August 2, 2015
ORDINARY 18 (B)
This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent. – John 6: 29
One issue in today’s reading is the human tendency to be more concerned in religion with the gift rather than the giver. We tend to use religion for our own myopic purposes, whether it is satisfying our emotional or material needs. We want to be entertained, either by moving sermons or by contemporary music or by beautiful liturgies. Finally, we may just need to be reassured that life might have meaning after all.
But there is a more subtle abuse: rationalization of the Gospel to support our own prejudices. Ethically speaking, we may try to explain away sin or, where possible, to make it look like a virtue. Intellectually speaking, we may divorce theology from prayer life & uncritically take the philosophical or pseudo-scientific conceits of the age as a standard for judging Scripture & Tradition.
Our age is particularly vulnerable to the hubris expressed by the poster in a neighborhood shop window: “Stop begging God & be God.” Many merely academic or pseudo-academic theologians today are building a Tower of Babel which resembles the debate between Tweedledum &Tweedledee: it only produces a dark cloud – not the Cloud of Unknowing which leads to God, but a cloud of confusion that does a disservice to the people of God.
Now, I am not condemning theology which is a necessary task for all christians, but bad theology produced by second-rate thinkers & egotists who think civilization has brought progress. We may drive automobiles rather than chariots, but human nature has not really changed over the centuries. This is why Scripture is still relevant.
If we have trouble discerning the path of our salvation, it is because we ask the wrong questions: “Rabbi, when did you get here?” What sign can you do, that we may see & believe in you?” Our Lord’s response is not an invitation to eat or drink, nor to have our intellectual needs met, nor to justify our life-style; but to ask that we believe in Him, & trust Him.
The only thing worthy of our total trust is divinity, but that is a problem for many people today. In the early Church, people had a problem with Christ’s humanity; today it is His divinity that presents a difficulty. Most efforts try to reduce Him to just another one of the prophets.
When I was a student at Oxford, I went to a roundtable discussion one evening chaired by the Regius Professor of Divinity (a crown appointment). At one point I asked him if he was agreeing with Arius, a fourth century priest of Alexandria whose teaching that Jesus was half God & half Man (literally, a demigod) had been condemned by the Church as heresy. He brushed off my question & went on to other things. Finally, I could not restrain myself & said, “I do not mean to be impertinent, but it really does sound to me that you are agreeing with Arius.” Irritated, he replied, “No, I do not agree with Arius. I think Arius gave Jesus of Nazareth too much credit!” In other words, Jesus was merely human, by his understanding. That’s when I realized that the Church of England was in deep trouble.
Failure to recognize His divinity through ignorance is one thing; persistence in refusing to accept His claim is quite another. Yet this is the work of God: not frenzied good works, however important they may be, but to believe in Christ as His Son. If we could feed, house, & educate everyone, we still would not have given them a reason for living. In the end, God must be desired for His own self, not for what He can give us. AMEN!