18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 2, 2015 – Year B
Readings: Ex 16:2-4, 12-15 / Ex 16:2-4, 12-15 / Jn 6:24-35
by Rev. Richard Mooney, Guest Celebrant
My name is Father Richard Mooney. I am a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, ordained thirty-six years. My present work is to be the volunteer Catholic chaplain to four state prisons that are scattered in that enormous stretch of territory south of Petersburg and north of the North Carolina line. I don’t have a commitment to a parish on Sundays, which leaves me free to come and be with you today and to spend a little time with you with Chapter Six of the Gospel of John today, the Bread of Life chapter.
If you’ve never actually read the whole chapter from beginning to end, do that, because it’s really a challenging piece of work and full of teachings. I want to point out one small part of today’s gospel.
When I look back on my life, my two greatest regrets are that I never mastered a language other than English, and I never mastered a musical instrument other than my own voice. If I had my life to do over again, I’d make a better effort to try to do both of those things.
In my experience, people who are fluent in more than one language understand that language is very tricky. Can you ever really translate anything? It’s difficult. Whenever we translate from one language to another, something is always lost, or something is always added.
I bring this up because there is a phrase in the gospel today that could be better translated than it is. Jesus says: “Believe in me. I am the bread of life. Whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
That phase, “believes in me,” in the original Greek is in an odd tense that we don’t have in English. I’m told that a better way to translate it, a more accurate way to translate the phrase “believe in” would be something like “believe into.” “Believing into” carries with it the connotation of giving yourself more and more to whatever you’re believing into: in our case, believing into Jesus and His teachings, and His living, dying, and rising. Deeper and deeper and deeper.
We use this word “believe” as a verb, and frequently it means “agreeing with”: “I believe that Mars has two moons.” I’ve never been there; I’ve never counted them myself. But people who know about these things tell me that Mars has two moons, and I believe that.
We can treat our faith in Jesus the same way: “Mars has two moons.” “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” Are these the same kind of statement? “Mars has two moons” I put in the box labeled “Interesting Things to Know,” but nothing that makes any practical difference in my life. Mars could have eight moons, and nothing about my life would change.
“Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” Does that go into the box labeled “Interesting Things to Know”? Or does that go into the box labeled “How I Live My Life”?
This is what that phrase “believing into” gets toward. I can stand here honestly and tell you, though I’ve been ordained thirty-six years, there’ve been stretches in my life when I believed in Jesus, but I stopped believing into Him. It happens to all of us. We go through phases and changes. There’ve been moments in my life when I was so lazy or so angry or so something that the process of giving myself over more and more to who Jesus is and what He’s about came to an end for a time.
I think all of us could write our own biographies, using that as a sort of outline. Those moments, those stretches of my life when I was truly giving myself over, exploring more and more deeply what it means to follow Jesus, and those times in my life when I thought: “I’m not going to be doing that.”
I’ve shared this all with the guys whom I see every week, and their responses are interesting. One guy said: “No. I want my beliefs straight up, with no chaser. I don’t want to have to think too much about what I believe. I don’t want to ‘believe into.’ Tell me what to believe, and I’ll believe that.” One other guy said: “Oh, thank God you said that. I’ve struggled with this stuff my whole life.” One guy dismissed it all as: “Oh, you’re just playing with words.” I understand that, but I don’t agree. I think there is something to that difference in translation.
This is a little on the mystical side, but John is a mystical type gospel. So I just leave that with you. Am I believing in Jesus, or am I believing into Jesus, more and more deeply, giving myself over to what it means to be a follower of His?
I’m not dropping this on you to make you feel more guilty and awful than you already feel. There’s far too much of that in the life of the Church. But there is this: Wherever you are is a good place to be. It’s not a good place to stay.