Monthly Archives: April 2006

The meaning of Life in St. John’s Gospel

As a Christian (Catholic) I am very drawn to St. John’s Gospel because it spells out the spiritual meaning of Life. St. John’s Gospel is a very rich tapestry of meanings. Every single sentence has so much meaning that it is difficult not to find something new each time a Gospel story is examined. There are several themes or motifs where the “life” is expounded in St. John’s Gospel, and one of the most outstanding, and probably the most argued, is St. John chapter 6. It is in the discourse at Capernaeum that we see Jesus telling His disciples: “I am the Bread of Life”.

To better understand the discourse at Capernaeum, we need to place ourselves amongst those who were the hearers of Jesus. We need to place ourselves with the people who had been present for the Eucharistic miracle that had taken place the previous day. We need to feel the excitement of the crowd as they realised exactly what had taken place, and how Jesus had performed a miracle for them. By placing ourselves amongst the crowd we can take note of the atmosphere, and learn why the Jews refused to believe what they were hearing.

It is not my intention to examine the whole of this chapter because that will make me digress from the real meaning of life, for in this case, Jesus is talking about Eternal Life, and that without Jesus there is no Bread of Life, or as I understand, grace.

The word “grace” represents the breath of life that is given to our spirits when we are first baptized and welcomed into God’s family. It is the means by which we are purified so that we can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Without grace, that is without that purity, we cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. We receive grace from the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from both the Father and the Son.

We need God’s grace to help us to make the right and moral choices throughout our lives. When we sin, especially those small sins, we lose a little bit of grace. Each time we lose grace our consciences become dulled until we reach the point where we cannot distinguish good from evil.

Take for example the Schiavo case where we still do not know the truth about Theresa’s collapse. The husband had already been guilty of bashing Terri, as evidenced by her work colleague as well as family members who had noted the bruises on her arms. In other words, a sin had already been committed, for it is a sin to treat one’s spouse in that way. Now, assuming that there had been an argument and that Terri had collapsed because of an attempt to strangle or restrain her, then one can see how that sin is compounded by the panic not to be caught.

Yet, this is only the starting point: what if this man was already guilty of having lovers behind his wife’s back? If this was the situation then his conscience was already becoming dulled as a result of his sin of adultery. So is it any wonder that he turned his back on his wife whilst she was helpless and paraded his women before her?

However, the sin was then compounded by the deception involved in taking out a lawsuit against Terri’s doctors falsely claiming that they had failed to diagnose her non-existent bulimia. The truth is, he lied during that lawsuit. A jury should have dismissed the case for compensation, but they felt sorry. This is the man who perjured himself by falsely claiming that he intended to look after Terri until death. It is now very clear that he was going to finish off Terri once he got the compensation money. This yet further evidence of a dulled conscience. Thus we have the situation where in the end this man advocated for his wife’s death because he was done with using her to get money.

One sin always begets another sin, and this is the real meaning of spiritual life and spiritual death. Sin causes spiritual death. It was through the sin of Adam and Eve that death first entered into the world. One can ask: Does Scripture mean physical death, or does it really mean spiritual death? When the snake told Eve “you will not die”, the snake meant physical death, but when God said “you will die”, God meant spiritual death.

An unspiritual person is one who is dead to the presence of God. This is the person whose mind is so dulled that he or she can no longer discern God in his or her life. Yet, we must never think that there is no hope for that person, because that is never God’s intention.

The words: “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger. Whoever drinks from me shall not thirst” are words packed with meaning. When Jesus said that we mus eat His Flesh, the Jews turned away in disgust because they recognized that Jews meant that they were to literally “chew” on His Flesh. The real meaning of this statement was revealed at the Last Supper when Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and said “Take and eat, this is My Body that is given up for you and for all” (paraphrased), and He took the cup of wine and said: “This cup is the blood of the new and everlasting covenant in My Blood” (paraphrased). This is the moment that is repeated at every Catholic Mass as we are constantly reminded and we remind God what His Son did to save us from the debt due for our sins. To eat of the Body of Christ is to share the Eucharist with all who are present at the Mass. To eat and share in the Eucharist is the gift of grace that we receive from God so that we too will have Eternal Life as promised in the discourse of St. John Chapter 6.