“No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father”

I point out this specific line of scripture for a couple of reasons. First, the full reading:

In John 6: 60-69, Jesus’ disciples react harshly to Jesus’ teaching in a synagogue instruction at Capernaum about the eating of the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood.

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?” they say.

And Jesus responds. “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.”

The reading goes on to say, “Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.” He says, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.

The reading says, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.”

Jesus says to the twelve Apostles, “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.”

As I said, I pointed out the specific line from today’s scripture for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s interesting to note that not all of Jesus’ disciples stuck with the program. Jesus already knew who they would be, according to John’s account. Jesus says, only by the Father’s granting can one come to know Jesus. The twelve Apostles obviously had the blessing of the Father.

Second, I want to point out to the faithful the gift that we have in being granted faith in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t come to everyone, at least not all at once. Many of the faithful attack those who aren’t Christians, but we need to remember that they haven’t yet been granted that access by the Father. Maybe they will one day be invited to believe in Jesus.

Likely there will be those who haven’t been given access that when they are granted access will still not accept. People can be stubborn that way. But God acts in his own good time. We can’t condemn others who don’t see what we see; instead we must be patient while the Father chooses the time that is right for each of our unseeing brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis while speaking at Mass in Philadelphia in the United States this past week basically said that we shouldn’t crimp God’s style. That we shouldn’t be offended by God’s audacity. There are many faiths but one God. He speaks to many different people in many different ways. So even while God speaks to us as Christians, he may grant faith to others in other ways. Our self assurance that our faith is the one true faith may be misplaced.

We cannot assume that because someone is not a follower of Christ or of any other form of the one God that it is because they are a stubborn heathen. Perhaps God has simply not approached them yet. On the other hand, if it is because they are a stubborn non-believer, Jesus gives us another answer. In Luke 9: 1-6, Jesus says “Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.We can walk away with no residue of failure, although we can still pray for them.

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“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world”

In John Chapter 3, the Gospel tells us some interesting things.

Here, Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin who has become a believer: “We know you are a teacher come from God, for no man can perform signs and wonders such as you perform unless God is with him.” But he has lots of questions, and it is here that Jesus teaches about how to enter heaven:

“No one can see the reign of God unless he is begotten from above”; “No one can enter into God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and spirit”; “No one has gone up to heaven except the One who came down from there — the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (This is the shortened version; read the whole chapter for the full scripture.)

Then Jesus says something really interesting. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

So what are we to make of all this? As Christians — Catholics and Protestants — we believe that we can only get to heaven if we believe in Jesus. In fact, as the chapter continues Jesus says, “Whoever believes in him avoids condemnation, but whoever does not believe is already condemned for not believing in the name of God’s only Son.” The Church puts a lot of emphasis on this. And so do its members.

What I hear less emphasis on by many believers are Jesus’ other words; God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world .” When you read the Gospels you don’t see Jesus condemning sinners. You don’t read him chiding wrongdoers. He heals those of faith, and encourages repenters. The only ones you hear Jesus using cross words with are the scribes and Pharisees who are hypocrites and the money changers who profane God’s temple.

Jesus came to save sinners and build faith. Yet many members of His church spend an inordinate amount of time condemning people they consider sinners. If God will not condemn sinners, why should we? Counsel perhaps. Build up their faith certainly. But how is it our business to condemn others when Jesus, who died on the cross for them, won’t?

In Matthew 7: 1-2 we read Jesus command, “If you want to avoid judgment, stop passing judgment.” Can you really be a Christian if you do not heed this command?

 

Did Jesus ever smile? And some other thoughts on faith.

This isn’t a reading from scripture per se, but this interview of Stephen Colbert with Father Tom Roscia does touch on scripture and faith. As a Catholic, it resonates with me in many ways, but it can resonate with other Christians as well.

Colbert is a Catholic and a man of deep faith. He is also a man of deep intellect as I think you will recognize in the interview. The two can co-exist as he explains in this video. I bring you this video as an exercise in expressing scripture. Of course, this interview is much more than that. Please watch and both enjoy and consider his thoughts.

For any reader who is not from the United States, Colbert is a comedian and performer who became famous for creating the character of what he describes as a foolish pundit on the highly popular “Colbert Report” on the American cable Comedy Channel. The program lasted for nine years, until he was appointed to replace Dave Letterman to host The Late Show on the American broadcast network, CBS, which just recently began airing.

 

 

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself”

In Mark 8: 27-35, we read the story of Jesus asking the disciples who the people say He is. Some say He is John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and some say one of the prophets. Jesus asks them who they say He is. Peter responds, “You are the Christ.”

Then Jesus instructs them about his suffering and death on the cross and rising in three days. Peter rebukes him, but Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

I have heard it rationalized from this scripture that Jesus is saying we must suffer has He suffered, that we must allow ourselves to be “martyred” in His name and we will go to heaven. But another interpretation may be possible as well.

As human beings we tend to be egocentric, to think of ourselves first. Not Jesus.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross to simply suffer and die. He died on the cross to sacrifice Himself for all of us. And that may be key to this reading: Jesus is calling on us to stop that most human of all tendencies and deny ourselves on behalf of others.

All along Jesus has lived a life of poverty, a life of giving totally of Himself for others, a life of doing wondrous works to heal and feed and provide for others, and in the end, He gave up his life to save humanity. He is saying that as individuals we must be willing to follow in His example and take up that cross in his name.

Today’s second reading at Mass is from James 2: 14-18, who was known as the bishop of the Apostles. That reading is a calling to do good works, because “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

We must also consider that Jesus died on the cross and rose again to conquer death and bring us to eternal life. But I think this reading reaches beyond than that. In saying that the most important commandments are to love your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, Jesus is calling on us to believe in his life and his mission and follow in all of his footsteps, loving Him with all our hearts and loving our neighbor enough to care for him or her. All of our neighbors, even the ones we do not recognize.

To reach the heavenly kingdom, we must believe in Jesus as the Christ. To believe in the Christ means believing Jesus died on the cross for us, but it also means bearing our own cross, accepting that Jesus calls on us to love and care for one another. Giving up our focus on ourselves is a cross that is sometimes difficult to bear and “dying” on that cross is what this reading asks us to do. It’s What Jesus Would Do. It’s what Jesus did do.

“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath?”

In Luke 6: 6-11, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue, the scribes and Pharisees watching him closely as usual. They want to catch him curing someone on the sabbath, which is against their rules.

A man whose hand is withered asks for Jesus’ healing, and knowing that the scribes and Pharisees are watching, Jesus asks the man to stand before the crowd. Jesus then says, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Jesus looks around at everyone, then says to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch out your hand.” The man does so and his hand is returned to good health. This enrages the scribes and Pharisees, who confer on what action to take against Jesus. I paraphrase the narrative, so read the scripture for the full story.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus calls out the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites and vipers for looking for ways to nitpick the rules and laws against him and his disciples. Yet we never seem to learn, because that nitpicking continues to this day.

It’s hard to know someone else’s motives, but one wonders if some people don’t nitpick the rules and laws to find fault in others simply to make themselves look better. Or perhaps it’s because those other people pose a threat to the power and prestige of certain people who present themselves as living righteous and perfect lives. Maybe it’s an effort to deflect light away from their own lives living in the sins upon which they so vehemently shed light.

So often we see hypocrites using Jesus’ words to show how righteous they are. But we need to remember that Jesus didn’t buddy around with the righteous or the rich. He spent his time with sinners and those struggling in life — the poor, the sick, the discarded. If you’re going to take your example from anyone, don’t take it from those who celebrate their own purity while denigrating the sinners and less fortunate, take your example from those who actually help others without seeking notoriety. They are the closer to Jesus and the kingdom of heaven.

 

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”

This line is from Matthew 22: 15-21 and similarly in Mark 12: 13-17.

The Pharisees are once again trying to trip up Jesus. Accompanied by Herod sympathizers, they say to Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor or not?”

Jesus knows they ask the question in bad faith. “Why are you trying to trip me up, you hypocrites?” he asks. “Show me the coin used for the tax.” They show him a Roman coin and he asks whose face is on the coin. They respond that it is Caesar. Jesus instructs, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.”

The Pharisees and Herod sympathizers are taken aback and leave.

Likely everyone has heard of this story. I recommend you read the whole scripture; I have shortened it slightly, though the message is the same regardless: Sometimes we are required to give in to the secular world as it demands while we live according to God’s world in our personal lives.

A good example of this today is the case of the county clerk in Kentucky who believes that same-sex marriage is against God’s will and refuses to issue marriage licenses, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that same-sex marriages are legal in all 50 states. The governor of Kentucky has instructed all county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses as is their duty, yet the country clerk Kim Davis still refuses to issue them claiming her faith demands it. When asked by whose authority she refuses to issue the licenses, Ms Davis replies, “God’s authority.” She has been jailed for contempt of court.

But by Jesus’ direction in this reading, it would seem that God’s authority is to issue the licenses, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, absolving Ms Davis of any sin because in her heart she is personally giving to God what is God’s.

Sometimes we go overboard in reading into God’s intentions. Jesus gives us a way to meet our societal obligations while remaining true to our faith. In the case of the Kentucky county clerk who has a sworn duty to issue marriage licenses to everyone, Jesus tells her she can meet her professional obligations without missing her obligations to God.

“If we had lived in the days of our ancestors”

Jesus once again rails against the scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew 23: 27-32.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You build the tombs of the prophets
and adorn the memorials of the righteous,
and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors,
we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’
Thus you bear witness against yourselves
that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets;
now fill up what your ancestors measured out!”

Once again, we are presented with the picture of the self-righteous, who presents himself as the model of upright living but really fails to live up to the teachings of the Gospel. They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk, in modern usage.

But in this short line of scripture, it seems that Jesus has brought up another question: You say you are devoted and close to the prophets, that in the days of the prophets you would never have shed their blood. But is that really true?

Is that not also true of today’s version of the scribes and Pharisees? Had today’s so called “Christians” been alive in Jesus’ day, would they even have recognized Jesus as the Son of God — or would they have nailed Him to the cross and crucified Him, just as their ancestors did?

It’s easy to recognize Jesus in a story, “believers” wanting to be seen as one of the enlightened righteous. But in real life, seeing this revolutionary figure, this man who claims to be the Christ, the Messiah, who says he heals the sick and raises the dead, who claims to speak for God, and dines with sinners and travels with tax collectors and feeds the poor — this brown-skinned supposed miracle worker who gathers about him the “lazy and worthless,” the least and weakest of society: Would they really accept Him as the Son of God? Or would they side with their “kings” and their rich faith leaders and politicians and put Him to death?

Looking at it another way, if Jesus had been born today instead of two thousand years ago, would those who today call themselves “Christians” recognize Jesus as the Messiah? Or would they deride him as a socialist hippy who should take a bath and get a job, ignoring his directive to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, give shelter to the homeless, and care for the least of our brothers and sisters?

In the Gospel reading that last line is challenging the scribes and Pharisees to do it again. But in this day and age, it goads us to be realistic. Be a true believer and live truly according to the Gospel, and stop putting on hypocritical airs.