Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Mystery of the Gospel, Declared Boldly

In today's readings we are presented with two bold declarations. The first comes from St. Paul as he asserts that we are in a battle against spiritual forces of evil (among other things), and the second is from our Lord and Savior who claims that he is the bread from heaven, and whoever eats him will live because of him.

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak." Ephesians 6:10-20
How can today's listeners, many of whom dismiss the possibility of the presence of spiritual forces of evil, pray for Paul when, in their hearts, they wish he would just shut up about all that hocus pocus stuff?

Next we hear the shocking truth from Jesus,
"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’" John 6:56-69

Ouch! More food that modern people can't stomach! Divine beings, bread from heaven, eternal life... I can't take it anymore!

I have heard attempts to explain away Paul's picture of a supernatural struggle as an ancient world view, one that is not applicable to the people of today. This worldview is also held against him in arguments over other writings of Paul (in particular those condemning same-sex relationships).

But can we be sure that Paul is wrong?

If we deny the possibility of evil forces, we have no need for "the whole armor of God." We also might find that we have little need for St. Paul or his letters.

Denying Paul's worldview of a supernatural struggle is typical of modern thought, but isn't it just as typical to deny the supernatural notion of God incarnate in the form of Jesus?

Jesus, when speaking to people with the very same world view as Paul, can only convince a handful to believe that His words are spirit and life, that He has come down to Earth, and that He will ascend to where He was before. Unbelievable then, unbelievable still?

What chance does Paul have in the public square of 2012? Who today can believe him?

What chance does Christ have? Who today will believe Him?

Let us pray that all will come to believe in Him.


  1. Hey, there's no evil. That's an ancient symbolic category for stuff we can fix today with... with... EDUCATION! And... and... THERAPY! And... and... A BIGGER FEDERAL BUDGET!

  2. Many now believe that Evil only exists in conservative's minds.