Saturday, March 12, 2016

There is no middle ground. What is not true is false.

Gospel Text: (JN 7:40-53)
Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said,
“This is truly the Prophet.”
Others said, “This is the Christ.”
But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?
Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family
and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”
So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.
Some of them even wanted to arrest him,
but no one laid hands on him.

So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees,
who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?”
The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”
So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?
Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?
But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.”
Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them,
“Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him
and finds out what he is doing?”
They answered and said to him,
“You are not from Galilee also, are you?
Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Then each went to his own house.

“Truth”, said Flannery O’Connor, “does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

Indeed coming around to accept a hard truth often takes time and slow digestion. It forces us to reorganize our world and make room for something which was not previously there. The end result, usually, is our having to conform ourselves to this new revelation, this new idea, this new belief; and we are changed.

Today’s Gospel begins with a division among the crowd about Jesus’ identity and ends with a division amongst the Pharisees and their guards who return empty handed after being sent out to apprehend Jesus. When questioned on this point they can only reply: “Never has anyone spoken like this man.” Their sense of unsettled bewilderment has all the hallmarks of having come face to face with a new truth; a new experience which, if slowly digested, will end in a fundamental change in their lives.

Truth often causes a kind of division. When spoken, it forces a decision. Do we accept what we are hearing, or not? 

Human beings were made for truth; we have a natural inclination to receive it. Saint Thomas Aquinas would say that truth is “the formal object of the intellect;” which is a technical way of saying that we were created to be the kind of things which naturally respond to the truth. And experience should bear this out for us.

How often in our own lives have we heard something which, while at first unsettling, contained some attractive element which we couldn’t ignore? Some piece of information or experience which drew us to it, almost in spite of itself?

I can easily identify with the experience of the guards in today’s Gospel; and I do remember being asked by friends about my belief in Jesus. I don’t recall my exact answer; but it might as well have been: “Never has anyone spoken like this man”.

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