“He taught them many things.”
What is the first thing that Jesus does in Sunday’s Gospel when confronted by the vast crowd who had sought him on foot all the way to the deserted place where He had intended to spend some quiet time with His disciples? Jesus could sense the hunger and fatigue of the hungry, tired, confused, and abandoned crowd, who were “like sheep without a shepherd.” He did not begin with feeding them but He “began to teach them many things.” Doesn’t Jesus realize how difficult it is to learn when you are hungry and tired? Though He would eventually feed them, why begin with teaching them many things?
In the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus could not get the Jews to accept the difficult teaching of His presence in the Eucharist and the eternal life that they have from receiving Him in faith based on His words alone. In ending this discussion with them, Jesus told them of what is unique about His words; “It is the spirit that gives life. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jn 6:63) As spirit and life, the words of Jesus make us see things the way that God sees them because His words lead us to know, love, decide and act in a God-like way. Seeing things as God sees them, there is nothing that we cannot face and overcome in this life. Jesus thus teaches the crowd first so that they see all things – their difficult condition, His person, and His gift to them – the way that God sees them.
I was reminded recently of the power of this God-vision that Jesus’ words brings to us in a recent funeral for a man who had passed away after two years of struggle with cancer. I was edified by the words spoken by the wife of the deceased about her husband. Hers were no usual canonization remarks but a focus on God’s action. She said, “God loved him so much to prepare him and then take him to Himself… We had the chance to pray with him all these months and prepare him for death through frequent Confessions and Anointing of the sick.” When I asked how she was feeling deep inside, she responded, “It is painful because we have loved each other for over 40 years but I know that God loves Him much more than I do. Besides, we are all going to go where he has gone. Right?” Death for her was not a punishment or an abandonment by an “uncaring” God but God preparing each of us and taking us to Himself. She had the courage and strength to accept death and surrender her husband to God’s love because she saw death the way that God sees it as revealed to us by our faith in Jesus Christ, His death, Resurrection and glorification.
The teaching of Jesus is not another opinion. His words are spirit and life, giving us this God-vision that helps us to see things the way that God sees them. When we begin to see things the way that God sees them, we can face and overcome anything in this life. We can face temptations when we see them from God’s own point of view. The devil is overcome by our ability to listen attentively and heed God’s words: “Young men… you are strong and the word of God remains in you and you have conquered the evil one.”(1Jn 2:14) On his part, the devil’s great tactics is to keep us from hearing, understanding, believing and acting on God’s words: “The god of this age has blinded the mind of minds of the believers so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2Cor 4:4)
The Prophet Jeremiah speaks of two things that God will do in the face of the bad shepherds who ignore, mislead and scatter His people. First, God Himself “will gather the remnant of His flock from all the lands to which they have been driven.” Secondly, God will “appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing.” God will shepherd His people both individually and as a community through the shepherds appointed over His flock. We are more conscious of the visible leadership of the community in the persons of the Pope, bishops, priests, certain religious and laity. I wonder if we have ignored the fact that God also invisibly shepherds each and every one of us individually and personally in the community of the redeemed.
The psalmist echoes these sentiments of God’s personal guidance of each one of us. He can face any evil because he let God’s word guide him: “Because the Lord leads me beside restful waters,” and “guides me in right paths for His name’s sake,” “even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil.” He listens and learns from God “the right paths” first before he experiences God “spreading the table before him in the sight of his foes, anointing his head with oil and making his cup overflow.” He can journey towards the banquet table because the counsels of the shepherd has freed him from useless fears.
God’s promise to guide each and every one of us so that “none shall be missing” is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who St. Paul calls “our peace” in today’s Second Reading. He won this peace for us “through the cross” and He invites every individual person to this peace, “He came and preached peace to you were far off and peace to those who were near, for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” We cannot enter into Christ’s peace until we too begin to learn from Him and thus see ourselves and other things the way that God does.
How can we begin to learn from Jesus, our peace? We find two indispensable attitudes in today’s Gospel. First, like the crowd, we must constantly make the attempt to be in prayerful presence before Jesus in expectation of His life transforming teaching. The crowd made a generous attempt to be in His presence by hastening to Him on foot. Secondly, we must be willing to learn from Him a new way of life and let go of our former way of seeing and acting. This God-vision never leaves us unmoved.
One way that we can practice these two attitudes is by prayerful reflection on the word of scriptures during Eucharistic adoration. Sure we can pray anywhere with the scriptures, but praying before the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, with His humanity and divinity hidden under the sacramental veil, calls for a radical faith in Jesus’ words to us about His abiding sacramental presence. Praying in His Eucharistic presence also provides us an opportunity to make a genuine effort to break from our usual routine, schedules, and environment so as to be in His presence. Invoking the aid of Mary as our prayer partner in this adoration is also beneficial. Mary embraced God’s word to her so wholeheartedly that God became man in her womb. She too will help us to receive God’s words as completely as she did and let His words change the way that we see things and how we respond to them. By reading and listening to His words and watching His actions in the scriptures, we are moved to speak with Him about how His words and actions touch us, our relationships, our past experiences and our future dreams. We examine our usual responses to life under the light of His words to us and see areas where we could align ourselves more with His own values. Such a dialogue with Jesus, initiated and guided more by the word of God rather than our needs, leads to a knowledge of hearts and a sharing in sentiments with Jesus Christ. The end result is always the same – a sharing in His vision and the resilience and hope that this brings us as we face life’s uncertainties.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus Christ remains the Good Shepherd who never abandons but willingly “lays down His life for His sheep.”(Jn 10:11) He constantly invites us to come and “learn from Him” so that “we shall find rest for our souls.”(Mt11:29,30) He is present in our midst and He longs to teach us many things individually about ourselves as God’s children, about God’s undying love for us, about how we are to respond to this gratuitous love in the circumstances of daily life, about the necessity of suffering and pain in this life, about our eternal destiny and a lot of other things. He longs to teach us many things so that we may be equipped to face many things in this life and never lose our way or the peace that He won for us by His cross. But we must make constant effort to be silent in His presence in anticipation of His words that are spirit and life. We must also be ready to have our former ways of life challenged by His words to us and the God-vision that He shares with us.
There is a reason why the liturgy of the Eucharist comes after the liturgy of the word in the Eucharist we celebrate. We must be taught by Christ the Teacher before we are fed with Christ the Bread of life. Jesus continues to teach us many things before He feeds us with Himself in Holy Communion. When we have learned many things from Him and begin to see and value things as He sees and values them, when we allow Him to nourish us with His Eucharistic presence, His peace will reign in our hearts in this troubled world, because, by His grace, there is nothing in this world that we cannot face and overcome.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!