Nineteenth Sunday of the Year
9 August 2015
St. Joseph’s Church, 11.30am
My dear friends,
Two thousand years ago Jesus broke bread and shared a cup at table with his disciples. He asked us to do this in memory of him and his followers have been doing so ever since. Through this Eucharist, we form a bond with him and with one another. Through this sharing, we are fed with God’s spirit as generations of believers have been since Jesus lived among us.
The Eucharist feeds our spiritual hunger and we are drawn to it even though we might equally want to run away. The people described in today’s Gospel reading were drawn to Jesus, but the Eucharist he offered them made them uncomfortable. What does this man mean when he describes himself as the bread of life? What does he mean when he talks about coming down from Heaven? While they were drawn by what he taught them, they did not understand it so well and they had as many doubts and more complaints than do most groups of students listening to their teacher. There was never a time when we did not know better than our teachers and sometimes we forget ourselves altogether and we even speak as if we know more than God himself.
There is a marvellous warmth in the love of God which touches our hearts in the teaching of Christ. But the love of God can also frighten us and make us feel like running away when we are challenged by and reflect on the demands it makes on us. This is very beautifully expressed in a children’s story written by C.S. Lewis in the Narnia Chronicles Series. Jill was at a boarding school in England but she ran away and was walking by a stream when she heard a flow of water and felt very thirsty. She approached the stream but found a large lion blocking her path to the water. The lion lay with its head raised and its two fore-paws out in front of it. She knew it had seen her for its eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then turned away. It was as if it knew her quite well and did not think much of her. “If I run away he’ll pounce on me in a shot”, said Jill to herself, “and if I go on I will be confronted by his teeth.” She couldn’t have moved if she tried, and could not take her eyes off the lion. Her thirst was so bad by now she felt that she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.
“If you are thirsty, you may drink,” – for a moment she stared here and there wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty come and drink.” She realised now it was the lion who was speaking. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before. It made her frightened in a different way. “Are you not thirsty?” said the lion. “I am dying of thirst,” said Jill. Then “drink” said the lion. “Would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill. The lion answered this only with a look and with a very low growl.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her frantic. “Will you promise me not to do anything to me if I do come,” said Jill. “I make no promises,” said the lion. “Then I dare not come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst”, said the lion. “Oh dear,” said Jill, moving a step closer, “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the lion. No one who had seen his stern face could do that. Her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the most difficult thing she had to do in
her life but she went forward to the stream, knelt down and began scooping up water in her cupped hands. It was the coldest and most refreshing water she had ever tasted.
This unusual little parable tells us that sooner or later we have to give in. We must take the risk of eating and drinking from the way, the truth and the life. There is no other stream, no other joy. We may fear his love and, like Jill, ask him to go away. Like Jill, most people are both frightened by and drawn by God’s love. There was once a desert father called Abbot Macarius. He announced his decision to go to the desert to wrestle with God. His shocked disciples said to him, “and you hope to win?” “No” he said, “I hope to lose.” Jesus said “I am the bread of life. I tell you most solemnly, everyone who believes has eternal life.” Without belief our lives are at best flat and meaningless. Christ came that we might have life and have it to the full.
+Liam S. MacDaid
9 August 2015