Thursday, August 23, 2012

Words of Spirit and Life

Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 26, 2012 - Year B

Words of Spirit and Life

Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"  But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this?"  (John 6:60)

A 'hard saying' is a teaching that is offensive and difficult.  Throughout his teaching Jesus presents himself as the bread of life.  His words that his body is true food and his blood is true drink meets with resistance.  Some react to his words like one reacts to the sound made when someone scrapes the chalkboard with their fingernails.  A picture of writhing and contortions and people holding their ears comes to mind.  

I've said before that I do not recall hearing sermons from these 'controversial' verses in John chapter 6 as a kid in my Pentecostal church.  I am grateful that by God's grace the mystery and revelation of Christ John the beloved shares in this chapter entered my heart.  "Eat my flesh and drink my blood so that there may be life in you," Jesus said.  These words that many still find difficult to embrace became for me words of spirit and life.  These words that illumined my heart in the early 1990's put me on a journey that I did not fully know where it would take me.  First, that road led me to the priesthood in the Charismatic Episcopal Church and then ended upon entering the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006.    

John writes as an eyewitness of the life and ministry of Jesus.  In his gospel he presents Jesus with a heart inspired from daily and close contact with his Master.  He let's us hear Jesus say "I AM" more than Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  In the gospel of John Jesus says, "I am the light; I am the door; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Resurrection and Life; I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; I am the True Vine."  And in the 6th chapter of John's gospel that has been the gospel readings for five consequent Sundays Jesus says, "I am the Bread."  

It is in John's gospel we also hear Jesus say, "Before Abraham was, I am," emphasizing his full divinity.  At the beginning of John's gospel he opens with the Incarnation and continues the theme of God manifested in the flesh throughout the entire book.  In the First Epistle of John we read the most tender remembrance of Christ on record when John writes:  "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life...that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you."  It doesn't get richer than this.  

Today we conclude this Bread of Life discourse in John chapter 6 knowing that our ears have heard the invitation to life and that more abundantly.  Christ holds nothing back from us - especially himself.  He holds out to us a fellowship with him and his Father through the Spirit that we receive in the bread which is his body, broken on Calvary, and raised by immeasurable power.  We drink the wine which is his blood, spilled, and poured out from the spear wound in his side - the water and blood of the Lamb that washes whiter than snow.  

"Dennis, do you really understand all of this?" someone may ask.  No, my friend.  I really don't. That he my God should die for me so that I could live with him and through him and by him is beyond all my powers of thought.  "How does he become our daily bread?" you ask.  It is not meant to be explained and understood like we might explain and understand the math tables or the rules of grammar.  But we want God and salvation and his redeeming love to make sense, don't we?  We don't want anyone thinking that we are off our rocker because we believe that a carpenter from Nazareth came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man and walked on water, and healed the eyes of the blind, and taught that love covers a multitude of sins, and raised the dead, and said, "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will never die."  But it gets better.  From a rugged cross he prayed to his Father and said, "Forgive them.  For they know not what they do." 

Dottie Rambo wrote and sung, "If that isn't love, then the oceans are dry and there are no stars in the sky."  Everything owes it's existence to this solitary life who had no where to lay his head and yet the stars in the sky and the olive trees in the Garden where he prayed are his handiwork of love.  

Many disciples left Jesus that day after he talks about his life and love he gives for the life of the world.  His message is clear. In him alone is there salvation.  But some draw back from him finding his words too hard, too offensive, too difficult.  They turn and walk away.  Jesus says to the twelve, "Do you also wish to leave?"  Let us join our voices with Peter and say, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."  Amen.   

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at   His website is:   


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