“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them. - Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.” ― Rabindranath Tagore: (1861 –1941: was a Bengali polymath who reshaped Bengali literature and music, as well as Indian art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)
Gospel Text: (JN 6:60-69)
Many of the disciples of Jesus who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”
As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer walked with him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
An article in the local newspaper a few years ago detailed the case of a young, healthy father of three who succumbed to a particularly nasty case of H1N1 flu. He was put into a medically induced coma, and three times the doctors told his wife to gather the family because they didn’t think he would survive the night. In the end, he not only survived but returned to full, active living. Many people in and out of the medical community called it a miracle. The young man reported that his faith and that of his family and friends is so much stronger now as they praise and thank God for the blessing of his renewed life.
In the Gospels, belief is often likewise prompted by a miraculous occurrence that affects not only the person involved but their entire social network. Someone is raised from the dead or healed of a long illness, and the entire town enthusiastically converts. Indeed, it would seem foolish not to, given the hope that similar miracles might result for oneself.
It is easy to have faith as long as it “works” for you – as long as the people you love are healed, the people you hang around with share your belief, and things go well in your life. Yet that type of faith is superficial, centered on self, and too frequently short-lived. If the young man had died, would his family still come out of it with strengthened faith and conviction of God’s blessings? What about when others become disillusioned, and begin attacking with arguments and doubts that are hard to answer? Can faith be sustained when the Gospels’ difficult sayings and profound challenges grate against the status quo and demand personal sacrifice?
Countless people left Jesus when the going got rough, when they realized their discipleship would ensure the cross instead of health, wealth, and ease. At times, in fact, the popular thing to do was to renounce this man and his tough teachings. They wanted a Messiah who would bless them according to their own definition of blessings, and follow their will instead of God’s.
The reality of faith is a paradox. Jesus does not promise an easy life – in fact, quite the opposite. Instead, he promises faithfulness, strength to endure whatever happens, and resurrection in this life and the next. Jesus is not a prosperity evangelist; he is a realist. He does not negate or erase the experience and suffering of this life; he brings meaning to it.
Jesus has accompanied me through so many “tombs” throughout my life. So I will continue the journey, consciously working to deepen my dependence on and belief in the God who is my rock and stronghold, the source of my existence, the One who calls my name and whom I serve. I hope that no matter what may happen or what others may do, I can join with the disciples and say, “Lord, to whom would I go? You have the words of everlasting life.”