The Greatest Entitlement
by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus answered them and said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal." So they said to him, "What can we do to accomplish the works of God." Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." So they said to "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat." So Jesus said to them, "Amen, Amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst"
Many secular philosophers in the last century often spoke of the difficulty of “world weariness.” World weariness is a smothering sense of apparently insoluble troubles. What can one man do? To whom can we turn? Curiously, good news rarely makes media headlines. We have, rather, a kind of fascination with horror and there is never a shortage of awful news to report. Throughout history this was always true, but with the exponential improvements in communication technology, the bombardment of bad news has become relentless.
There is another kind of world weariness we can experience. It is the weariness that comes from the preponderance of false information in the media. Our habitual suspicion when public figures speak exposes a widespread and disconcerting crises of truth. But can we handle the truth?
We all have become accustomed to politicians gaming the electorate, packaging a set of policies to appeal to this group, and packaging contrary policies for another group of votes. Small “focus groups” are scientifically consulted for the purpose. The stated policies of politicians can vary by region, and when taken together often are contradictory and mendacious. As a consequence, to keep voters happy, there is an increasing demand for economic entitlements paid by other taxpayers. In the United States and many parts of the world, the current immense government debt, the result of massive spending to satisfy disparate political constituencies, now threatens to crush the financial future of the younger generation. With older generations providing the game plan, in the main, younger generations similarly demand entitlements themselves.
Focus groups can be found in the Gospel, but only for our sake. Christ is not a politician. He is always “master of the moment” and speaks the truth without equivocation, without nuance, regardless of focus group response: “You brood of vipers!” “A man cannot be a prophet in his hometown.” “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Hence, the largest focus group in the Gospel gathered to demand of Pilate, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” In the art of practical politics, Christ was a failure.
In Sunday’s Gospel, Christ again refuses to parse words for the sake of popularity and favor. After the miraculous multiplication of loaves where Christ feeds the multitudes through the instrumentality of His disciples, Christ attempts to retire to a lonely place for prayer and relaxation. The crowds follow Him, thinking of Him as the Bread King with an endless supply of food stamps. But Christ uses the encounter to announce the most profound of gifts He was to confer upon us. In what is now called His “Eucharistic Discourse” Jesus without ambiguity reveals, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Christ the bread of life.
In subsequent Sunday Gospel readings, we learn the rest of the story. The focus group is unimpressed. With minds closed to the higher gifts, they begin to murmur among themselves and depart from Him, ”How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” A politician would have heard the murmuring and would have adjusted the message accordingly with “nuances” appealing to their expectation. But Christ, the man of truth, refuses to yield. The result? Except for the Twelve (who, still without understanding, remained loyal), the Lord loses His entire constituency. In politics, this focus group event would be called a “gaffe.”
It is all too easy to imagine ourselves, inserted into the pages of the Gospel, numbered among the skeptics of Christ. But today our perspective ought to differ from theirs. The Gospel pages have been gathered together by the church and stapled together as books for us. Through the church, we have received the fullness of the teachings of Christ. Hence, from our perspective a perspective that includes the events of the Last Supper, Good Friday and the Resurrection, these words of Christ are among the most poignant and beautiful we can possible hear this side of eternity: “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.” To souls hungry to live life in abundance in Christ, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the greatest entitlement of all.
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