Sun, August 12, 2018 - How good can one be?
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven, " and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
Are you good? I mean, do you consider yourself a truly and deeply good person? Think of a pure, white crystal: speckless and so clean that it catches the eye and that the observer gets lost in the simple bright beauty. Are you that good?
“Well, at least I try to,” you will probably say. In trying, it is my experience that one often feels like a tired pilgrim marching through a desert. Quite like the prophet Elijah in today's first reading (see 1st Kings 19:4-8), that journey can become seemingly hopeless. Maybe Elijah had asked himself the same question, whether he was truly good, before despairing and whispering: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
The Gospel deals with disenchantment too. It tells us how the crowd, which had been so excited about Jesus when, a little earlier, he had multiplied bread for them, was unable to believe in His heavenly origin. And indeed, don't we all make the experience that our inside is not always as crystal clear? That, when you turn slightly in the light, shadows appear in there? Doubts, unease, fear, selfishness, lack of motivation? When we see such specks in our lives, especially after a time of grace, the discouragement can be twice as piercing.
All of today's readings carry a wonderful message about that very situation. They seem to respond to the piercing combination of the high ideal of goodness which is confronted with the sobering imperfections of our reality. The message is that God works the good in us. He sent to Elijah marvelous bread, when the prophet had lost all hope and strength. He, and He alone, draws us to Jesus and enables us to believe in him. How?
The second reading (see Eph 4:30-32. 5:1-2) gives us the answer. Paul exhorts us to not “grieve the Holy Spirit within us, with which you were sealed.” Thanks to the seal of baptism, you have the Holy Spirit within you. He is all good: speckless, beautiful, powerful. You are truly good because of His marvelous presence in you. Not as some theoretical principle, but as an active force. In fact, through Him the Father has drawn you to believe in Jesus. Through Him you have been given the courage and strength to fight the good fights of your life. Because of Him, you are so very good! Because of Him, you will be able to be good and faithful in the future too.
So today's Good News is that, despite of our miseries, we do not have to give up the high ideals of beautiful goodness. The Father draws us to Jesus, every day. The Holy Spirit will never cease to empower us to fight the good fight, to remove “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling;” and to “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving.” And Jesus, the Son, is “the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”