Commentary on Sunday’s Gospel Reading

“I have a nagging hunch that the gospel’s power in our own time is about to be manifested in a manner as repugnant to the sensibilities of the society at large, and all of us who have accommodated ourselves to it, as the early Christian message was to Roman paganism. Our society is possessed, Christians as much as anyone. We are possessed by violence, possessed by sex, possessed by money, possessed by drugs. We need to recover forms of collective exorcism as effective as was the early Christian baptism’s renunciation of ‘the devil and all his works.'” – Walter Wink, from Engaging the Powers

Hat tip: The Girardian Lectionary, 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

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  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    While the problem is surely correctly stated, I don’t believe that the proposed solution is correct. The notion of a “collective exorcism” is about as valid as a Moonie mass marriage. No group can do penance for my sins. No pious line dance can cleanse me of my wicked urges. Conversion and redemption are existential choices, made one man or woman at a time. Just as the son is not punished for the sins of the father, neither is the man saved by any decision other than one made in the privacy of his room, behind a closed door, face-to-face with the Truth.

    • Mark Gordon

      Thank you for a near-perfect summation of the individualism at the heart of Protestantism. But like everything I write here, this quote was intended for Catholics, who share a far more corporate view of culture, the Church, and even salvation.

      • Julia Smucker

        Exactly what I was thinking, Mark.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    You are most welcome. I tried to keep it succinct.

  • Ronald King

    Theoretically, catholics may share a corporate view and that may be the problem we are experiencing in our relationship with the culture. In my opinion those who speak loudly for the Church in the U.S. do so with a disposition of anger and opposition which in my experience originates from the individual’s primitive response to distress and helplessness associated with unmet needs of nurturing and validation. This corporate concept will then influence leaders to organize these individual responses into a collective anger which in essence is a collective sin. The light created by this collective composed of individual responses is a light which is started from friction and creates heat. Lucifer is identified as the light-bringer and the lucifer match is started with friction which ignites a combustible substance which causes light and heat. Bear with me on this.
    John Paul II wrote about his idea of the law of asenct and the law of descent. In the law of ascent he describes how a soul that raises itself above its original position will raise up the entire body of Christ and that of the world. In the law of descent a person who commits the smallest most hidden sin will cause the church and the world to respond correspondingly with a downward effect. It seems that both you and Rodak are correct with your statements. The light of God is lumionous which means it is not created by friction and it creates clarity and lucidity.
    In the spiritual sense if we are connected through the light of friction the result of that connection will be a brighter and more intense heat which will create more intense efforts by those who are harmed by that heat to extinguish it. If we are connected by the luminous light which only love can create the response will be different. It is up to each individual to understand the difference between the two expressions of light. One satisfies the primitive responses to sin in the world and the other transforms those primitive responses into a new vision and understanding of the communion of saints.

    • Mark Gordon

      Ronald, sorry to take so long to respond to your comment here. As you know, I do not share your view that “text” is explicable solely by identifying its category in the taxonomy of modern psychology. If anything, your reaction to the rather mild tête-à-tête between Rodak and me is itself a “primitive response to distress and helplessness associated with unmet needs of nurturing and validation.” Sometimes, people just disagree.

      As for the Catholic view of culture, Church, and salvation, the corporate dimension of these is inextricably bound up with our personal dispositions and destinies. At baptism, we die with Christ and are reborn into his Body, which is the Church. That Body will be perfectly joined to its Head at the close of the “age,” when “the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” As Catholics, we believe that the Church Militant subsists in a visible society of believers, a communio in which “the communion of people with one another is possible because of God, who unites us through Christ in the Holy Spirit so that communion becomes a community, a ‘church’ in the genuine sense of the word.” (Ratzinger)

      • Ronald King

        Thanks for your response, Mark. You are correct that my reaction was a primitive response to your mild disagreement with Rodak. The difference is that I am aware that my primitive response is a signal that distress was taking place between two people I highly respect which triggered distress in the area of my amygdala in the primitive brain. When this signal reaches the neocortex the usual response is fight flight or freeze. A different response would be a mindful response built on a compassionate desire to understand the nature of the distress through further communication of different perceptions. There is no sin that is so insignificant that we will be able to retain it and get to heaven. We must die and be reborn every moment. Baptism is the start of that daily process. If we do not understand the psychology of the human being then we cannot understand what it means to die and be born again. To understand that “text” we must understand the dynamics of our attachments to those self-destructive behaviors. Everything that is written in theology and philosophy is the expression that person’s psychological and spiritual development at that moment in time. When conflict arises it is a symptom of differing beliefs based on each person’s level of psychological and spiritual evolution. In the corporate sense, what is harmful to a part of the body can be harmful to the entire body. If the head is myopic in vision then the Body of Christ becomes fragmented and those who are not recognized as a part of the Body of Christ even though they love Christ become harmed and the Body of Christ suffers even though He is NOW through all and in all. But it is belief that creates division and this belief is based on an incomplete understanding of God’s Love. If one is left-brain dominated one will go into great details about details with a sharp edged logic but without seeing the global picture. If one is right-brain dominated one will have a global empathic mystical vision but will not be able to communicate it so others can understand it. It is my opinion that our Faith is dominated by left-brain dominated individuals who have pushed the mystics into the background and thus have cost us the mystics holistic view of how we are all connected in the Body of Christ. Sorry for the length of this. There is so much more to say but I do not even know if this makes sense. It is off the top of my head with its origins coming from the bottom of my head. God Bless.

      • Rodak

        Leaving aside the psycho-chemical aspects of Ronald King’s comments (since I am in no way qualified to evaluate them), I find the part of his argument that I do claim to understand to be quite sound. I believe that an argument, based entirely in exegesis, can be plausibly formulated around the concept that “church” means all those individuals, however affiliated or non-affiliated, who compise the universe of souls in communion with Christ’s unconditional Love. No human institution is large enough to immure or brand that Love. Neither should any person, in calling himself a disciple of Christ, refuse to share with this brother the sacrament of communion. Why do we suppose that Jesus sought out–particularly and pointedly–and gave His love to precisely those persons who were despised by the religious establishment against which he rebelled? What was it that made the insane, the fallen, the diseased, the poor, and even the wicked, “properly disposed” to receive the flesh-and-blood Jesus in real-time? Did He tell them to write a constitution and compose a set of by-laws and come back to Him when they could demonstrate that in their desperation they still retained the ability to organize? Or did He confront them, one needy person at a time, and ask each solitary one of them to make a simple, but very difficult, existential choice? I say, the latter.

      • Mark Gordon

        I believe that an argument, based entirely in exegesis, can be plausibly formulated around the concept that “church” means all those individuals, however affiliated or non-affiliated, who compise the universe of souls in communion with Christ’s unconditional Love.

        And that is the classic Protestant perspective, with which I am very familiar having grown up as the son of a Baptist minister. It is a perspective still shared by a large number of my family and friends. I can only confirm that there is an equally powerful, and for me dispositive, exegetical case for the Catholic claim that the Church subsists in a visible communion of believers, present in all places and times, marked by common belief and a concrete apostolic structure. That was the understanding of the early Church – indeed, it is the origin of the use of the word ‘catholic’ to define that communion – and it has been the self-understanding of the communion known as the Catholic Church since the beginning (Acts 2:42)

        As for the sharing of communion, I’ve had to wrestle personally with this one, as well.. Here, the metaphor of a family is most helpful. St. Jerome said that you cannot have God as your father if you will not have the Church as your mother. Mother Church desires to feed all her children, but dinner isn’t served on the front lawn or down the street. It is served within the walls of the home, at the table, where the unity of the family is visible and genuine communion is possible with one another. The man braying for dinner outside on the lawn is no less my brother than the one sitting to my left or right at table. But so long as he remains outside he frustrates the the visible unity for which Christ begged in his high priestly prayer of John 17: ““I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.. Supper is offered, free of charge, and without qualification. Unlike the American immigration system there are no quotas. But it will not be served outside, on the front lawn. The man who desires to join us at table must take the initiative and step inside because a family has (or ought to have) an organic structure, proper order, and visible unity.

        You imply that the Church is a human institution, defined by a constitution and by-laws, but again that is not the self-understanding of the Catholic Church. We believe that the Church is a divine institution (Matthew 16:18; I Timothy 3:15), defined by her founding by Christ and the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit. (In fact, any scriptural case against the divine origin of the Church must take into account that the very scriptures a critic deploys were authoritatively and infallibly recognized, collected, and canonized by the Church herself.) Of course, the Church also shares many characteristics of human institutions, and it is obviously led and populated by sinful human beings, which accounts for the many sins, errors, and imperfections on display whenever Catholics act in the world. But the sinfulness of her members doesn’t contradict the divine origin and foundation of the Church.

        I have noted in this and other threads that you give little evidence of having actually tried to educate yourself about what Catholics really believe and why. I find that odd since you spend so much time here. Clearly, you are looking for something. Either you hope to convince some of us that Catholicism is full of shit or you suspect that it may in fact be the truth. It doesn’t matter to me, but whatever your broader purpose you might want to spend some time learning something about what Catholics believe, if only to make arguments that have a bit more substance. If you’re not afraid to, that is. I recommend reading the 1994 Catechism and the documents of Vatican II, especially Lumen Gentium (which is about the mystery of the Church); Dei Verbum (on sacred revelation, including scripture); Gaudium et Spes (on the relationship between the Church and the modern world); and Unitatis Reintegratio (on the restoration of Christian unity). The primary works of the Fathers of the Church are helpful, as are the works of Newman, especially Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and Conversion and the Catholic Church. Brett points out below that de Lubac’s Catholicism is on his reading list. Maybe it should be on yours. The new book by Fr. Barron, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith is great, too.

        • Ronald King

          Mark, I must make this short. Must go. I believed as you have written above when I returned to the Catholic faith in ’05 after a 40 year absence. The miracles which brought me home actually revealed more of the mystery of God’s Love. Then I began to experience the manifestations of the physical limits of the physical structure here on earth. In the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” triggered the reality that there are no divisions in heaven. The church is a divine institution, I agree. The human expression of the church is limited by the limitations of human belief. Christ stated not to prevent the “little ones” from coming to Him. We are all His little ones. You reference John 17 and it appears to me that you make the case for the Communion of Saints being all of the souls here and in heaven who love Jesus regardless of what church they belong to. “We will be known by how we love one another.” It is the Catholic Church who must humble herself and risk herself to recognize that the kingdom of God is here now and with that humility recognize that there are no boundaries with God’s Love. It is the human being who has created boundaries in order to protect its structure from some perceived contamination or heresy. Christ on the Cross gives us the perfect solution to boundaries and belief systems which separate us. It is the one who is powerful who must be open and say “Come as you are with all of your doubts, hatred, fears, prejudices, etc. God will work it out.” “So faith, hope, loveremain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”
          Thanks for your time, Mark.

  • brettsalkeld

    Henri de Lubac’s Catholicism is on my to-read list. On the back it says “Drawing on the Bible, the Father of the Church, the Church’s ancient liturgies, Catholicism explains how the individual Catholic’s faith should be both deeply personal and communal. It should include a personal commitment that avoids a narrow individualism cut off from the life of communion with the whole Church, including the Church throughout the ages.”

    As much as I agree with my fellow Catholics that Rodak’s view is one-sided, I don’t want to swing so far in our dismissal of it that we forget the genuinely personal aspect of faith. The Catholic Church’s insistence upon free will has something for us here too.

    • Rodak

      @ brettsalkeld

      I wouldn’t want my personal views to be taken as representative of “Protestantism” (whatever that is) in general. But, since what I wrote was immediately identified as “Protestant” I would only point out that Protestants, too, belong to congregations with which they are in communion. And they share a common history with Catholics, up to the point of schism for their particular denomination. It’s not as though every Protestant is a totally loose cannon, without tradition or communal commitment.

    • Mark Gordon

      As a former Evangelical, I fully appreciate the central importance of a deep, personal faith. But I wrote that Catholics share a “far more corporate view of culture, the Church, and even salvation” than the one brilliantly encapsulated by Rodak. I did not write that we share an exclusively corporate view of the same.

    • Julia Smucker

      As the token Mennonite here, so to speak, I should add that Anabaptist ecclesiology is strongly communitarian while also stressing personal commitment (to the community of disciples). This is one of the areas in which I believe Mennonites and Catholics have more in common with each other than with mainline Protestants.

    • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

      @ Mark —

      “The man braying for dinner outside on the lawn is no less my brother than the one sitting to my left or right at table.”

      I will let the choice of “braying” as a way to describe your “brother’s” expression of his hunger speak for itself. But I can’t help pointing out that you can’t really say that the man on the lawn is your “brother” when you have just quoted St. Jerome as saying exactly the opposite. According to Jerome that braying unfortunate, not having the Church as his mother, also does not have God as his father. This calls into question whether the fellow can even be human. I guess we need to tell the impoverished Protestant ape on the lawn to get a job?
      As for me, I am here to be informed concerning what Catholics actually believe, and to test it where it does not seem to me to hold water.
      The Acts of the Apostles simply does not support the interpretation of the founding of an institutional church by Jesus with Peter as its head. As I’ve said before: if those verses you cite are genuine, and if the orthodox interpretation correctly expresses the intention of Jesus, then Acts shows that He was almost immediately disobeyed by His inner circle. And the epistles of Paul provide more evidence of the same, in great abundance. So much for the apostolic succession as an unbroken chain. That men who had established a good gig for themselves in an institutional setting should insist they do so with God’s blessing is hardly a shocker. The politicians of the Greek city-state did the same. As did the American Founding Fathers. Had Jesus intended to establish such a formal, hierarchical institution, surely He would have described the blueprints in detail to his followers. And the Holy Spirit would certainly have taken care to inspire the careful documentation of those essential instructions by the authors of the Gospels. But what He left us with is a set of rather simple instructions (although desperately hard to actually enact) concerning personal conduct.
      I am personally not bothered by the differing beliefs and practices of the various Christian churches. At least not until I am left out on the lawn braying like a beast while persons I am actually succeeding in loving and want very much to be with, close and bar the door.

  • Brian Martin

    in response to what ron and rodak were saying above…I believe that the Catholic Church is a divine institution as Mark says. i believe it is the repository of the most truth among christian churches, but it also is an institution made up of human beings, and much has been taught as truth, or accepted as truth that later has been seen as mistaken. The idea that we have full understanding of all revelation is ludicrous. I think the Church in it’s human hierarchical form needs to constantly remind itself that ongoing discernment and prayer is needed, and that complacency can be spiritual laziness or arrogance. A Clericalist culture is not healthy for the church. I love this quote from St. John Chrysostom “Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: “This is my body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food”, and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me”… What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.” (Homily on the book of Matthew, I believe)
    So,, one wonders, did he literally mean only those dying of starvation? what about the spiritually starving? What did Christ say about salvation? That one must believe in him.
    What other requirement did he place?

    • Rodak

      @ Brian Martin —

      It is my notion that the “bread” half of the Eucharistic equation speaks of precisely what you suggest — spiritual nourishment:

      John 6:34 – So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe.

      John’s gospel does not even mention the bread and wine ceremony at the Last Supper. And, as it is generally accepted to have been the last gospel written, this omission would suggest that the “remembrance” mentioned in the synoptics was not considered to be all that important, in the grand scheme of things. More important, in John, on that occasion is Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. We don’t see much top-down foot-washing in this world, do we?

      • brettsalkeld

        In my experience of this area, which is quite vast having read it for 4 steady years now, almost no scholars suggest that John’s neglect of “do this in memory of me” indicates it’s lack of importance. In fact, they highlight how John 6 indicates its importance. The general consensus is that John uses Chapter 6 to highlight the importance of the eucharist as Christ’s gift of himself to the community (and linking the eucharist with the incarnation) and his last supper narrative to highlight what it needs to mean for how the community functions. Most scholars I have read suggest that leaving out the institution of the eucharist in John’last supper scene indicates not its lack of importance, but its ubiquity. He could simply presume it by this point in the history of the early Church. What he could not presume was that people took it to mean Christ had really given his body (hence chapter 6) or that they understood the implications of such a gift (hence the foot washing scene).

        There is even a theory out there that the whole of John’s gospel is one big institution narrative, though I have not looked at this in any detail.

        To be fair, I read mostly Catholic scholarship, but not exclusively. And I have seen many Protestant scholars who agree. What I do read, almost exclusively, is ecumenical theology, not apologetics. Both the Catholic and Protestant scholars I engage aren’t being apologetic.

      • Ronald King

        I think John forgot.

  • Rodak

    @ brettsalkeld —

    Well, the bread in John 6 is clearly a metaphor. There Jesus makes an analogy between the spiritual nourishment provided to us constantly (if we ask for it) and the actual nourishment of the manna from heaven in the story of Exodus. When he says in John 6 that He is the bread, it is the same as when He says, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life: that is the “bread.” But it is not indicated in John 6 that it is tied to any particular occasion or ritual. Rather, it is available, always, for the asking–as is God’s love in any form it may take.

    • Mark Gordon

      Except that on deeper exploration (which is what I’ve advised you undertake), in John 6 Jesus speaks in a way that leads away from a metaphorical interpretation.

      First, the Greek words used for “eat” and “drink” in John 6 are unusually graphic, roughly equivalent to “chew,” “gnaw” and “slurp,” suggesting a very physical, ingestive act rather than a mere spiritual consumption..

      Second, when he’s asked repeatedly how a man can possibly give his flesh to be eaten, Jesus merely restates the claim – 5 times! – repeatedly adding the punctuation “very truly.” What he doesn’t do at any point is dispel the growing suspicion of the crowd that he is NOT speaking metaphorically.

      Third, he never does dispel that suspicion. At the end of John 6, a disciple says “this is a hard saying. Who can accept it?” Jesus merely asks him if he’s been offended. Later the account says that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Jesus makes no attempt to call them back in order to offer a metaphorical interpretation of his own words. He merely turns to those who are left and asks, “Will you also leave?”

      In the chronology of scripture it is almost exactly one year later, at the Last Supper, when Christ clarifies what must have been a lingering question in the minds of those who stuck by him. In the institution narrative he declares “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” He doesn’t say “This represents my body,” or “This is a symbol of my body.” He says “This is my body,” and then identifies the role it plays, in effect declaring that “This, which I hold in my hand, is the body I will shed for you,” and “This, which is in this cup, is the blood of the New Covenant.”

      That understanding of the Christian people, reiterated throughout the writings of the Fathers, that in the Eucharist we consume the flesh and blood of Christ was an important basis for the persecution that would persist for the next few centuries. The accusation lodged against the early church was cannibalism, and it was on that basis that Jews throughout the Roman world gave Christians the boot from their synagogues, and that became the pretext for much of the Roman persecution. And yet, there’s no record of Christians denying the doctrine, claiming that it was a metaphorical understanding only. That was as true in the East as it was in the West.

      So, again, you may disagree with the Catholic understanding, but to offer a lame argument like “it’s metaphorical,” as if it never would have occurred to anyone to consider that, really shows that you haven’t made any effort to understand our point of view. And I suspect you won’t, which raises again the question: what is your purpose here?

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        @ Mark —

        How does verse 63, and the fact that He had apparently been teaching this for some time (59) support that opinion?

        [59] This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper’na-um.
        [60]
        Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

        [61] But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?
        [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?
        [63] It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        What am I doing here? Four or five years ago, I was seriously considering converting to Catholicism. Then I had the experience at the family wedding where I was excluded from the communion, and it shut off that idea like flipping a light switch. It wasn’t so much that I was situationally offended, because I went in there knowing I couldn’t take communion. The priest was my wife’s uncle. But, as I watched the others going to the rail, I had a very strong intuition that something was very wrong here. I had never thought much about it previously. But there is was. So, I am here to express that. And to do what very little I can to try to find a way to close that tear in the fabric of the faith. I don’t expect to be successful. But then, I don’t expect to be without sin, either. That doesn’t keep me from trying. One never knows what the butterfly effect might be.

    • brettsalkeld

      I’m no really interested in a prolonged debate here, but I will say that of course it is a metaphor. It’s a metaphor about the Incarnation that then gets applied to the eucharist. In both cases, the Incarnation and the Eucharist, Jesus is insistent about the genuine reality of what is going on, but that doesn’t stop him from using metaphors. Heck, sacraments are metaphors, if exceptional ones. I do not know of any reputable biblical scholar who thinks John 6 has nothing to do with the eucharist. Seriously. No one thinks John 6 is unrelated to the Eucharist.

      The best work I’ve seen on this is by the Lutheran Robert Jenson in his Dogmatics. Brilliant stuff.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        @ brettsalkeld —

        I would put it the other way around. I would say that the bread and wine of the Last Supper is about what Jesus had been preaching in the synagogues, possibly for some time. He is the “bread of life.” No argument there. But there is no need for there to be a special miracle–this is always the case, and always accessible to everyone who asks for it. This is what John 6 makes abundantly clear. And verse 63 clarifies His meaning when He sees that misunderstanding is leading to scandal.

        • brettsalkeld

          So, in your reading, why do they still leave after such a clarification?

          To be clear, I don’t think John 6 supports an isolated miracle. To me there is a scandalous passage about the eucharist, but it seems that the whole point is that the eucharistic scandal is the SAME scandal as the incarnation. In both cases, God just got way too close! FYI, I’m drawing on Jenson here.

  • Rodak

    @ brettsalkeld —

    Another reason that the rationalization that John doesn’t mention the bread and wine in his gospel because it could just be taken for granted, is that this doesn’t fit the actual situation at the time. It’s not like any group of Christ’s early followers had all four Gospels available to them. Even if the group for which John’s gospel was composed was already doing a communion service, the story of its institution by Christ would have been just as important to them as it was to the groups with access to other Gospels. Presumably, all of those other groups were already celebrating the communion before there was a text, also. If not, then the institution of the sacrament lagged behind Christ’s directive by decades among all Christian groups, which doesn’t say much for it authenticity, or for it having been seen as important, by anybody in the early church.

    • Mark Gordon

      Good lord, Rodak. The church precedes the text. The gospel was at first an oral tradition, reinforced by letters. You may have noticed that before the Letter to the Romans is written there was already a Roman church to receive the letter. Again, do some basic homework.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        @ Mark Gordon —

        I explicitly discussed the fact that the church(es) precede the text(s):

        ” Presumably, all of those other groups were already celebrating the communion before there was a text, also.” etc.

        Of course they did. But the churches were pretty much autonomous, which is why Paul had to scurry around from one to the other to make certain that they hadn’t gone completely off the reservation–as he defined it. Which was different from how those in Jerusalem defined it. That said, the Book of Acts shows the communion service to have grown out of communal meals, held in private dwellings, and called “breaking bread.” It also shows that some of these got quite out of hand. They were hardly solemn “sacramental” ceremonies for quite some time.

  • Brian Martin

    I was not meaning to comment on the necesity of communion, but rather wondering how we got from “whosoever believeth in me” to whosoever believeth in me and attends classes for 8 months.
    We have gone from conversion being “My sins are forgiven? i believe Lord”
    to having to take classes
    I wonder what has happened…then I realize “Man” happened…we complicate and mess everything up

    • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

      @ brettsalkeld —

      The scandal is clearly provoked by the fact that Jesus was speaking to Jews. Religious Jews do not ingest blood–not even animal blood. Had Jesus been addressing a crowd Greek gentiles, steeped in one of the contemporary mystery religions, the scandal would almost certainly have been significantly less. Ingesting blood doesn’t, for instance, scandalize us.

      • brettsalkeld

        Agreed. But I don’t see how that answers my question. My question was, “If he is deliberately backing off in order to correct misunderstanding, why do the Jews still leave?”

        In other words, was this a failed attempt to correct misunderstanding or was it not, perhaps, such an attempt at all?

        Or, let me add another possibility, “Was it an attempt to correct a particular type of misunderstanding, but without lessening the scandal of either the incarnation or the eucharist? Was it an attempt to put the scandal in a very exact place?” In answering this, it seems important to me that John’s narrative has two audiences, the Jews at Capernaum, and his own congregation.

  • Rodak

    @ brettskeld —

    They didn’t all leave. The ones who didn’t know Him, and therefore quite naturally didn’t believe Him left, scandalized. His followers, in the end, have been mostly not Jews, you know. The scandal was never fully overcome among His own ethnic group.
    All of that said, it still isn’t definitive, based simply on textual analysis, that He isn’t, in John, speaking about spiritual “nourishment” as “the bread of life”–a rather common metaphor; and in the synoptics of the bread and wine as a mnemonic prompt to remind them of His sacrifice, so that they will repeat it, daily, in their own lives.
    You have not discussed verse 63 in John 6, where He clearly states that the flesh in nothing–of no avail. I don’t see how that supports transubstantiation, or provides any reason for it.

    • brettsalkeld

      Well Rodak, we seem to be at an impasse. You think I’m not addressing the issue, and I think you’re not. I’ll give this a try nonetheless.

      I can’t see how your hermeneutic works. You say Christ used v. 63 to alleviate the scandal, but then you say that a group left scandalized. Did v. 63 alleviate a scandal, or did it not? You seem to indicate that it alleviated the scandal only for those who knew Christ, but I don’t see how that matters. If v. 63 really does what you say it does, i.e., reduce Jesus’ words to mere metaphor, or even reverse their meaning, I can’t see why the others would feel compelled to leave. And besides, the text doesn’t say it was those who didn’t know him who left. It says “many of his disciples left.” Not the 12, surely, but Jesus had other disciples. I think you’re ducking something of major importance here.

      And yes, I think that v. 63 makes it crystal clear that he is talking about spiritual nourishment. But I think it is completely unwarranted and unbiblical to read “spiritual” as the opposite of real or to reduce “spiritual” to mere metaphor and mnemonic device. I think the whole discourse highlights the importance of incarnational logic and would make no sense if v. 63 meant the whole thing is just a metaphor. Jesus is really the Son of God. He will really die for our sins. He will really ascend. V. 63 doesn’t mean all of this is metaphorical. It means that it doesn’t make sense according to the logic of the world. I think this applies to the Eucharist the same way it applies to the rest of the affirmations Jesus makes about himself in this discourse.

      As for transubstantiation, that is another question. John 6 intimates a real presence, but not one that works according to the logic of the world. Transubstantiation is an attempt (and a good one in my opinion) to reassert this basic point to a culture 11 centuries later that has started thinking that, according to the world’s logic, Jesus can only be present as a chunk of flesh or as a mnemonic device. Transubstantiation is an affirmation of a precisely spiritual presence, though it is very careful that no one be allowed to interpret “spiritual” as “unreal.” It is an articulation of how the spiritual is what is most real.

      • Rodak

        I think it means that the transformation that Jesus is extolling takes place in heart of each individual believer, not on a plate on an altar. He wants us to remember each time we take nourishment because it is so very difficult for us to stay awake, with our hand to the plow. Bread and wine is a daily thing. If we can accustom ourselves to come wide-awake and to remember that our existential task is to transform our sinful selves; to take off our fleshly selves and put on the Christ (as Paul taught) as a new and transformational garment, each time we break bread with our spiritual family, then we can begin and continue to approach becoming Christ-like. The spiritual nourishment, the staples of the daily diet–bread and wine–point to is always available, if we pause to remember to ask to receive it. The transubstantiation is not bread into Christ, but the willing sinner into Christ, through the sacrifice of his sinful flesh to the will of God. Nothing could be more real.

        • brettsalkeld

          Well, neither I nor Thomas Aquinas has any problem with this. Thomas is very clear that the end term of the eucharist is the transformation of Christians (though he would articulate this corporately, i.e., we become the Church, the body of Christ, as well as individually as you have done). The transformation of the bread and wine is only the intermediate term. And while “transubstantiation” is, in one sense, a very technical term that applies only strictly to one type of change, many Catholic theologians have seen fit to use it metaphorically to describe the change wrought in the Christian and, indeed, in the cosmos.

          But where we differ is that I don’t see the transformation of the bread and wine on the altar as the alternative to the transformation of the Christian, but as its prerequisite. It strikes me as at least a little ironic that Protestants would tell Catholics that “our existential task is to transform our sinful selves.” It was we Catholics who were accused of Pelagianism in the 16th century after all. The theological importance of a change in the elements – which we can do no more than receive – is precisely the Protestant point, as is the much maligned ex opere operato, namely, we can’t do it ourselves. Something more than a mnemonic device is required to transform humanity. Only a radically given and beyond us Jesus has the power to accomplish in us what you and I (and Thomas Aquinas) agree is the ultimate goal of the eucharist. Transubstantiation is meant as a guarantee of such givenness.

  • Rodak

    Note: there should be no comma after the word “nourishment in my penultimate sentence above and its presence confounds the meaning of that sentence.

    It should read:

    “The spiritual nourishment that the staples of the daily diet–bread and wine–point to is always available, if we pause to remember to ask to receive it.”

    I might have added: Once we have received it, we will never again hunger or thirst, for we will BE ourselves of the same substance.

  • Ronald King

    May I, in my ignorance of theology and physics present an idea born from my work with a physicist and my reading of the scriptures? Thanks for you permission. By the way Vox Nova is the best Catholic blog out there.
    I remember reading that if anyone saw the face of God that person would die. So, the Word became flesh in one respect to enable us to see the face of God without disintegrating. All it took was God’s thought to create this. For humans different thoughts create different internal and external reactions and feelings create the same. It all becomes manifested physically. For God, “light” appeared through thought and the rest is history. Now Jesus through His thoughts and words created miracles without any visible means. There is that direct connection with observable effects. He creates what He desires to create with only a thought or a word and it happens. He seems to be laying a foundation for something even more mysterious and mind-blowing. He is suggesting that He will be contained within bread and wine as a means to continue to nurture us with His presence in this form. When He says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” could it mean that everything He did was leading us to this miracle in which we can more directly entangle ourselves in God’s Love?
    The next thing He does is to allow us to torture and kill Him. He returns from the dead. He does what He knows can be accomplished.
    He tells us that it is the Spirit which gives life. So our lives and our physical nourishment are due to God’s Spirit. Can God give His Spirit to the bread and wine which then becomes Him? So, could it be that both of you are correct in that the bread and wine become Christ and on the other hand without the bread and wine it is God’s Spirit which gives us life when believe that Christ is God.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    @ brettsalkeld —

    As I’ve said before, I don’t pretend to speak for “Protestants.” Moreover, I’ve read a whole lot more Catholic theology than Protestant theology. I have no idea whether what I’m arguing would be generally in line with Luther or with Calvinor with Wesley, or with anybody else. So what I say should never be taken as representative of Protestants telling Catholics anything. It’s me, making my thinking known to whom ever I happen to be with at any given time.

    @ Ronald King —

    The Christ could certainly cause the bread and wine to become “true flesh” and “true blood”–but I think that the transformation (as with water to wine; as with the loaves and fishes) would be apparent. Also, I can see no reason why Christ would limit this transformation to the actions of a Catholic priest. Anybody can baptize; why can’t anybody invoke transubstantiation? Finally, why must a communicant be “properly disposed” to receive the host, when the priest serving it can be the lowest kind of hypocritical and debased child abuser and still bring about the the miracle on demand, without fail?
    If any Catholic saw similar things being claimed in any other religion he would either be scandalized, or die laughing.

    • Ronald King

      Rodak, I think you are properly disposed. As far as the molester priest is concerned, if I knew he was a molester I would not receive communion from him. I think I told you that I walked out of Mass in the middle of the priest’s rant/homily against homosexuality and SSM a few weeks ago. I could not receive Christ from a hater. The only ones I think who are not predisposed are those who hate but then again if they received communion that could influence them to change, however, I have seen instances where that does not happen, for example, the ranting hateful priest.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        Ronald —

        I’m sure that you wouldn’t, Ronald. But, what you would do, or not do, is not quite to my point.

        • Ronald King

          I understand. A closed system is restrictive and it creates painful relationships with those in the system and outside the system based on a sense of being superior in their knowledge and relationship with God. Love is open and welcomes us as we are. When Paul writes about the act of receiving the bread and wine at the meal who is it that is performing this service? And how did that person receive permission to be in that position? Was it something that was an “officially” and generally accepted position? And was that the beginning of the tradition of the catholic priesthood if that was an official position?

    • brettsalkeld

      Fair enough.

      I will note, if I may, however, that Luther, Calvin and Wesley were all a long way from any idea that the Eucharist a mere mnemonic device.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        I agree completely. I wouldn’t use the word “mere.” If I inadvertantly used it anywhere above, I retract it without question. When receiving communion I am always in awe of being in direct communication with my Savior.
        I meant to express that it can serve as a mnemonic with regard to every meal. Along with saying grace, in thanks for provision of the solid nourishment, we can be reminded once more of the sacrifice made for us, when we take up our bread and reach for our wine. (Not that wine is routinely available at most meals in most households in this age…). The communion is, of course, very special. This is the whole reason that I felt it so wrong not to be able to go to the rail with the others at that Catholic wedding.
        Thank you, by the way, for addressing this issues in an understanding and non-confrontational manner. That is much appreciated.

      • brettsalkeld

        You’re welcome. Thank you too.