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A Difficult Teaching

I have been thinking about the Gospel’s these past few weeks in preparation for the homily.

As you know there are four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  We believe that each of their canonical gospels is the inspired word of God bGospel of Johnut it is also true that they each feature the words or recollections of the evangelists.

While they all tell the story of Jesus and his time on earth each version of the story has its own style.

To help us understand this I have come up with an analogy. Think of a family going on an extended trip together. There are four siblings sitting in the back of the family motorhome and each of them is tasked with writing about the adventure.

The oldest is Mark. He is the efficient one. He is the first to write his story and it is straight forward and fact based.

The two middle kids are named Matthew and Luke. They have had a chance to read Mark’s account and they determine that there are things he left out that were either important or needed be expanded upon. They even have a few things they remember quite differently from Mark and from each other.

One example of this is the nativity story on which our celebration of Christmas is based. If all we had was Mark’s Gospel we would not know anything about the birth of Jesus, in fact we would not know the names of his mother Mary and adopted father Joseph.

Matthew and Luke most likely had another source for some of the details of the story and they complete their gospels some time after Mark.

John is the poet of the family. Most large families have a John. He has likely read or at least heard the others recounting of the journey with Christ and decided not to simply retell them using the same details as Mark, Matthew and Luke. John wants to provide his own interpretation and explanation behind the events and teachings of Jesus’ ministry.

I encourage you to take a moment this week and read the story of the Last Supper as told by the four evangelists. Mark, Matthew and Luke tell basically the same story but as mentioned they highlight different aspects mostly to make a point with the communities that they are talking to as part of their evangelization.

When you read John’s account you have to question if this is actually the same event.

Scripture scholars have debated why John tells the story the way he does and it remains the subject of much debate to this day.

In all the gospels The Last Supper is the final time Jesus really gets to speak with his closest disciples.

In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Jesus breaks the bread and blesses the wine, he makes his new and everlasting covenant with us and commands us to do this in his memory.

John uses the scene of the Last Supper to show us Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and he tells us of Jesus’ command to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

It is in the bread of life discourse that John shows us the deeper meaning of the breaking and eating of the Bread.

In this discourse in Chapter 6 of John’s gospel we hear Jesus say:

“I am the bread of life;….Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

Spoiler alert: In a few weeks time, when we complete this chapter of John’s gospel we will see that many who have followed Jesus because of the miracles or signs find this teaching about the bread of life to be too difficult.

This is indeed a difficult teaching and many of the followers, those attracted to the miracles find the teaching to hard to either understand or follow and they leave.

This brings us to what I call the “so what” part of the homily.

So what does the bread of life discourse mean to us today in this parish 2,000 years later? For us Catholics this is not really a hard teaching since it has been ingrained in us since birth or as part of the RCIA.

But is knowing a teaching and even believing it to be true the same as living it?

When we listen to the words of the consecration as Catholics and we believe that the bread and wine being offered become the body and blood of Jesus we also acknowledge that he is with us and that we will have everlasting life.

If we believe this teaching why do we find, at times, the other teachings of Jesus so difficult to live by and perhaps we walk away.

I am referring to:

  • The teachings of about asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness.
  • The teachings on loving our neighbour which may not be so hard but what about holding out the hand of love to our enemy;
  • The teachings about caring for the least of the brothers and sisters including the stranger and the prisoner;
  • The teachings warning us about judging the other as a sinner when we have a log in our own eye.

And I could go on but you can see that many of the teachings of Jesus are difficult.

When we eat his body and drink his blood, when we proclaim his death and that he will come again then why is it we so often leave Mass with a sense of worry, dread, anger or fear.

Perhaps truly believing that Jesus is the bread of life is not as easy a teaching to follow as we might think.

For if we truly believe these words of Jesus, as told to us by the evangelist John and we live our lives as if we are completely fed by the bread of life then there is nothing holding us back from departing this Mass in peace which also means we are completely free to glorify the Lord by the way we live our lives.

 

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