20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Proverbs 9:1-6 | Ephesians 5:15-20 | John 6:51-58
Oh God, who have prepared for those who love you good things, which no eye can see, fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love so that loving you in all things and above all things, we may obtain your promises, which surpass every human desire. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
WE continue with the theme of the bread of life, and one of the things that I find so fascinating in the opening prayer of this liturgy is the promise that it is reminding us of — a promise made by God initially to Abraham. This promise was that he would choose us, (in the beginning it was just the Israelites, but obviously in the fullness of his revelation he chose all of those he created) every man and woman, that while we are on this journey here on earth, to move from a place of slavery to a place of freedom, from a place of scarcity to a place of abundance. This is his promise: “I will take you there.” So in the opening prayer, we have a beautiful image of this thing that we are called to experience. This fullness is something very good, yet it’s clear in the prayer that no one can see it. Perhaps what that points to is that this process we’re moving toward, this wholeness, this fullness of life, this abundant place is not something that is literally promised to be at a particular place and time, but something much more mysterious. When it happens, when is that? It strikes me that it’s more like moments, at least before it becomes full, when we leave this earth and enter into another place, that those moments of peace where all seems well and everything is in its place, those are beautiful moments. It also strikes me that the slavery that we often get caught in is the slavery of judgment. Judgment. It is one of those things that God made so clear — stop judging. We do it all the time. I do it all the time.
The opening prayer says we are given this great promise. It will happen. You’re not going to be able to stop it. You can say no to it and, in that sense, maybe stop it, but would you really say no to life, to fullness, to freedom? Maybe, and that’s a reason there is a hell, because it’s possible that we can deny that fullness, that freedom. Otherwise we’re puppets. In my own understanding of human nature, unless there has been such severe damage, most of us will choose to be free, to be alive, to be connected, to be at peace. So as we look at this promise unfolding, we’d have to say, “All right, what is it that we need to do? In what do we need to be engaged for this promise to be continually feeding us, nurturing us, enabling us to grow, and to not lose hope?” Well, everything in the Old Testament is a prefiguring of everything that happened in the New Testament. Everything in the New Testament, in a sense, reveals what the Old Testament was all about. They are not two separate stories. It is one story, and they are both filled with incredible wisdom. The mysterious thing that we listen to in the first reading is about this feminine figure that wants to do the same thing that Christ wants to do — she wants to feed us. She feeds us with this rich food and choice wine, and somehow she knows that the thing that she is giving us is not something that can be explained or figured out. Otherwise she might have called it knowledge. No, she calls it wisdom. A good definition, I think, of the difference between knowledge and wisdom is that knowledge is information, but wisdom is a knowing, a kind of inner knowing about one primary thing — life. Life. You can be smart and not grounded in the truth and not have life, but if you have wisdom it would seem that you would be grounded in the reality of what God has asked us to participate in — the fulfillment of a promise.
Sometimes it feels like we’re on a test track. Do you get that feeling sometimes? I did when I was younger. “Here are all of these beautiful, wonderful things you could do, but I’m telling you, those are things you can’t. They’re very attractive, but if you don’t do those for me as a sign that you love me, and you get through this whole test, I’ll grade you at the end. And if you make a C-minus, you can get in, but then a D-plus, that is purgatory. An F, well, you know where that goes.” It’s not that kind of test. No, it’s an adventure. It’s an experience. It’s an experience we’re asked to be engaged in, and this experience is called life.
So wisdom, that knowledge of what it really is about, the ability to be engaged in something that’s mysterious and hidden and trust in it, that’s the gift of wisdom. It is interesting that the gift of wisdom in the Old Testament is feminine figure. However in the New Testament it becomes a person. It becomes Jesus, and this Jesus — the wisdom is in his essence, his body, and the blood that courses through him. It is in his life. The wisdom of Jesus is that he is the manifestation of the work of this journey. The fullness of this work is primarily in allowing the same thing that happened to Jesus to happen to us — God entered into Jesus, God is in Jesus and Jesus is God. Jesus said it over and over again. “The Father is in me. I am in the Father. I want to come into you. If I come into you, I’ll bring the Father to you.” The goal is the Father. The goal is a life-giving relationship with God the Father.
Since the beginning of my spiritual life until rather recently, my focus was primarily on Jesus. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but if I met him, if I stood before him and said, “I love you so much. I want to do everything for you, Jesus.” He would say, “Well, I know you do, but know that I’m the Father. If you’re looking at my face…” these are the words of Jesus, “that is God. That’s what your God looks like, just like you.” If you could believe that this God is just like you and get through the mystery of the way he reveals himself in the Old Testament where he seems often so violent, so harsh, so difficult. it is only working with people who are only capable of understanding him if he’s like someone that they know, some God that they know. He can change their mind about gods if they first see, “Okay, he’s saying, ‘I’m a God, but I’m the only God, the true God, and I’m like the other gods, but watch me. Listen to me. Pay attention to me, and you’re going to see me revealing myself,” self-revelation, self-disclosure over years and years of working with him. Then you see him finally manifested in his absolute incredible power, the God who wants to come and dwell inside of you and in me.
When Jesus pointed that out to people, they had been informed by the Old Testament, by the images of God but also by the images of the people who ran their religion. The thought of God even being able to get near material things was considered to be a blasphemy. God is perfect. God is pure. The world is impure. Material world is evil. That’s what basically happened. That’s one of the great heresies in the early church. For the first thousand years of the church, there was a thing called Manichaeism, and it was that very teaching. God is goodness. God is pure. God is grace. God is life, but the material world is destruction and darkness, sin, corruption. That’s like saying that the two are separate, but they are not. God is the world. God is in everything. God created it exactly as it is. The idea that it has been corrupted is a misunderstanding, I think, of the power of the fallen angels who came into this world to test us, to work with us, to be almost like a personal trainer. I’m sure they wouldn’t like to think of themselves that way. They’d like to think they’re robbing you of life. However, if you have this core trust in a promise and then you feel like you don’t have it, rather than doubting that it is there, you say, “Wait, I believe it’s there. I know it’s there. I’ve got to exercise this kind of faith, and believe it.” When you then trust in it, knowing you can’t see it yet, but you get glimpses of it, and then you keep pushing, struggling and cease judging you’re going to find that it’s exactly the way life really is. The truth is reality. So if I say, “Who am I?,” Well, I know that I’m a male. I know that I live in the United States of America. I know that I’m 5’11”. I know that I’m 78 years old. I know that’s not my full identity, but that is part of who I am. That’s my body. That’s part of my essence in this world, and some day I’m going to have my body back again. So there’s something about the way I look that’s important to embrace and to accept. However, in the culture I grew up in, I was filled with judgment about something as simple as my body — I was a late bloomer. I was the last guy picked in the gym when we chose teams. I was 5’2”as a freshman in high school and weighed about 80 pounds. I always thought I had a bad body. I just thought it was not as good as I should have had or wished that I would have had. There’s all that coveting. Coveting, I wish I had this. I wish I was that. I wish I was taller, shorter, thinner, more muscular, whatever. Judgment, judgment, judgment. It becomes almost a way of life.
So I wonder about how you enter into life or live a full life? Well, the first thing you do, if you stop judging, is you stop acting as if the life that has been planned for each of us, all of the people in it, the place and the time of it, all of that, if you stop judging it, then it means that it’s random. It just happened. It’s like if we were models that came out of some kind of factory, “I wish I’d got that other model, the convertible. I like that one.” Crazy. No, we’re exactly who we should be. We look exactly as we should look. Today is exactly as it should be. I know that can turn into this, “Oh, it’s all predetermined. I’m just sitting here.” No. It’s so much more mysterious than that. There is something so crucial about entering into the fullness of life by simply not judging the life that you have or judging the life someone else has and adding value to that judgment. You end up living with someone that I learned to be friends with sometime ago. It’s called the silent observer. You replace judgment with observation, curiosity. I’m still alive at 78 and a lot of my friends aren’t. I wonder what that means? I embrace it. I accept it. I don’t want it to be different. I don’t want to live longer than I’m supposed to. I don’t want to live shorter. I just want to be present to this thing that God has given me called me, and that kind of life we call a life of real authenticity. Authenticity, what does it mean? It just means it’s real.
When you’re with somebody who acts as if they’re someone else, when you’re with somebody who is dressed in such a way that it doesn’t seem to fit who they are, when you see somebody overly made up or whatever, you say, “Well, I guess it looks better, maybe, but what’s wrong with just working with what you have and enhancing it, make it more what it is?” That’s my way of seeing what God means when he says, “Don,” he says to you, me, all of us, “I want you to have an abundant life.” I’m thinking, “Okay, well then, how do I do this? How do I do it?” Well, if I say to myself or I say to you, “Stop judging. Just observe,” you say, “Well, that’s so hard.” Yeah, it is, but then think of the thing that is at the heart of the promise. “I’m not asking you to do this on your own. I’m not asking you to come up with the strength to do all of this. No, I’m inside of you. I’m with you. I’m there next to you.” Someone once said to me, “Give me a partner. I can accomplish anything. Leave me alone then I lose hope and get all messed up.” We have that kind of connection with the truth, with the God who made us. When you are observing things with his eyes, when you’re sensing that he is in you, and you’re looking at things asking him, “What is this really? What is it really?” Contemplation, meditation, wondering, curiosity without judgment are amazing gifts to that innermost core part of us. Sometimes we wake up in the morning and say, “I don’t want to get out of bed,” when in truth, the essence of who we are is we can’t wait to get out of bed and experience the day and wonder about it and just feel good about being who we are, where we are and what’s happening around us. When that happens, I guarantee you, that there is an inner calm and inner peace that people will pick up. They’ll want to know, “What do you have? What is it about you?” You can just smile and say, “Well, I’ve learned to just accept myself with the support of the God who created me, and I’m enjoying my life, even the hard and painful parts. I have life. I have abundant life, and I’m going to live forever.
Father, your love for us is beyond our imagining, and your interest in the smallest things that we do somehow baffles us, because we can’t imagine you, all your awesome otherness and majesty, are so deeply concerned about each and every one of us. Bless us with this knowledge. Bless us with an awareness of your presence so truly we can be engaged in the life that you planned for us and share that life with our brothers and sisters, and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.