AUGUST 27, 2006, 21ST SUNDAY-  JOHN 6:60-69

THE WORDS I SPOKE TO YOU ARE SPIRIT AND LIFE. Today’s text portrays one of the various ways that St. John’s account of our Lord’s teaching, conveys the fact that he is God in the flesh. John was at pains to announce and emphasize this theme throughout his Gospel. To assure that it would not be overlooked or misread, he stated it explicitly in the opening sentence of his version. He did so because all the real meaning and full significance of all the rest to follow depends on this fundamental fact. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word as with God, and the Word was God". Logos is the Greek term he employs. The Syriac text uses the term Melto’ and it affirms that this Word is God, stating it even rather more emphatically: "And God was the Melto’, the Word." One of the reasons that our Gospel account today carries such a weight of significance is that the claims Jesus makes concerning the Eucharist and then the words of his discourse, as he discussed the need to believe his teaching, imply that he has divine power. When objections are raised, rather than weaken his position as he confronts his critics, he makes a further assertion concerning his message: THE WORDS I SPOKE TO YOU ARE SPIRIT AND LIFE and insists on the need for faith in his teaching. None of the prophets had dared to speak with such authority, even in their most exalted state of inspiration; rather, they claimed authority as coming from God. They did not disclose the message as if it was their own; they preached as revealing a message given by God. Not so with the Lord Jesus. Who but God himself can plausibly assert his own words are spirit and life when the life of which he speaks is eternal as he made clear a few sentences before this passage: "Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day."

Thus John shows that to put faith in the words of Jesus concerning the Eucharist is to trust his person in the conviction his words are words of God because he himself is truly God. He is sent by the Father and yet remains one with him, Jesus affirms on another occasion."The Father and I are One" (John 10:30). Although St John was unable to give a rational account of the way this belief can be harmonized with the conviction that God is one, they affirmed that Jesus is truly God, so united with the Father as to be one. The true followers of our Lord who accepted his Gospel as inspired maintained this truth against all objections. It was only after more than 300 years that the Church at the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople found a manner of expressing the mystery of the Blessed Trinity that indicates what such equality entails in terms of nature and its relation to person.

It is not surprising, then, to learn that, in the words of John, "After hearing it, many of his followers said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?"(6:60) and ceased to follow after him. Nor should our faith be disturbed to learn that still in our time the many consider the conviction that Jesus is truly God as well as truly man to be mistaken or worse. As Simeon at the Presentation had predicted "You see this child: he is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected...." (Luke 2:34) Faith that Jesus is co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit is at once a gift from God and a free choice each person must make. It is so fundamental in our Lord’s revelation that he insisted on it in the face of criticism, rejection and outright condemnation for blasphemy as we see in John 10 31 When Jesus said " ‘The Father and I are one’ The Jews fetched stone to stone him." Obviously, then, our Lord considered that his mission, including his teaching and his ministry, depended for its efficacy on knowing and accepting his person as divine. All else in the faith is built upon this fundamental truth. Its implications are vast. Not least of which is that it means that God has so loved us- each of us individually and all of us together- as to give himself in the person of the Son that we might share his own life. This is the fuller meaning of today’s text: THE WORDS I SPOKE TO YOU ARE SPIRIT AND LIFE. To receive them with faith and gratitude, to take them into our heart is to share in the same Spirit that animates Jesus and unites him with the Father. This act of faith then is the beginning of that full life that knows no setting, that glows with the knowledge of the glory of God. "This is eternal life", Jesus proclaimed on the night before he died, "to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3)

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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