—Gavin Koh, 26 Aug 2018
John 6. 56–69
St Paul tells us that there are three cardinal virtues, Faith, Hope and Love; and that the greatest of these is Love.
Love is a virtue, because it underpins the good works that we do: Acts of charity and generosity; the compassion that we feel for our fellow human beings; Jesus’ great act of salvation; his dying on the Cross for our sins. These are all underpinned by Love.
Hope is a virtue, because this is what keeps us going: Hope is the engine, the powerhouse of the Christian life. It is our Hope in eternal life, the promise of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross that saves us from despair, and keeps us going, even in life’s darkest moments.
But Faith? How about Faith? What is Faith and why should it be a virtue? How is Faith a virtue? I believe in God the Father, Creator of all things visible and invisible. I believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. I believe in the Holy Spirit, The Lord, the Giver of Life. We can list the things we believe as Christians. Is that Faith? If you just believe in something, how is that become a virtue?
If you do not not have faith in God the Father, who created you and cares for you. If you do not have faith that God the Son, Jesus Christ, died for our sins. If you do not have faith in God the Holy Spirit, who comforts and sustains us, then there is no Hope. You sit in the pit of despair, the whole world is against you and there is no God.
If there is no Hope, then there is no Love either; because Love has no point. So what if I live or die, if there is nothing to Hope for? What is the point if you live or die if there is nothing to Hope for, nothing to look forward to?
If the Church is a car, then Faith is the ignition, Hope is the engine, and Love is our direction of travel.
So, that tells us why we must have Faith; but it still doesn't tell us what Faith is.
Let us subject this question to scientific enquiry. This is how the scientific method works:
1. You form a hypothesis.
2. You do an experiment to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
3. Rinse and repeat.
I am a scientist; this is my work. I have a new malaria drug. I conduct a clinical trial where I give the drug to patients with malaria to see whether or not the drug works.
The scientific method is a powerful tool. It has given us new medicines. It has given us cars and aeroplanes. It has given us computers and mobile phones.
Does the scientific method have any limits?
I want you to close your eyes. Think of someone you love. That person may be a close friend, your mother, or father, brother or sister, husband or wife.
Open your eyes. How do you know that that person loves you?
Now apply the scientific method. Do an experiment: ‘I will test my husband. I will tell him that if he loves me, he will cook me dinner tonight. If he doesn’t cook me dinner then I know that he doesn't love me.’
‘I will test my sister. I will tell her that if she loves me, she will give me that book of hers that I really like. If she doesn’t do it, then will I know that she doesn't really love me.’
How do you think this experiment is going to end? Will you get the answer you are looking for? Ridiculous, isn't it? Love is not subject to scientific enquiry.
And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
I think that that is the best definition of Faith ever written. Faith is the ability to see with the heart. Faith is how we reach Hope. Faith is how we understand Love. To see those things which you cannot see with your eyes. To understand those things which are not subject to logic or reason.
Faith is what allows you to see God. You know your husband loves you, because you can see it with your heart. You know your sister loves you, because you can see it with your heart. You know God loves you, because God tells your heart.
Today’s gospel reading is a lesson in Faith. It is about understanding those things that are beyond logic or reason. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says, ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.’
Over the history of the Church, over hundred of years, these words have been the cause of much confusion, much argument, much division.
What are we to understand that Jesus is saying here? The answer is that the application of reason and logic will not allow us to arrive at an answer.
The gospel continues:
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
Jesus is the Word made Flesh. Jesus is present in the Bread and the Wine of the sacrament that we are about the take. How? I don't know; and Scripture does not tell us. It is what the Church calls a Mystery. The Mystery of the Sacrament.
The 13th century theologian, St Thomas Aquinas formed the Doctrine of Transubstantiation out of the application of Aristotelian metaphysic; the 16th century Reformers, Huldrych Zwingli of Switzerland and Martin Luther of Germany about the nature of the Sacrament, the Bread and the Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ. Through history, blood has been shed over this question; People have been burnt at the stake; because man has been arrogant enough to apply reason and logic to something that is beyond human understanding.
Queen Elizabeth I said,
‘Twas God the word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it,
And what the word did make it,
That I believe and take it’ [Clark 1675]
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says, ‘...no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’
Jesus says this because Faith is a special gift, that God alone can give us. You cannot arrive at Faith just by thinking about it. This is the Leap of Faith of which the Danish philosopher Kirkegaard speaks.
There things in this world that are not subject to reason. You cannot count them, you cannot measure them.
You can only see them with the heart.