We begin a new three-week message series today called Faith Answering Questions. For some time, we’ve been asking you to submit your questions about the Catholic faith. So far, we have received many difficult, controversial, and interesting inquiries that we’ll be addressing during the homilies at Mass and in the bulletin articles each week.
Even as we explore specific aspects of Church teaching, we’ll also be learning something about the general nature of faith itself from the stories in the gospel readings over this same three-week period. In particular, we will discover that, in order to be healthy, faith must:
· Evolve by asking questions;
· Trust in the answers faith offers; and
· Commit to our faith even in the face of some lingering misgivings.
Today’s gospel passage demonstrates the first of these propositions, namely, how faith evolves through a process of doubt and questioning. In the story, Jesus is embroiled in a conflict that ultimately helps the faith of his followers grow.
The conflict began after Jesus had multiplied a few loaves of bread and fish to feed thousands of people. News of the miracle spread, and crowds began to follow him, looking for more free food. Jesus wanted their faith to mature and so provoked a controversy by telling them that he would give them “food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27).
The people balked, claiming that Jesus could never outdo the bread called “manna” given to their ancestors in the desert after they had been freed from slavery in Egypt. To help them take their first step in the development of their faith, Jesus compares himself to God’s wisdom in the Scriptures, which is like food and drink and greater than the manna rained down from heaven (6:35).
Even though they continue to grumble, Jesus doubles down and tells them that the true bread from heaven actually is his own flesh given “for the life of the world” (6:51). Still stuck in a “manna mindset,” however, the people then quarrel among themselves over this teaching. The discourse crescendos in the unthinkable revelation that they must actually eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to remain with him forever. With the Greek verb used in the passage, there is no mistaking the fact that Jesus intended his words to be taken literally.
Through a rather painful process of questioning, doubt, and even outright rebellion, Jesus led his closest disciples to a new level of understanding. In the same way, our faith should evolve and grow. For that to happen, we must be open to asking the deepest questions about what we believe and, even in our doubt, at least consider the tried and true answers provided by the ancient faith of the Church.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson