See, Stay and Go

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In the heat of the day, a woman of one ethnicity meets a man from another ethnicity at the well.  She gets the water then because she is an outcast socially from her people.  This stranger just called her out on her current life of emptiness but she chooses to stick around anyway.  She is challenged but intrigued.

 

See

This woman just got served by Jesus.  Unfortunately for her she was served in the sense of her sinful past being laid to bare.  But to her credit, she rolls with it pretty well all considered.  He challenged her on the issues of living with a man unmarried and having 5 husbands so he could propose to her for something better. 

The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he,the one who is speaking with you.” At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:19-29).

Sir, I can see that you are a prophet— A turning point in anyone’s conversion is recognizing Jesus has at least some valid authority. As a Samaritan she had an imperfect formation by Jewish standards in what to hope for but she does see something big is going since a prophet discerns truth.  Her perspective is broadening. 

…this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem— This woman is centering on spiritual mysteries that seem to have no discernible purpose and doing that based on her own cultural lens.  Jesus responds with a coming agenda, a kingdom, that would not be bound to her culture or his and has a broader purpose.  Jesus acknowledges the foundation on how salvation history through the Jews but points to importance of blessing the world.

I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed— She points in hope how somehow someone will be anointed by God. It is implied the Holy Spirit will do the anointing. In further developed articulation of Christianity one can see an abundant life full of the Holy Spirit. Such a life is informed by the work of Christ on the cross drawing one to a fully formed life the Holy Trinity.  Below are dynamics of the persons of the Holy Trinity that we can understand in fully articulated Christianity that is, again, of spirit and truth. 

The One whom the Father has sent into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son, is truly God. Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world. In adoring the Holy Trinity, life-giving, consubstantial, and indivisible, the Church’s faith also professes the distinction of persons. When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 689). 

The work of the Holy Spirit is partly to point to Jesus as the visible member of the Godhead.  Working as “Breath” (the word for spirit and wind is the same in Hebrew), there is a relational context that the believer is invited to of unity (John 17:21).  This intent of breathing the Breath of God has to have consequence on earth in a new agenda.  This is the gospel lived out.  This woman in her simplicity points to a foundation for this hope. 

Stay

will worship the Father in Spirit and truth- Jesus is contrasting her presumption that the new faith would have to be anchored by a singular geographical location.  For Jesus to say this had foundation from prior scripture.  “From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations;Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere, and a pure offering; For my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11). How is this supposed to work if God’s people are bound to only offer sacrifice in the temple?  In the rabbinical narratives between the Old and New Testament they wrote with the Messiah to come the sacrifice to remain would be of bread for thanksgiving; it was called todah in Hebrew,  translated eucharistia in Greek in a translation of the Old Testament and is Eucharist in English. 

the Father seeks such people to worship him- Those people are sensitized to the joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The spirit spoken of is a reminder of the Holy Spirit being the Breath behind all spiritual wind which reveals the son for which there is no discrimination. 

God is Spirit-  Exactly articulated later with these words in the Nicene Creed of 325 “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.    

those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth – For those who know the call after conversion to be true worshippers they are introduced into partaking of this divine nature, sensitized to true worship and will worship the Father in Christ. The rituals that are absent the spirit only point to a greater reality but are not in themselves that greater reality.  But Christ is and he is to be experienced in matter and faith. 

I who speak to you am he  This is the dividing line.  She can go backward from Jesus but not in ignorance.  Or she could go forward and continue to be changed in perceptions and lifestyle with a full conversion.  She has been proposed to and not imposed upon. So we can be in the moments of turning around and giving our own testimony to the world about this mysterious Other.   

Go

“Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?”— Good evangelism sometimes is knowing the right answer to the right question.  She had her answer: Jesus is Savior and she needed saving.  Each day one chooses to walk in friendship with Jesus is an opportunity to be whole.  Not all dynamics of conversion are meant to be figured out.  But if we open our eyes Jesus will meet us in the common wells of our lives. The subsequent transformation compels us to a proclamation of the comprehensible and the mysteries in Christ.   

The Lord’s missionary mandate is ultimately grounded in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity: “The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 850). 

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Simple Words, Simple Faith

simplefaitharchiveDebates can have at times “drop the mic” moments where one points out an irrefutable fact that the other side is defenseless on.  The other side may be seem like they should just pack up and go home. 

When I see some debates between Catholics and Protestants it is sometimes said that Catholics do not have the gospel.  But if the rhetoric is simple and the audience is an average American Protestant one then that could be stalled whole as a central point.  As a former Protestant who is now a very grateful Catholic, I can use examples of the contrary with the mass and more.

First, there is a reading from the gospels in every mass with no exception.  On Sunday mass the priest or the deacon lifts up a book that only has the gospels, walks to the ambo (podium) and is accompanied by a lit candle.  In that walk the congregation sings allelulia. Reverence is definitely given.

Second is the homily (sermon).  The priest or deacon teaches off of the scriptures (on Sundays a minimum of four passages area read).  In my experience there is something shared for initial or ongoing conversion for the hearer. 

Third is the recitation of the Nicene Creed. It includes the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, doctrine of the nature of Church and the end times return of Jesus with the final judgment.  This ends what is called the Liturgy of the Word. 

Fourth is in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The priest lifts up and consecrates the host saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.  Behold him who takes away the sins of the world”.  Someone reading this may not believe that the host is any more than a piece of bread nor that Jesus was any more than a good man.  That is your choice.  But for those who read this and believe that it is just a piece of bread but Jesus is indeed everything that he said he was, I have a question.  If we were to go back in a time machine, snip some hair from Jesus and put it under a microscope what would we find?   Would it be shown to be something that knocks our socks off?  I would doubt it because that could be means of us being coerced into faith.  There is no true free will in that.  Likewise a Catholic or Orthodox can see the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. 

The last one has some distinguished beauty to it.  At the end of mass we are dismissed.  The etymology of this is being sent out.  In fact, one of the common things a deacon will say is “The mass is ended.  Go our and share the gospel with your life”. 

This bears light if one reads the scriptures.  Part of the priesthood of all believers’ calling is remembering that they are also sent into the world to proclaim the gospel. 

“Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 1:5-6).

Portrait of An Assembly

Mountain TempleI used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”.  It was set in a small town in Wisconsin.  It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time.  One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture.  One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.

When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering. This is a mistaken approach because what is missed is the true “cosm” that the “micro” is based on. It is based on a beautiful fellowship in God and we are invited to participate in that which is heavenly and holy.

The truest Holy Family is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in One. Three Who’s and one What. It is the highest experience of a community of persons we can presently point to.  In those three persons are initiating love, responding in love and a personhood of the love between. 

Church, as founded by Jesus, is meant to be an extension of this divine fellowship where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps.  A gathering of people ias Christians is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes whether it is set of two or three gathered in his name or something even more deliberate.

The normative of such a gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly.  One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event.  It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was translated as ekklesia.  That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.

Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: church was about being called out to something.  The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure.  the “ek” was the out of.  This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world.  The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way. This was needed because it was a sacrifice. 

There were many sacrifices to be made.  As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics,  one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for.   Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).

Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.

 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect,  and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).

Mount Zion—  When there is Zion, there is David who made that mountain a standard for covenant.  Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished.  His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but his line is fulfilled in Jesus.

..the living God— God is alive and not an idol.  He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image.  We know from Adam and Eve, however he did it, we are formed unto him.

..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest.  And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.

countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation.  The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not.  I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.

the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints.  Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8).  The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing.  God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline.  This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”.  God is judge and father.  It appears to be a paradox but not a contradiction.

and the spirits of the just made perfect—  This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory.  To speaks of salvation for the members of God’s people as only an imputed, or legal designation, righteousness falls short for all of the grace that God the Father has for his children.  The gospel has for the converted the opportunity to accept “the engrafted word of God which can save your soul (James 1:21).  For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and the prayers for the dead shown in 2 Maccabees 12:24.

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—  An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”.  I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note:  pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus that is ongoing in our temporal reality but planted in eternity. That salvation in Jesus is in the context of joining. To join with Jesus is to receive him on his terms.  Jesus said he was the bread that came down from heaven and that the one who eats his flesh and drinks his blood receive eternal life (John 6). 

The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus one can appreciate who he was by those who knew him in a manner of the senses and beyond. The traits are there.  This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear and all the while without fear. For this family God stared is supposed to walk in that “perfect love [that] casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:17). 

Feeding Line, Dividing Line PART V: One Proposal, Two Answers

Marriage-proposalThe conversion of the heart and a paradigm shift is no small thing.  Changes converts make are radical to the core of how they live, love and hope which happen only in total surrender.  The preceding moments of  tension may be a setting of ones choosing, God’s choosing or a bit of both.  When one is about to convert, the tension comes in the understanding of life as we have known and not knowing the details of what we are getting.  When Jesus told the Jews one day that to have eternal life they had to eat his flesh it was time to leap forward or backwards.

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, 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. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.   But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (  John 6:59-69).

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever—  This could be the payoff if they get it.  The people in the time of Moses had manna from heaven which was the word for “What is it?”  Jesus comes as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) in a visible, sacramental context.

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum— This is not an incidental statement by John.  John made a point here that the very scene where the Law is read is where teaching happens that brings interpretation of the first five books of the Bible.

This saying is hard; who can accept it?— In my experience as a Christian in post-modern America moral relativism has often sneaked into how people make decisions on truth.  If they are grounded in the divine, truth is discovered and obeyed.  If they are grounded by the wisdom of this age then it is up for a subjective vote and the pope is in the mirror.

Does this shock you?-  This is like a spiritual soundcheck.  He then asks if they would be ready to know the big picture.  This may have been rhetorical.  The answer was no for most but Jesus is out to propose and not to impose.

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.— For those that read this verse and say it proves the Eucharist is not efficacious then they misunderstand what is being said.  Notice Jesus said here “the flesh” not “my flesh”.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus sees the disciples sleeping when they were supposed to pray.  He says there that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The flesh is weak for the disciples in the garden because they were not engaging their flesh in obedience to the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  His flesh is spiritual life for the world because Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human.

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him— This is the moment of decision.  They declined the invitation of Jesus for a communion that is oneness with God: a divine proposal.  They were along for a great ride and got free bread the day before.  Jesus proposed more.  As an addictions counselor working with clients in treatment I tell them their “addiction is outside that door doing pushups”.   In the same way the former life for even those that are complete converts is always wanting reunion.  To leave Jesus is to look at truth in the eye and say “No. Not going to do it”.

“Do you also want to leave?—  When I became a Catholic I had much joy but I still knew that following Christ still is a continual process.  At Easter Vigil the congregation reaffirms the faith that is “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic” (Nicene Creed 325).  Even for those that are baptized and confirmed there is an annual decision to make where one reaffirms the Catholic Christian faith.  And for my Protestant brothers and sisters, to leave the same Lord, faith and meaning of baptism is always up to you as well. We all have free will.

Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.—  The disciples are humble and thus tied to the wisdom of eternity rather than the wisdom of that age.  There is an objective truth, and they know Him as the all consuming reality (alethia).

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God-  They have come to a conversion point and for each of them it has come gradually in how they came,  saw and were conquered. This is the nature of discipleship.

Each disciple of Jesus has a DNA in the church that Jesus started.  Together the Body of Christ is meant to be a bride to whom Jesus is returning. Jesus is The Bridegroom proposing marriage in the context of faith and reason sacramentally.

The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life” and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1336).  

Feeding Line, Dividing Line PART IV Divine Proposal To Action

partially-eaten-bread

 

I have often thought about Abraham Lincoln and the challenge to action.  Once there was a preacher with very eloquent speech who had a sermon for the sophisticated in his community that had flowery wording and gave everyone goose bumps except President Lincoln.  He was asked what he liked about the sermon and his reply was that he did not like it at all for the reason that it did not challenge him to action.  He was in a civil war and he know that eloquence was not the answer for the changes he wanted to make but action and resolve as a nation to change relationally.

What I would like to point to here is that the gospel, when presented in a sacramental context, is more fully the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:17) though it could offend the mind with offensive, even scandalous wording.  

Scandals can have many effects on a population.  They are often talked about where someone has done something shameful.  The central person or people in a scandal would rather they could undo what brought their odd thing out to the public.  One reason is because they become socially radioactive and no ones wants to be around them.  If they are a politician then no one wants to endorse them.

One of the shocking things about Jesus is that he points at himself in the gospels in a way that makes him socially radioactive.  He speaks foolishly to confound the wise with a moment of tension.  A common phrase used in the early centuries was the word scandalon.  We could think of it as a stigma.  Christians then and now see the cross of Christ as essential to expressing the selfless love of God even though it was the electric chair of the 1st century. With this irony the people who think they are wise in the things that matter and make sense are thrown by Jesus who keeps drawing them deeper.  These are the tensions where “faith and reason are two wings by which man takes flight” (Fides Et Ratio, John Paul II, 1991).  He lays out a scandalon to challenge those who would go from open inquirers or smart debaters to full disciples.  Like an x-ray of their hearts using shocking language.

 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”  Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats[s] my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:52-58)

This is where Jesus sends the inquirers in Capernaum to the edge.  The doubters get the scandal wanted. By reason only many walk away though with integrated faith and reason some remain.

How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?— This is a response by people that are closed off to mystery.  The premise is that God’s ways would have to fit into the intellect of humanity.

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood—  This is loaded with messianic expectation fulfilled in Jesus.  The term “the Son of Man” is used in Daniel 

As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man.When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Jesus has a dominion that does not end but a relationship with the chosen of God that does not end and is kingly, communal, and universal.

eats my flesh—  This time in the Greek text there is a transition.  Up to this point Jesus has been using a more polite term that would be used for biting or chewing but now he uses the word for gnaw (trogo) like an animal.  Jesus is upping the level of offensiveness to make his message even more scandalous for an important reason: if one gets Jesus only intellectually, then it is not a divine or transcendent encounter and would empty the cross of Christ of its power.

Jesus sees that the wise must be shown up for their lack of faith.  Again, faith and reason are meant for each other.  “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning (1 Corinthians 1:17).   What Jesus lays down in the gospel is a message that does not rest of eloquence because eloquence will not change lives but an inconvenient encounter with Christ does.  What Jesus lays down about consuming him is meant to be the default understanding of Christianity of an encounter in all its fulness and was seen so since early Church history.

What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction (Augustine, Sermons,  272).

Nobody eats this flesh without previously adoring it (Augustine, Explanation of the Psalms 99).

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.

The Prayers With Meaning

heavenandearth

Having a spiritual identity as a group  based on good intentions will take them only so far.  So too those with good doctrine , a community feel and social norms that reinforce that identity.  All the more for a community to be Christian and be fully centered in relationship to Jesus that is vital.

That is the lesson of prayer for the Church in its early days and also for today as we see that, “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

What I have covered of the other three traits are not without importance individually but are unable to flourish if they are not guarded in prayer.  Prayer is the soil and climate by which apostolic teaching, community and ceremony in Christ flourishes.

But what kind of prayer is being discussed here?  What is important to notice is the implication from the Greek.  The point is that the word for “the” (τη  definite article – dative singular feminine) is there.  This makes it something that is experience as a definable communication with God and very purposeful.

We can be informed in the context of the very same verse in that the “breaking of the bread” is used.  We know from the revelation of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that their eyes were opened fully to who Jesus was in the breaking of the bread.  We also know from both Old Testament and rabbinical mishnas that sacrifices, including the grain one, prayers needed to be accompanied.  The theme for the grain offering was thanksgiving (todah).  When that was brought over to the Greek translation of the Old Testament the word was eucharisteo (from which was get the eucharist).

But it should be noted that the corporate prayer in those gatherings needed to be held in context of the delegated authority of the apostles.  It is implied by the next verse as well as many sources from the early church fathers that the prayers connecting the corporate people was through those with holy orders since they “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43).  It flows well that “the prayers” were prayed by the apostles.  In the next years this is passed on to the presbyters (prebuteroi) from which we get priests.

This continues a pattern that is in the Old Testament.  Several times someone who is King of Israel attempts to do what is liturgical in worship but God rebukes them and reaffirms the importance of the priesthood.

I can hear the words of the skeptic.  There would be questions like “But how could there be riles to prayer in what was the pure,pristine Christianity before the corruption of the Catholic Church?   And isn’t the Law done away with?

First, the prayers that go with the presentation of the eucharist are entirely Christocentric as described below.

In this Paschal and sacrificial prayer, everything is recapitulated in Christ: God and the world; the Word and the flesh; eternal life and time; the love that hands itself over and the sin that betrays it; the disciples present and those who will believe in him by their word; humiliation and glory. It is the prayer of unity (Catechism of the Catholic Church,paragraph 2748 1994).

This was a part of the apostles job description (and their successors) to “do this in memory of me”.  This was an instruction given only to the apostles and for those who would directly succeed their office.

One last point about the prayer environment that rounds out the Church that Jesus founded: these prayers in connection of the appearances for bread and wine transcend our physical reality on earth.  I learned this through two ways as a I journeyed from my thirty years as Protestant.  On a quiet afternoon in a small Spanish mass in Wickenburg, Arizona I had a distinct impression of the presence of angels.  When I received the Eucharist that day (I found out later I was not supposed to yet) there was a sense of heaven and earth meeting.  After finding out about how the mass is represented throughout the book of Revelation it only became crystal clear.

In conclusion, what I have come to understand that the four points of Acts 2:42 need two kinds of environments.  The environment of apostolic prayer and also delegated authority in proper succession: the Catholic Church.