If you and I had been alive when Jesus walked the earth, would we have believed in Him? If we had seen Him with our own eyes and heard Him speak, would we have followed Him? Would we have left behind our old ideas about religion and society to put faith in a man who claimed to be not only the Messiah but the Son of God?
These questions help us to understand some of the struggles the people of Jesus’ day faced when confronted with His preaching. He claimed not only to have unique insights into the mind of God, but He claimed to be God Himself. No wonder the people of His day had so much trouble understanding and accepting Him.
Nonetheless, many did come to believe in Jesus. Many left their jobs and families to follow Him. And after He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, many gave their lives to spread the gospel. What did they know that the religious leaders didn’t know? How were Jesus’ disciples different from the crowds that rejected Him and later called for Him to be crucified? Were they smarter or better people than those who thought Jesus was nothing more than a troublemaker?
Jesus speaks about this in today’s gospel. Believing in Him is a gift from the Father. As Jesus puts it, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him...” Those who accept Jesus’ teaching and follow Him do so because they have been given faith directly from God. It is not because they were smarter than everyone else or better people. For some mysterious reason known only to God Himself, they received a special gift of faith.
The same is true for us in our day. Why is it that the gospel message is so compelling to us? Why is it that many of us have changed our lives in sometimes radical ways to live up to the ideal of life in Christ? At the same time, we see a world with so many people who have rejected Jesus and His Church. We see so much hostility to the gospel message even among our family members and friends. Why are we different? We might be tempted to believe that we are smarter or better people than those who refuse to accept the gospel, but that would not be what Jesus taught. The simple fact is that, for some mysterious reason, we have been given the light of faith whereas others have not or have been given less light than we enjoy.
This is a very important truth for us to reflect on and consider. Faith is a gift. It is not something we have achieved or a title we have earned. It comes to us directly from the Father. Therefore, none of us can boast about it. It should not be a source of pride for us or a reason for us to have a judgmental attitude toward those who seem to lack faith. We could just as easily not have been given this gift. The only proper response for us is to humbly accept this gift and live it with the grace that comes from God.
The other truth we must consider is that, if we have been given this gift, we will be accountable to our Heavenly Father about how we have used it. Have we lived our faith in such a way that others have seen the beauty and truth of the gospel message? Have we loved others, served the poor, counseled the doubtful and guided the lost by the light we have received? Or have we kept it to ourselves? Jesus warns us that much will be expected from those to whom much has been given. We have been given the greatest treasure of all - faith in the Son of God. How are we putting that gift to use to draw others to Jesus?
It is true that we live our faith in the midst of a world that is indifferent to the gospel and often hostile to it. It is difficult to hold fast to the teaching of Jesus when so often it is called into question, ridiculed and attacked. We need to have that gift of faith nourished and refreshed if it is to withstand all the trials that will come. Like Elijah in today’s first reading who is strengthened by the cake and jug of water provided by the angel, we need a heavenly food to sustain us in our life of faith.
That nourishment comes to us through the Eucharist. As Jesus tells us, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven...and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Just as our bodies require food to energize them, so our spirits need heavenly nourishment to keep them strong. It is vitally important for us to receive the Eucharist as well as the other sacraments as frequently as possible so that this gift we have received at the cost of Jesus’ death can continue to sustain us and inspire others.
Mother Angelica, the founder of the Catholic global television network, EWTN, once said, “Faith is having one foot on the ground, one in the air and a queasy feeling in your stomach.” Following Jesus often means making sacrifices, being rejected by others and foregoing many of the pleasures that this world offers. But what we receive in return - an intimate knowledge of God’s love, friendship with Jesus and the hope of eternal life - cannot compare to anything this world can offer. What we have received as a gift, we must know give as a gift so that even more people can be drawn to Jesus by the Father and share with us the joy of faith in the Son of God who gives His flesh for the life of the world.