Sunday, July 30, 2006

Self-Gift; To Be = To Be For/To Be For = To be: Transcendental Mathematics: -(3+2) = 5,000+

(17TH Sunday of Ordinary Time B; John 6, 1-15)

1) “A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing Elisha, the man of God, bread from the first-fruits, twenty barley loaves and fresh grain in the ear. `Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha said. But his servant replied, `How can I serve this to a hundred men?’ `Give it to the people to eat’ he insisted `for the Lord says this, “They will eat and have some left over.”’ He served them; they ate and had some over, as the Lord had said.”[1]

2) “Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, `Where can we buy some bred for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered. `Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, `There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that among so many?’ Jesus said to them, `Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, `Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, `This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.”[2]

3) “The Lord then said to Elijah: `Leave here, go east and hide in the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan. You shall drink of the stream, and I have commanded ravens to feed you there’…
“After some time, however, the brook ran dry, because no rain had fallen in the land. So the Lord said to him: `Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and say here. I have designated a widow there to provide for you.’ He left and went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her, `Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.’ She left to get it, and he called out after her, `Please bring along a bit of bread.’ `As the Lord, you God, lives,’ she answered, `I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.’ `Do not be afraid,’ Elijah said to her, `Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the Lord, the God of Israel, says, `The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.

“She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.”[3]

To Win, One Must Lose

The Goal is “to Lose:” As in the blog below on last July 20, 2006, the Orthodox theologian John Chryssavgis asserted: “In some ways, the secret to living a rich and healthy spiritual life may well be the fact that there is no secret. One of the problems along the spiritual way is that most of us seek -- or resort to -- magical solutions to profound issues. Reading the texts of the early ascetics, I have come to realize that perhaps the most essential lesson learned in life is the lesson of surrender, of letting go. It is a hard lesson, and one that is only reluctantly embraced by most of us. But I am convinced that this life is given to us in order to learn how to lose. We think that the purpose of a good spiritual life is to acquire virtues, or perhaps to lead a solid, productive, dignified, admirable, and even influential lifestyle. In fact, every detail -- whether seemingly important or insignificant, whether painful or joyful -- in the life of each one of us has but a single purpose, namely to prepare us for the ultimate act of sharing and sacrifice. I would say that the secret of the desert is learning to lose. When you know how to lose, you also know how to love! In some ways, every moment in our life is a gradual refinement so that we are prepared to encounter death, which is the ultimate loss.”

It is very illuminating to put the meaning of the gift of self in terms of “losing.” The “unencumbered Self" is always looking for ways to control others, to ascend politically in whatever arena. The self, indeed, needs affirmation in order to be self. We need to be loved and related to in order to have identity and to be capacitated to make the self-gift. But that self-gift consists in learning to lose, therefore to love. We need virtue and self-mastery in order to be able to serve and disappear – which is to be in relation, and therefore to be on the way of divinization and fruitfulness. This loss of self is precisely the work of the redemption that must be sorted out and contrasted with the universal and false theology of expiation that would put us in control yet again of our own re-constitution as persons.

Ratzinger's "Theology of Redemption"

Consider Benedict XVI, Josef Ratzinger on the true theology of redemption where he contrasts the almost universally held “theology of atonement” propounded by St. Anselm where the infinite offense must be balanced by infinite atonement. Hence, the justice of God demanded that God himself in the Son should obey to death on the Cross in order to “settle the books.” Ratzinger remarks:

This picture is as false as it is widespread. In the Bible the cross does not appear as part of a mechanism of injured right; on the contrary, in the Bible the cross is quite the reverse: it is the expression of the radical nature of the love which gives itself completely, of the process in which one is what one does and does what one is; it is the expression of a life that is completely being for others. To anyone who looks more closely, the scriptural theology of the cross represents a real revolution as compared with the notions of expiation and redemption entertained by non-Christian religions, though it certainly cannot be denied that in the later Christian consciousness this revolution was largely neutralized and its whole scope seldom recognized. In other world religions expiation usually means the restoration of the damaged relationship with God by means of expiatory actins on the part of men. Almost all religions center round the problem of expiation; they arise out of man’s knowledge of his guilt before God and signify the attempt to remove this feeling of guilt, to surmount the guilt through conciliatory actions offered up to God. The expiatory activity by which men hope to conciliate the divinity and to put him in a gracious mood stands at the heart of the history of religion.

“In the New Testament the situation is almost completely reversed. It is not man who goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man, in order to give to him. He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy. His righteousness is grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man right, that is, bends him straight, makes hi right. Here we stand before the twist which Christianity put into the history of religion. The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since after all it is they wo have failed, not God. It says on the contrary that `God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5, 19). This is truly something new, something unheard of – the starting-point of Christian existence and the center of New Testament theology of the cross; God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the incarnation, of the cross.

“Accordingly, in the New Testament the cross appears primarily as a movement from above to below. It does not stand there as the work of expiation which mankind offers to the wrathful God, but as the expression of that foolish love of God’s which gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order thus to save man; it is his approach to us, not the other way about. With this twist in the idea of expiation, and thus in the whole axis of religion, worship too, man’s whole existence, acquires in Christianity a new direction. Worship follows in Christianity first of all in thankful acceptance of the divine deed of salvation. The essential form of Christian worship is therefore rightly called `Eucharistia,’ thanksgiving. In this form of worship human achievements are not placed before God; on the contrary, it consists in man’s letting himself be endowed with gifts; we do not glorify God by supposedly giving to him out of our resources – as if they were not his already! – but by letting ourselves be endowed with his own gifts and thus recognizing him as the only Lord. We worship him by dropping the fiction of a realm in which we could face him as independent business partners, whereas in truth we can only exist at al in him and from him. Christian sacrifice does not consist in a giving of what God would not have without us but in our becoming totally receptive and letting ourselves be completely taken over by him. Letting God act on us – that is Christian sacrifice.”

In the same vein, the priesthood of Christ is not the control of something as mediation, but the control and gift of the Self.

We have often seen here that priesthood means mediation; that mediation in every world religion has involved some element extrinsic to the priest. In Jesus Christ, there is a revolution. Here the victim and the priest are the same I. Commenting on St. Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews, Ratzinger says,

“Let s not the fundamental reversal involved in the central idea of this epistle: what from the earthly point of view was a secular happening is the true worship for mankind, for he who performed ti broke through the confines of the liturgical act and made truth: he gave himself. He took from man’s hands the sacrificial offerings and pout in their place his sacrificed personality, his own `I.’ When our text says that Jesus accomplished the expiation through his blood (9, 12), this blood is again not to be understood as a material gift, a quantitatively measurable means of expiation; it is simply the concrete expression of a love of which it is said that it extends `to the end’ (John 13, 1). It is the expression of the totality of his surrender and his service; and embodiment of the fact that he offers no more and no less than himself. The gesture of the love that gives all – this, and this alone, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, was the real means by which the world was reconciled; therefore the hour of the cross is the cosmic day of reconciliation he true and final feast of reconciliation. There is no other kind of worship and no other priest but he who accomplished it: Jesus Christ.”[5]

The Principle of Supernatural Life: You can only keep what you give away. “Property is acquired first of all through work in order that it may serve work. This concerns in a special way ownership of the means of production. Isolating these means as a separate property in order to set it up in the form of `capital’ in opposition to `labor’ – and even to practice exploitation of labor – is contrary to the very nature of these means and their possession. They cannot be possessed against labor, they cannot even be possessed for possession’s sake, because the only legitimate title to their possession –whether in the form of private ownership or in the form of public or collective ownership – is that they should serve labor, and thus, by serving labor, that they should make possible the achievement of the first principle of this order, namely, the universal destination of goods and the right to common use of them.”[6]

This principle derives from the rector principle of Christian anthropology: “Man, the only earthly being God willed for itself, finds himself only in the sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes #24). Hence, one owns oneself only to the extent that one has subdued self and therefore taken possession of self. Then, the self once possessed must make the gift of self to another, always beginning with God, since without God the gift is impossible to another.

The Self Given is Limited and Defective: Five loaves and two fish are little. The love of Philein – a love with the triple betrayal in it – is enough for Christ and accepted. Recall the triple confession of John 21, 15-17 after the triple denial of John 18, 17-27. Jesus asks twice for the love of agape that is the love that is God, a spousal love to death. Simon (down from “Peter”) answers that he loves Christ with the love of companionship, but not to death, not after the triple denial. The last time Jesus asks if Simon loves him with the love of philein. Benedict XVI commented: “This is to say that Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus’ level! It is exactly this divine conformity that gives hope to the Disciple, who experienced the pain of infidelity. From here is born the trust that makes him able to follow [Christ] to the end: `This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God. And after this he said to him, `Follow me’ (Jn. 21, 19).”[7]

Conclusion to giving away what we have: Excess Back!!

“When it is studied in the New Testament the theme of excess leads up another path where its meaning first becomes completely clear. We find the word occurring again in connection with the miracle of the loaves, where an `excess’ of seven baskets is mentioned (Mar 8, 8 par.) It forms an essential factor in the story of the multiplication of the loaves and is to be connected with the idea of the superfluous, of the more-than-necessary. One thinks at once of a related miracle preserved in the Johannine tradition: the changing of water into wine at the marriage-feast at Cana (Jn. 2, 1-11). It is true that the word `excess’ does not occur here, but the fact certainly does; according to the evidence of the gospel the new-made wine amounted to between 130 and 190 gallons, a somewhat unusual quantity for a private banquet! IN the evangelists’ view both stories have to do with the central element in Christian worship, the Eucharist. They show it is as the divine excess or abundance, which infinitely surpasses all needs and legitimate demands.

“In this way both stories are concerned, through their reference to the Eucharist, with Christ himself: Christ is the infinite self-expenditure of God. And both point back, as we found with the principle of `For, to the law governing the structure of creation, in which life squanders a million seeds in order to save one living one; in which a whole universe is squandered in order to prepare at one point a place for spirit, for man. Excess is God’s trade mark in his creation; as the Fathers put it, `God does not reckon his gifts by the measure.’ At the same time excess is also the real foundation and form of the history of salvation, which in the last analysis is nothing other than the truly breathtaking fact that God, in an incredible outpouring of himself, expends not only a universe but his own self in order to lead man, a speck of dust, to salvation. So excess of superfluity – let us repeat – is the real definition or mark of the history of salvation. The purely calculating mind will always find it absurd that for man God himself should be expended. Only the lover can understand the folly of a love to which prodigality is a law and excess alone is sufficient. Yet if it is true that the creation lives from excess or superfluity, that man is a being for whom excess is necessity, how can we wonder that revelation is the superfluous and for that very reason the necessary, the divine, the love in which the meaning of the universe is fulfilled” ("Introduction to Christianity" op. cit. 197-198).

[1] Second Book of Kings, 4, 42-44.
[2] Lk. 6, 5-15.
[3] First Book of Kings, 17, 2-16. (Confraternity-Douay has it at 3 Kings).
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 213-215.
[5] Ibid. 218.
[6] John Paul II, Laborem Exercens #14.
[7] See Wednesday, General Audience, May 24, 2006.


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