TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“Do you also want to leave?” Jn 6: 68
Many years ago, when I was a student seeking a graduate degree in Psychology, I was honored to take a course taught by Victor Frankl, a Jewish Austrian psychiatrist who endured many of the horrors of the holocaust. Both Frankl and his wife were victims of the brutal concentration camps that Hitler invented.
He survived. His wife didn’t.
Frankl went on to achieve world renown with his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, in which he presented his own unique approach to psychological healing. In his book, Frankl outlined his belief that human beings are primarily driven by a “striving to find meaning in one’s life.”
Most importantly, Frankl stressed his conviction that it is our sense of meaning that enables people to overcome painful, even life threatening experiences. After enduring all the deprivations and horrifying tortures of these extraordinarily brutal camps, Frankl became convinced that “even in the most absurd, painful, dehumanizing situations, life has potential meaning and that, therefore, even suffering is meaningful.”
One of Frankl’s famous sayings is: “What is to give light, must endure burning.”
How did he come to this conclusion? At perhaps his darkest hour, when thinking of his wife who had died at the hands of Nazi brutality, his mind clung to her image. Because of the constancy of that loving image, Frankl tells us:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life, I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets – the truth that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire. Then I finally grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought have to impart: the salvation of Man is through love and in love … a man who has nothing left in the world still may know bliss … in the contemplation of his beloved.”
Jesus believed the same.
So did the author of the Gospel of John when he told us that God “so loved the world….”
And in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes it clear that he knew his teachings were difficult and challenging: love your enemies; do good to those who hate you and persecute you; feed the hungry; forgive 70 times 7; wash the feet of the poor and the homeless; be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate; take up your cross and follow me; repent and become transformed; become a “new creation.”
Very difficult stuff!!
That’s the whole point, in fact, to the famous temptation scene in the desert where Satan lures Jesus with those same enticements that we all have to do battle with: pride and power and possessions. “All this can be yours …,” Satan promised Jesus, and daily promises each of us.
No one knew better than Jesus of Nazareth that rejecting those alluring promises required great sacrifice, even to the point of torture and the death of his body. For us, it also involves a death – the death of our constantly demanding and never-satisfied ego.
But, as if those challenging teachings weren’t enough, in today’s gospel Jesus adds a whole other dimension to his faith challenge: believe that this bread is my body; believe that this wine is my blood. And, not only “believe” it, but “take and eat; take and drink.”
It’s at this point that today’s gospel tells us: “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
And, as you read on, you can almost hear the sadness and disappointment in Jesus’ voice as he turns to the Twelve and asks: “Do you also want to leave?”
Certainly Victor Frankl was in effect asked that same question each and every day of his concentration camp existence – as were all the others forced into those utterly degrading experiences. But, a voice within him somehow understood that “What is to give light, must endure burning.”
Frankl’s answer to Jesus’ question is a decisive “no.” He’s not leaving.
“Do you also want to leave?” Jesus then asks each of us. “Do you also want to choose another path, a less demanding one, a less painful one?”
These questions represent the temptations that all of us are presented with daily in our lives.
Frankl was among those who clearly – even in the darkest and bleakest of circumstances – insisted that he would not join those who wanted to leave. He was not willing to give up. Instead, the darker it got, the more he seemed to see that that the way of love, the way of ego-abandonment, the way of self-donation was the path to true bliss and happiness.
Somehow Frankl understood what Jesus was talking about all the way through his gospel message: that the cross – the cross that kills our ego demands – is the same cross that also creates room for the Spirit, the Spirit that will then lead us to a much fuller and more complete experience of life. In fact, Jesus calls it “eternal life.”
Frankl got it. “The salvation of Man is through love and in love.”
Now the question is posed to each of us:
“Do you also want to leave?”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.