August 23, 2009
ORDINARY 21 (B)
To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. – John 6: 68
Why is it that our physical needs seem to crowd out & marginalize our spiritual needs? I suspect it has to do with the fact that our physical needs are so immediate & demanding in comparison with the more subtle yet just as important spiritual needs. As we all know, the squeaky wheel gets the attention. We know that we are of the earth, earthy; & we sense that there is a higher world, but we do not feel as though we belong to it.
Consequently, when someone like Jesus comes along speaking of the priority of the kingdom of God , we react by saying to ourselves, “That’s all very nice, but I have more pressing matters to attend to.” Such nonchalance, however, is not only mistaken – it is fatal. We condemn ourselves to things that are perishable & transient, & then wonder why they disappoint us & leave the taste of dust in our mouths. We hitch our wagon to a falling star & are puzzled when it vanishes. Such a “bottoming out” experience is often the spring board for conversion, at least for those who have the insight to recognize their pitiful condition.
The truth is we are created in God’s image, & that means we will never be happy with anything less than God. The irony is that when we find God, everything else gets thrown in – only better than before. C. S. Lewis makes this astute observation:
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven & you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth & you will get neither.
You see, we must learn to want something more than the tangible goods in front of us before we can properly enjoy them. The people in today’s Gospel were turned off because they couldn’t see that. Many lukewarm Christians are worse than useless to the kingdom of God because they cannot see it either when they (of all people) should. It is the Spirit that gives life to the flesh, not the other way around. The transcendent spirit & life of which our Lord speaks is recognizable only to those who can be open to it.
Coming to believe & know what Peter did begins with trusting enough, & it ends with understanding enough. Spiritual teachers are more developed than those who follow them. What they say & do is NOT going to be immediately understood by their disciples. Spiritual development within a faith tradition often walks this path from belief to understanding. As St. Augustine put it, “Credo ut intelligam” – I believe so that I might understand.
Sometimes people think faith is the desired goal, but it is really only the first step. We have to find the larger consciousness to which we will apprentice ourselves long enough to learn from it. Once understanding begins & grows, the external supports are still appreciated, but they are no longer primary. Only then will life flow in us. AMEN!