Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday After the New Sunday (4th Sunday after Easter)

Sermon / Homily on John 6:51-59

The 'Dangerous Memory' of Jesus

Gospel Reflections by Father Gerry Pierse, C.Ss.R.

Scripture: Prov 9:16 • Eph 5:15-20 • Jn 6:51-58

In 1991, the Church in the Philippines tried to go through a process of self reflection and evaluation by means of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II). There was an honest effort to try to assess the reality of Filipino catholicism. The picture that emerged was one of light and shadow. The picture was one of a people who were strongly sacramentalized and strong in devotions. However the dark side was that there was little evangelization. In spite of the sacramentalization, the values and attitudes of the Gospel had not permeated into the attitudes and behavior of our people. Internalization of values had not taken place. Indeed, this observation is not unique to the Philippines. It could be said of the catholicism of most nations. What was admirable was the courage of the local church to make such an honest statement as a starting point for an effort to change.

In trying to remedy this situation the PCP-II, setting aside most of the work of the preparatory committees, came to the conclusion that to be renewed as a Church we needed to retell the story of Jesus to ourselves so that we could more credibly, more authoritatively, tell it to others (#36). We needed to go back and be challenged by the dangerous memory of Jesus (# 56) - a rather extraordinary statement. What did it mean?

Two thousand years ago in Palestine there was a carpenter preacher who was crucified. That was not anything very unusual. Two thousand rebels had been crucified there a few years before. But what was unusual was this; this carpenter/preacher rose from the dead! So, naturally people began to ask, "who was this man who rose from the dead?" His name was Jesus, he was crucified. What did he do? He went around doing good. There were so many stories about how he had given sight to the blind, given hearing to the deaf, and made the lame walk. He had even provided wine at a feast and provided food for the hungry crowds. He was a man of great compassion. When he saw people in need he did something to help them in their needs. There was certainly nothing dangerous about this. In fact we are told in John chapter 6 that he knew that the people wanted to take him by force and make him king. The people saw a good thing in him and wanted to keep him around. It must have been something else that made him "dangerous."

Some writers would say that the tide of popularity turned against Jesus after he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. They would see this incident taking place early in Jesus' public life. Now Jesus was getting into the area of economics and that is dangerous. He hits at the wealthy for their prostitution of the house of God and making it into a market place. The pharisees were the paragons of virtue and righteousness in his time and he also begins to take shots at them. He sees their egotism and pride, their wanting to be seen to be holy, their insincerity through fulfilling the letter of the law without having any concern for its spirit. Of the other powerful group, the scribes, he said, "Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the place of honor at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, making show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive." Mark 12:38-40. (As a priest I squirm when I hear these words.) Here Jesus is challenging the attitudes of the leaders. He is telling them that the attitudes they are showing are contrary to the values they teach. He is telling them that they have not internalized their own teaching.

There is an Irish saying, "the person who speaks the truth should have one foot in the stirrup." He should be ready to ride off at once. People do not like the truth, especially when it challenges their attitudes; and the reaction is often to try to destroy the evidence of the truth or the one who witnesses to it. The political and religious authorities of the time of Jesus were at enmity most of the time. Now, instead of listening to his challenge to internalize their publicized values and bring their attitudes and behavior into conformity with them, they decide to work together to plot the death of Jesus. This pattern of behavior is still followed by people today who discover lack of integration in themselves. They try to avoid the pain of facing up to it by destroying the evidence of its existence or by trying to discredit or avoid the person who points out the road of health to them. In their efforts to avoid the pain of integration they lead themselves into the much greater pain of a neurotic life.

The process of internalization and interiorization of our professed values and of living them out in our attitudes is a frightening one. It is, however, a process that must take place in our outer world and in our inner world. We try very often to conceal the need in our outer world and to deny it in the inner world. If we are insecure we try to cover this up by accumulating possessions, and by seeking prestige and power. If we cannot find possessions, prestige and power in the political world we may seek them in the religious world. We express ourselves in actions or in rituals that may be an avoidance of coming home to our deeper selves and our deeper fears. Prayers that are words coming from the heart are true praise and worship of God. But unfortunately "prayers" can also be mere words; they can conceal a fear of entering into our interior. They can give a false impression of being at home with God and with the values and attitudes that God stands for.

The sixth chapter of the Johanine Gospel has very clear eucharistic teaching. It was written down by a community that had been celebrating the Eucharist, a thanksgiving meal in memory of Christ, for about 50 years. So the experience of the community is also reflected in the account.

The chapter begins with challenging the people that they were following Jesus because they had seen miracles and been given food to eat. Jesus keeps challenging them that the food is a symbol of something greater that he wants to give them. In the scene in chapter four where Jesus meets the woman at the well we have a similar happening. (This chapter is replete with baptismal teaching.) When Jesus talks about the living water she missed the point and asks that she may have the water so that she would not have to go to the well any more. Here in chapter six Jesus talks about living bread.


One of the translations says, "HE WHO MUNCHES THIS BREAD WILL LIVE FOREVER."

The whole point of Jesus here is that just as bread is assimilated into the body and becomes part of the body and energizes it, so too Jesus, and his teaching and values and attitudes, are to be interiorized and integrated into us so that we can live out of them and therefore live forever in him.

What we are talking about here is bringing about a consistency between our outer world and our inner attitudes. We can have an understanding of Jesus as "God in the Box," "a prisoner of love in the tabernacle." It is a theology of a Jesus who is out there and will not touch or challenge us. Unless we also see Eucharist as a celebration of the presence of the living Jesus it will leave us unchanged.

The living Jesus gave us this bread of a sign of himself. THIS BREAD WAS TAKEN… BLESSED… BROKEN… AND GIVEN FOR US. We must be in touch with our blessedness, brokenness, given-ness if our Eucharist is to be a living bread for us. We must have the interior attitudes of Christ.

We will not have these "dangerous" challenging inner attitudes unless we are able to live comfortably within our selves. For this we need solitude, silence, meditation. Pope John Paul II said in Pastores Dabo Vobis, "Silence is the vital atmosphere in which to perceive God and to allow ourselves to be won over by him." Without the practice of silence, there is a great danger that we too will miss the meaning of the Eucharist and fail to interiorize and live the "dangerous memory of Jesus" which will qualify us to live forever with him.

Source: Sundays into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian Publications

See Also:

Sermons, Gospel Analyses and Bible Commentaries on the Lectionary Readings for the 3rd Sunday after New Sunday

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