptist.  Then the disciples on that day by the river ask where Jesus is staying.  He said, “come and see” (John 1:39).   The measure of God’s love for the world of John 3:16 is  infinite.  The most normative way for us to respond is repentance, faith, obedience and with the greatest virtue of love.  From this we thank God for sending Jesus.  This is what early church communion was in Greek using the term for communion: eucharistia.

The Eucharist has been present since Jesus ascended and is an extension of The Sacrifice of Jesus who said he would be with us “To the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This is not a later interpretation.  A eucharistic  interpretation was noted by St. Justin Martyr in 155 in his Dialogue with Trypho.

“And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” – (First Apology, 66. 155 AD)

St. Ireneaeus of Lyon agreed with this interpretation in 189 in Against All Heresies.

Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from the things mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the of the resurrection to eternity. (St. Ireneaeus  Against All Heresies Book IV, Chapter 18).

One interpretation is right and one is wrong. One embraces Jesus today for all he presented himself and the other has limitations. Such is the dichotomy of scandal or mere symbolism as I will address next.

A Peace of Mind And Heart

Forgiveness

It is an easy thing to say that you like the people one deals with on a daily basis. And if one says that they are spiritual then they can even say that they think of their Higher Power highly.

But the real person is the sum of a lot more than the best thoughts and best actions.  To present those things when things are going well and our cracks are not exposed in the light of stress.  Such stress can be when we are wronged by someone.  We had expectations possibly to be treated with dignity and respect that were proven to high or maybe some other kind that was just as off.  Either way, the light of being a loving person toward both God and fellow human beings has to start in the heart.

I remember when I was a kid hearing the idea of what we would feel like if we had a TV screen on our heads wherever we went that showed everything bad we have done.  My friends and I groaned about how lame that would be.  Then the speaker cut deeper and asked how it would feel if that screen showed everything we seriously considered doing.  The groan was much deeper.

When confronted by reading the words below of Jesus, there is chance to renew an examination of our conscience about life not being fair and how to rise above “fair” and choose love.

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny (Matthew 5:21-26).

There is a famous saying from Father Michael Scanlon, “God opposes the proud [the Bible goes on to say ‘but embraces the humble’], especially when they are right.”  The point is that we get in turmoil over the temporary things when God is more invested into us walking in a higher way of thinking.  It is supposed to be about trusting Him to sort out the temporal things including how wrong the other person is.

To be angry with a person as an end in itself is not like righteous anger.  Jesus had righteous anger because it was clear by natural law and God’s divine law how they should live as teachers of the law and they were hypocrites instead.  Such righteous anger carried with it sincere grief over their sin and desire for their repentance to the their best selves per God’ creation.  Anger as an end in itself is only personal on what bad you ascribe to the person and not on their well being.   To rise above person anger and be open, if appropriate, to righteous anger involves a paradigm shift through prayer and meditation about how one has come to wrongful presuppositions about the life and dignity of their personhood and especially of their greatest enemy.

Saying they are a fool (raca means “empty head”) is denying that they are created in God’s image, whether man or woman, and ascribes a curse to them to not make better decisions.  After all, it takes a full head of the right things to make good decisions.  We must consider  how,   “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21).  What would our lives look like if we chose to bless?  The key verb is to choose and does not happen by accident.  In different verses int the Bible the call to bless your enemies is a commandment precisely because it is hard.  But what stops us?  We live in a blame culture driven by knowing how to curse people fluently and with a pseudo-intellectual labeling based on what society says are the groups people belong to.

           So when you are offering your gift at the altar…

The word “when” assumes for the one who hears that they make coming to the altar a regular thing for worship. But to be in a bad state of contention with someone else hindering access to God should not effect the reader of the New Testament, right?  After all, there is no longer an altar to deal with so if if someone else has a problem with you, you have a personal relationship with your Higher Power and can comfort yourself in being a spiritual person with that logic.

Before you have your sigh of relieve, keep in mind that this was not the impression of the early church fathers about the importance of being pure in your daily living before you can commune properly with God.

“On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure.  However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meetings until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled.  For here we have the saying of the Lord: ‘In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations [cf. Mal 1:11]”.   

AD 70 The Didache.  

So before we congratulate ourselves highly, let’s ask ourselves how much of peace and love is in our lives.  And before those of us who pride ourselves for choosing the “Christian team” sit back in our Lazy Boy and procrastinate reconciliation with those we are in strife with, keep in mind that strife is an enemy of the cross of Christ.  On the other hand forgiveness and reconciliation is central to connecting to the Higher Power and everyone else.  What is stopping us?