"The Jews Quarreled Among Themselves"

(Homily 20th Sunday, B)

Entering the twenty-first century, an issue we cannot ignore is our relationship to the Jewish people, those whom Pope John Paul calls "our elder brothers in the faith." It's more than overcoming past prejudice and avoiding future hostility. As Christians we know that God chose to reveal himself to one particular people. And he selected one of their daughters as mother of his Incarnate Son. Jesus lived and died steeped in the Jewish faith. Yet he entered into conflict with leaders of that faith. Though he did not will it, his followers - over the course of centuries - went beyond debate to outright persecution. All of us can sincerely say, "Never Again," but still we must grapple with our own Jewish roots.

Today's Gospel brings up the issue. We may cringe when we hear the phrase, "The Jews quarreled among themselves..." (Jn 6:52) It sounds like a reference to an entire group of people, yet it cannot be. To make a comparison: Suppose I run into a delegate from the Republican Convention. I ask him, "Tell me, what really went on behind the scenes in Philadelphia?"

He says, "Oh, the Americans were arguing with each other."

I would rightly question him, "What do you mean? Weren't they all Americans? And what are you?"

It was the same at the multiplication of the loaves. Unless some Gentile smuggled in, they were all Jews, as was Jesus, as was the author of the Fourth Gospel. Each time we hear the phrase "The Jews" in John's Gospel, we must be aware of that context. We cannot apply the references (forged in a time of heated polemic) to an entire people.

Still, how should we understand those references? I hardly have a complete answer, but I think we can learn from Pope John Paul. In Witness to Hope George Weigel brings out his relationship with the Jewish people - from his childhood, through World War II and then at the Vatican Council where he contributed to the beautiful statements about our Christian debt to Judaism and what St. Paul taught about God's election and gift being "irrevocable." (Rom 11:29) John Paul II has applied this rich theology on many occasions, for example during his 1997 visit to Auschwitz and as the first pope to pray inside Rome's synagogue. This past year he took significant steps in the request for pardon* and his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Within Judaism we see tremendous variety. Many modern Jews consider themselves atheists. Others, like certain Catholics, practice their religion in limited ways. And some show an intensity of faith which we can learn from. That small group has given us important allies in the struggle with a secularized culture and its hostility to a morality beyond "consensus" - or the will of the stronger.

And we cannot help thank God for Jewish converts to Catholicism. Two people who come to mind are Cardinal Lustiger and Rosalind Moss. Besides them many others have enriched our Church. While we do not take an aggressive approach ("proselytizing") we pray for the conversion of all and look for opportunities to tell about our faith.

That is where today's Gospel comes in. Quarrel sounds too strong, but to not enter dialogue is like hiding ones lamp under a bushel basket. I don't know about you, but I am more likely to clam up than argue. Flight and fight are both temptations. To engage the other person requires tact, virture - and grace. After all Jesus does offer "true food" and "true drink." On the last day I would hate to think someone went hungry or died of thirst because I was unwilling to open up what I had so freely received.


*"In recalling the sufferings endured by the people of Israel throughout history, Christians will acknowledge the sins committed by not a few of their number against the people of the covenant." The pope acknowledged that we are "deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer." March 7, 2000 (See Memory and Reconciliation The Church and the Faults of the Past)

From Archives (20th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 4: Fission
2012: What We Must Do
2009: Unless You Eat
2006: What is a Body?
2003: Two Approaches to Sexual Morality
2000: The Jews Quarreled Among Themselves

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