Nineteenth Sunday Ordinary Time (B)
August 12, 2012: Gospel Jn 6:41-51: Church of the Nativity, Dubuque IA
Consider the following from the New York Times, September 28, 1914:
DROWNING GIRL FIGHTS RESCUER
Her Struggles Exhaust Cist After
Their Canoe Upsets in the Hudson
Dies with safety near
Escort Was About to Put His Companion
on a Pier When Craft Capsized
After William B. Cist of 105 West 183d Street, the Bronx, with whom she had been canoeing, had exhausted himself in trying to save her, Miss Dessie Armstrong of 459 West Fifty-seventh Street was drowned last evening in the Hudson River near the public pier at the foot of West 135th Street.
Miss Armstrong and Mr. Cist took a canoe at 181st Street late in the afternoon and went over to the New Jersey shore, along which they paddled until it began to grow dark. When they started back across the river, Cist found that a strong wind had sprung up against an ebb tide, which made the river choppy and difficult to navigate.
Realizing the hazard of staying on the water longer than was absolutely necessary, Cist fought to reach the Manhattan shore at any point, and succeeded in coming up to the public pier at the foot of 135th Street. He brought the canoe up to the south side of the pier near the end and prepared to lift Miss Armstrong up to the top of it, which was five feet above the water. Both he and Miss Armstrong stood up in the canoe, and he was just about to take hold of her when the craft was capsized.
Cist was a good swimmer and he seized Miss Armstrong, who could not swim at all. In her frenzy she fought him, so that before he could get her on his back he was very much exhausted. The canoe was carried out of reach by the tide, and Cist struck out for the pier at 134th Street, toward which he had already drifted a considerable distance.
When half way to the pier Miss Armstrong, then almost unconscious, slipped from Cist’s back and sank, but Cist dived and caught her again. Once more he started out, but he was by that time hardly able to keep himself afloat and he had not enough strength to keep his hold on the woman. A wave struck her, she was carried out of his grasp, and before he could seize her again she sank.
During his struggle to save his companion Cist had called for help, and his cries were heard on a scow of the Street Cleaning Department moored at the 134th Street pier. He had no strength to swim, only power to keep himself afloat. When he drifted near the scow the Captain and an inspector of the Street Cleaning Department threw him a rope, by which he was hauled to the boat. An ambulance was summoned from Knickerbocker Hospital, and, after Cist had been revived, he was taken to his home.
It is well-known that a person in the process of drowning can, in her panic, fight the very person who is reaching out to save: In lifeguard training, the guard is always warned that the first thing that might need to be done is to subdue the person before she can be saved. The person resists the help, probably both because she is panicking but also because she is trying to save herself, resulting in a thrashing in the water that makes another’s assistance difficult, if not impossible, as was seen in this case from New York.
“Standing on the shore,” we can look at such a scene and lament, if only the woman would have let herself be saved! Why the resistance, why the battle, why the thrashing? Why could Miss Armstrong not see Mr. Cist for who his was, someone who could save her? Of course, I suggest this story because it is our story, each of our stories: We are Miss Armstrong. Jesus is Mr. Cist, who is trying to save us. Can we let ourselves be saved? Can we see we need to be saved? Can we let him save us, or will we thrash and fight against Him?
The message in the gospel today is about nothing less than Jesus trying to save the people from dying and their struggling against the attempt. We find ourselves in the third of five weeks in a row hearing a gospel passage from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John: Two weeks ago, we watched as Jesus multiplied loaves and fish to feed the hunger of a vast crowd. Last week, the crowds seek out Jesus, after this miracle, wanting more food, when Jesus says that he himself is the bread of life that, if they eat it, they will never be hungry again. Now, this week, we reach the midpoint of the five weeks of the gospel passages from this so-called Bread of Life discourse. Jesus has promised the people his very self, the bread of life, so that they will never be hungry. The result, they fight him—they grumble, murmuring that he cannot be what he claims—a bread that will forever satisfy their hunger. He continues—he’s even more! If they eat this bread, not only will they not hunger, but they will never die! “If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
When we come to Jesus, the bread of life, he is for us the great rescue, a saving from much more than drowning, but a rescue from death—it is our life preserver unto eternal life! Jesus is reaching out to us, trying to save us—at this very moment—how do we react? Do you rest and let him save us, or do we fight it? I find two ways we thrash and struggle against the marvelous promise that Jesus has made to us—eternal life through a sharing in this Eucharist:
FIRST, I struggle to understand how it can be what Jesus says it is. It’s a murmuring in the hearts and in our minds—I find it hard to accept what Jesus promised—this is his Body and Blood, the Bread of Life that is the way to eternal life. It’s fine to reflect deeply on the mystery of the Eucharist, but in the end, in the obedience of faith, I have found the need to hear Jesus speak directly to me: “stop your murmuring!” Instead, we can take Jesus at his word, even if we cannot comprehend the depth of the promise, that if we eat this bread, we will live forever. It’s a way he’s trying to save us—we renounce the murmuring of our incomplete understanding and make the act of faith in Christ’s promise.
SECOND, I can also struggle against Jesus’ promise by thinking there is something more important to be done than come to Christ in the Eucharist. As a small boy, I recall often thinking there were plenty of other things I’d rather be doing than being at Church. Now, I know this is the most important thing I can do on any day, yet I can tend to murmur in my heart by allowing distractions to draw me away from what is really happening—that Jesus is reaching out to me, he’s saving me, he’s restoring my life, he’s giving the fullest life! Again, I hear Jesus, lovingly saying: calm your heart, your mind, stop your murmuring and receive life! Can we live in the fullness of the present, that right now Jesus is restoring our life as he promised?
Available, from Jesus, according to his promise, is nothing less than salvation—eternal life, the fullness of life, in the Bread of Life that we again share. I have to say to myself: enough resisting it—enough struggling against the one who is trying to save us! “Stop the murmuring” and see I am here, says Jesus. What’s happening here is nothing less than a matter of Life or death for each of us—eternal full life renewed in us through our sharing in the Bread of Life. Let us choose not to resist in any way our savior, but bring him our lifelessness and let him restore us and save us—as he promised he would.