Sunday, August 26, 2012
What did he say?
After a life-changing spiritual experience, a woman decided to try reading the Bible from cover to cover. She had a hard time making it through the Old Testament because there was so little of it that she understood. And yet she tried not to let herself get discouraged because she believed that even in all the bizarre stories about kings who lived thousands of years ago God had a message for her. Even though she understood only about ten percent of what she read, she thanked God for the ninety percent he would one day reveal to her. Her trust that God would help her to understand kept her from getting discouraged and abandoning her commitment to reading Scripture.
The disciples in today's gospel find Jesus as hard to understand as the woman in our story found the Old Testament. Jesus had just finished saying that he would give them his flesh to eat, and they cannot understand what in the world he could mean by that. So, in frustration, many of them choose to stop following him rather than listen to what they considered to be nonsense. However Peter, speaking for himself and some of the other disciples, tells Jesus that he will stick by him. It is not that Peter understood what Jesus was saying any more than the disciples who decided to leave. The difference was that Peter knew he had nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to. He had left his family and his job as a fisherman to follow Jesus because he was convinced that there was something special about him. Even though there was much about Jesus that he didn't understand, he knew that no one could speak about the Father the way he could. No one else could make his heart burn with love and faith. No one else could inspire him the way Jesus did. Though he did not always understand what Jesus was saying, he could not imagine ever leaving him.
Looking at our own lives, we can relate to the disciples' confusion. There is much about life, about God and about religion that we find difficult to comprehend. Many of our questions never seem to get a satisfactory answer. Some mysteries of the faith are so perplexing that we cannot even begin to understand them. How does the bread and wine become the very body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus? How can God be three persons in one nature? They are important and difficult questions, but to be honest, we are not going to have a nervous breakdown over them. The toughest mysteries are those that hit us where we live, the senseless experiences that really challenge our belief in God. If God is good, how can he look on as innocent people are tortured and murdered? Why do I have to suffer? Why did my father, wife or daughter have to die? Why can't I find the love I need? Why does God tell us to forgive and turn the other cheek when there are so many wicked people in the world?
Many good and intelligent people have abandoned their faith in God because of these questions. But we have decided to stick around. We have decided to continue believing in God, believing that he is good and believing that he loves us even though that sounds like nonsense in a world that's falling apart.
What keeps us coming back to God? It must be because, like Peter, we know that there is no one else to turn to. No one else can give us the hope God gives us that the world can change and that things can get better. No one else but God can give us the hope that the sufferings of the present are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed in us. If God does not exist, if he is not all good, if he does not know each of us and love us completely, then we are ruined. There is nothing left to hope for. There is no meaning in our lives.
It is during the difficult times in our lives, when these hard questions arise, when we are suffering or depressed or bored that our faith in God is put to the test. We know that our faith is strong if we can pull out of these hard times still believing in God, still loving him and still trusting that he cares for us. That is the type of faith that saves us: the faith of a woman who continues to read the Bible even though she finds it hard to understand; the faith of Peter who can stick by Jesus even when many of the other disciples have left him; our faith that no matter what life throws at us, our God still loves us