EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The Multi-Dimension Aspects of Truth
1st Reading (Ex 16:2-4, 12-15): God sent manna from heaven
2nd Reading (Eph 4:17, 20-24): Lay aside the old, clothe yourself with new life
Gospel Reading: (Jn 6:24-35): Discourse on the Bread of Life
“- The sea collects hundreds of rivers, its capacity is great; the mountain cliffs stand a thousand feet, without desire one is strong.” (1)
“- The sky is not biased to embrace itself only, the earth is not biased to bear itself only.”(2)
“Surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4: 21-24)
Truth is in Jesus. Believers in Jesus who are seekers of Truth must change their lives, abandon their old ways, renew themselves and put on Christ.
Once when I was preparing a homily about this Scripture passage I looked up some scripture notes. Explaining this passage, the notes said, ‘The truth of Christ is absolute truth. There is no need to compare it with Confucius' teaching about what he calls truth.’ The use of the phrase ‘what he calls truth’ to describe the teachings of Confucius reflects the belief of most Christians, (Catholics and other Christians alike), that only Christians have the ultimate truth.
It was once said that when Muslims were preparing to burn all the books in the great Alexandria Library, their logic was: ‘If the truth contained in these books are the same as those in the ‘Koran’, then there is no need for them; if their contents are contradictory to the ‘Koran’, the books should not exist.’
If we are convinced there is only one ‘ultimate truth’, then members of all the great religions, cultures, tribes and nations can hardly be brothers and sisters! For each one's aim is to intimidate others and rule over all.
I once took part in a forum on “Dialogue between Christianity and Confucianism.” At the forum, a Christian theologian insisted that no matter how attractive and reasonable the truth in Confucianism is, it is relative and limited. Only in the Bible do we find the meaning and goal of human life, and only there do we find absolute, complete, unlimited, unmistakable truth. During lunch I was seated next to a ‘Neo- Confucian scholar. He said to me rather bluntly, ‘Father Tsui, you are a Catholic priest and I fully respect your Christian beliefs and your firm adherence to those beliefs. However, forgive my bluntness, but as Christians, you all are too self-centered and too self-righteous.’
“You Christians have created a language and a ‘conceptual framework’ within which your beliefs are totally correct and complete; in comparison, our Confucian beliefs seem limited. Actually, our system of thought is very orderly; in the same way as yourselves, we too can say that your framework is inadequate and ours is complete.’ The scholar went on for quite a while in a rather rambling way, but actually his point was precisely what we Christians must be aware of – we do not want to be ‘dominators of the truth.’.
In ordinary life or faith, it may be difficult to have a complete view of truth.. Truth is multi-dimensional. It must interact with all levels of life - religion, daily life, spirit, material things, internal and external selves, different cultures and traditions in order to manifest itself.
Christ himself is the source of truth, not the Church or theologians. Scripture does have ultimate truth, but none of us can understand and grasp it fully nor live its truth completely and become new persons. We can all enjoy to the full the sunshine, fresh air and the earth, but who of us can possess them in their entirety? We can acknowledge and even in a sense ‘enjoy’ God, but none of us can ‘monopolize’ God, as if God existed for myself alone!
Eternal truth is limitless. It cannot nor should it be contradictory to other truths. On the contrary, it tolerate and bring all truths into itself. The truths revealed in the life and teachings of Confucius or shown through other religions, if true, are all part of the Christian truth and show forth Christ’s truth.
Lin Ze Xu said: “The sea collects hundreds of rivers, its capacity is great; the mountain cliffs stand a thousand feet, without desire one is strong.”(1)
Christ is true God and also truly human. He embraces within himself the entire heavens and earth. His truth is higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea. Christ and Christ's truth have the power to embrace all else, to a degree far beyond our understanding. We should never place Christ in opposition to human beings, or Christ’s truth in contradiction to the truths discovered by humankind.
“The sky is not biased to embrace itself only, the earth is not biased to bear itself only.”(2) Of course, God's love and saving grace are not reserved for Christians only. We should not think that God only loves us Christians or has revealed God's truth to Christians only.
In Christians' efforts to ‘forsake the old and put on the new’ self, we must look for God in every aspect and activity of our lives. We must seek God with our spiritual as well as bodily eyes. We must become aware that God is in the very midst of human beings' search for God (or for all that is good).
And of course among those who strive to find God or that which is good are our own Chinese seers and philosophers, as Confucius and others.
Scripture elevates culture, and culture testifies to Scripture. Ultimate truth has ‘become incarnate’ and has become truth among us; when human truth converges with Scripture, it becomes truth related to our ordinary lives. Then Truth bears fruit in a fuller and richer life, and we become new people. Then we find that we have come as close as possible to the fullness of Truth!