Murmur not among yourselves

Pascha III Thursday – John 6: 40-44

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 The Lord said to the Jews who believed in him: This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

St. John Chrysostom says that these men murmured because they wanted only earthly blessings from Christ and not spiritual food:  

For when He gave them bread, and filled their bellies, they said that He was a prophet, and sought to make Him a king; but when He taught them concerning spiritual food, concerning eternal life, when He had led them away from objects of sense, and spake to them of the resurrection, and raised their thoughts to higher matters, when most they ought to have admired, they murmur and start away.  And yet, if He was that Prophet as they before asserted, declaring that he it was of whom Moses had said, “A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren like unto me, unto Him shall ye hearken (Deut. 18:15); they ought to have hearkened to Him when He said, “I came down from heaven”; yet they hearkened not, but murmured.  They still reverenced Him, because the miracle of the loaves was recent, and therefore they did not openly gainsay Him, but by murmuring expressed their displeasure, that He did not give them the meal which they desired. – Homily 46 on John

The Lord’s audience are men who are following Him and believing in Him, but their admiration and reverence spring from the miracle He worked earlier in Chapter Six, when He multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the five thousand.   When He announced that He was the True Bread that came down from Heaven, and attempted to raise their minds to higher things by preaching the Resurrection,  they were disappointed, wanting only a continuation of temporal benefits, as if this life and its material concerns were all that is;  as if the Savior came only to be a munificent provider of temporary goods and not the One Who delivers man forever from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  

We rightly abjure the carnality and obduracy of these foolish semi-believers, of course, 

at least in our words, but we have a great advantage over them, in that having beheld the Resurrection of Christ and having received the Holy Spirit, the veil has been taken away from our eyes and we see Christ no longer through earthly eyes but spiritual ones.   Yet how fragile, it seems, is our spiritual vision, how easy it is for us to be “the Jews who believed in Him” and yet, when push comes to shove, murmur and even, God forbid, follow Him no longer, because of a temporary disappointment.  The disappointment may come in the shape of a personal loss – the death of a loved one, a terrible illness, the betrayal of a friend.    Frequently today it comes in the shape of the betrayal of the Faith by those in whom we placed our trust, and we say, “Well, if there is nothing but hypocrisy and cynicism everywhere, perhaps what I believed is not true after all, ” an argument which proves nothing but does appeal powerfully to our desire to please our fallen nature and release ourselves from the moral constraints imposed by faith. 

This latter kind of disappointment, caused by the failures of supposedly spiritual men and spiritual institutions, carries far greater power to tempt and to destroy those who are genuinely pious.    We readily accept that we must carry the cross of sorrows related to the material aspect of our lives – social isolation, financial loss, illness, and so forth.    But, being religious people, we find our comfort in the warmth and security of being in the Church: “Well, I’ve lost so much in this life, but I know that I have the Church; so I can keep going.”    What should we do when even that seems to be taken away, by the betrayal of spiritual authorities?   A large question, of course, and one that deserves book length treatment.   But for today, let us ponder a short list of counsel: 

1. Remember that the Lord desires your salvation, more than you do!   Ask Him to let this crisis be an opportunity to go more deeply into prayer, to trust Him more completely, to submit yourself more unreservedly to the decrees of His all wise providence.    

2.  Ask yourself if the failure of your spiritual authorities is about primary things or secondary things.    There will always be scandals caused by failures in prudence or justice on the part of all men in authority, even the best.   These do not separate you from Christ.  Again:  Go more deeply into prayer, especially for the men who have disappointed you. 

3.  If it is a matter affecting the Faith itself, affecting the continuation of the apostolic confession and therefore the apostolic succession of your hierarchs and clergy, take careful and traditional steps to deal with the problem, according to the example of the saints, with determination to follow the Truth where It – or rather He – leads, but without anxiety.   After all: God is with us!   

The Lord uses all such crises, whether they are caused by failure in primary things or secondary things, to enlighten us as to the difference between the psychological and spiritual comfort of our Faith.   There are great psychological comforts deriving from  many things genuinely pertaining to the Church, that form the day to day outward experience of our life in the Church.  But even these good things can become the loaves and fishes that blind our eyes to the truly spiritual and permanent good things the Lord has in store for us.  Sometimes they need to be lost, at least for a time, good though they are, so that we may seek our comfort in the Lord alone, our sustenance in Him alone, the Heavenly Bread.   

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