When, with disenchantment, we consider the reality, we check everywhere for signs of death: diseases, ignorance, loneliness, frailty, fatigue, pain, betrayals—and our conclusion is: no, this cannot be the definitive world; it is too narrow, too marked by evil. Then the desire to roam beyond the narrow horizon wherein we move emerges in us; we even dream of being abducted to other planets where maybe we are freed from any form of death.
In the universe we know, the world to which we long for does not exist. To satisfy the need for the infinite that God has put in our heart, it is necessary to leave this land and embark on a new exodus. We are asked for a new exit, the last—death—and this frightens us.
Even the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, they heard Jesus who spoke of his exodus from this world to the Father (Lk 9:31). They were seized by fear. "They fell with their faces to the ground, and were so afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, and said, arise and be not afraid” (Mt 17:6-7).
From the third century there appears, in the catacombs, the figure of the shepherd with the sheep on his shoulder. It is Christ, who takes by hand and cradles in his arms the person who is afraid to cross alone the dark valley of the death. With him, the Risen One, the disciples serenely abandon this life, confident that the shepherd to whom they have entrusted their life will lead them towards lush meadows and quiet streams (Ps 23:2) where they will find refreshment after a long tiring journey in the desert of this dry and dusty earth.
If death is the moment of encounter with Christ and an entry into the wedding banquet hall, it cannot be a dreaded event. It is something we expect. The exclamation of Paul: “For me, dying is a gain. I desire greatly to leave this life and to be with Christ” (Phil 1:21,23) should be uttered by every believer.
To internalize the message, we repeat:
“Teach us, O Lord, to count our days”
First Reading: Job 19:1,23-27a
Sin upset the internal balance of man by putting him in conflict with his most intimate aspirations. It breaks the relationship with God who is no longer considered a friend, but an intruder, a despot to free oneself from. It breaks the harmony with the brethren: not love and mutual aid, but enslavement. It destroys the bond of life with creation: turning man from a gardener into a poacher and a predator. If these are the disharmonies introduced by sin, Job is immuned of it.
The book that bears his name introduces him thus: "Job, a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil, once lived in the land of Uz" (Job 1:1). Blameless means no cracks, not dissociated, opposed to any compromise with the consciousness; right, that is in harmony with others, incorruptible and above reproach; God fearing and avoiding evil means at peace with himself, with heaven and earth.
The result of a life guided by these moral principles can only be joy and in fact, Job is completely happy. He deserves it because he has remained faithful to the Lord. Yet despite his integrity, then one day misfortune hits him.
For Israel’s traditional theology—which interprets suffering as the result of a perverse act, as a punishment for sin—what happens to Job is an inexplicable mystery. How can God punish an honest, generous person and well-liked by everyone?
There is no possible explanation if not this: Job has committed some secret sin. It is what his friends think and they try to convince him to admit his mistakes. His response is almost blasphemous. He throws a challenge to God: he declares his willingness to confront him in court, sure to have the best and to be able to prove his innocence.
Today’s passage reports the words that—aware that he has now reached the end of his days—he dictates as his will. With a pen of iron—he asks his friends—write my story in a book, nay more, carve it on the rock, like the great kings of the East who carved their businesses on the stems. Let it remain imprinted for future reference. Death does not erase the memory of my integrity! (vv. 23-24).
It is not enough for him. He is not content that his name be engraved on the rock. At the height of despair, he appeals to an "Avenger" (v. 25). Who is this character and how will he put it into effect? The text does not explain it, only saying that "lastly he will stand upon the dust."
The most immediate interpretation is as follows: losing all hopes of surviving his immense pain, Job entrusts his defense to an "Advocate" who, during the trial in front of the false god, vehemently defended by his friends, will stand up to plead his cause and support his right. He will be the last one to talk; he will have the last word and will force everyone to acknowledge his innocence.
At this point in the process—Job is certain of it—the true God will enter the scene (vv. 26-27) and, after death, when his skin is destroyed, will see the Lord; he will contemplate him, with his eyes , and not as a stranger. It will not be the god of his friends, the executioner god who comes dangerously close to the satanic conception, the god who is just according to human criteria and is always ready to punish. It will be the true God, the one in whom Job has always firmly believed.
Lacking the light of Easter, he could not even imagine the ultimate destiny of man. However, the hope that death will not have the last word emerges in him. One day he will read the events in which he has been involved with different eyes and even the unfathomable mystery of the innocent suffering will be unveiled to him.
This wisdom passage is a call to recognize the finiteness of our intelligence and to give up the pretense of wanting to understand everything. On this land, it is necessary to live with the enigma of evil and pain. It cannot be understood, it can only be accepted. It is easier for us than Job because God came among us: not to give us explanations but to live—without discounts or privileges—our human condition and to teach us to love it.
Second Reading: Rom 5:5-11
The prospect of death is frightening. What we have built, the good done, the joys that we have enjoyed and endured pains, acts of love that we traded will they one day be totally zeroed? This is the question that everyone—even those who profess no religion—put to themselves when they pause to reflect, at least for a moment, on the meaning of their existence.
No less disturbing is the second question that affects only the believer, not the atheist: What will my fate be after this life, since there is a God who is waiting for me to evaluate it?
The seer of Revelation assures that human history will end with a wedding feast. He speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, of God who will pass to wipe away the tears from the eyes of each of his sons and daughters and of a world where "there shall be no more death, or mourning, crying out or pain, for the world that was has passed away" (Rev 21:1-4). These are fascinating images; they depict the wonderful reality that "eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it dawned on the mind what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9).
The question that emerges now in the believer is: Will I also be there among the guests of the eternal banquet or will the Lord and the righteous celebrate the feast without me? If the entry into the house of the Father is conditioned by our behavior, the risk of exclusion is high for everyone. Who can live in peace with this distressing question mark in the heart? The stupendous page of the letter to the Romans presented to us reassures all that for those who put their trust in Christ, nothing should undermine their joy. Their hope will not be disappointed because it is not based on their faithfulness and their good works, but on the unconditional and unfailing love of God (v. 6).
When the Lord takes the initiative to save his people he is not discouraged if he encounters obstacles. He does not stop halfway, nor breaks down, in front of the infidelity of people. He always and everywhere brings his work to completion. People—it is true—can also be obstinate in their sin, but God who loves infinitely does not resign to failure. He does not need suggestions on how to free all, even the most stubborn, from their attachment to evil.
The love of God—ensures Paul—is not weak, fickle as that of people. They love only their friends and may, rarely, even come to give their lives for those they love. God goes beyond the horizon: he loves everyone, even his enemies. Just as the people were away from him, he showed his great love by offering the most valuable treasure he had: his own Son. If God loved us when we were his enemies, the more he will love us now that we have been made righteous. It is not possible that our sins be stronger than his love. Even if we abandon him, he does not abandon us, "If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim 2:13).
Gospel: John 6:37-40
What is a person’s value? Does he count only for what he produces, for his efficiency, for the money that he accumulates?
For someone a human being is less worthy than a sheep—said Jesus (Mt 12:12). He comes from dust (Sir 33:10), he can’t boast of anything before the Lord (1 Cor 1:29), but he is always the image of God. Filled with surprise in front of the wonders of creation, a pious Israelite with the heart of a poet has handed his reflection in a psalm: "When I observe the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars you set in their place—what is man that you be mindful of him; the son of man that you should care for him? Yet you made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor" (Ps 8:4-6).
We define man from the bottom: reasonable animal, a step above the animals; the psalmist sees him a step below of God. It is in this biblical perspective that man and his destiny is evaluated. How does man appear before God? In what regard does he hold him? Here's the answer that he directs to everyone: "You are precious in my sight, and important—for I have loved you" (Is 43:4). It is from this statement that we may understand what God has planned for his wonderful creature, man.
In today's Gospel passage, his plan, his design of love is called by Jesus the will of the Father and he will insist on this will, recalling it four times. Which is it? To trust the whole of humanity to him, to his care. This will draw close to him, as the flock turns to its own shepherd: each sheep knows his voice, trusts him and feels called by name. Jesus does not lay down conditions to obtain salvation; he only ascertains a fact: the fate of the entire human community is to go to him. To go to him means accepting his word, to trust his proposal of life. None of those who will rely on him will be rejected (v. 37).
This is the dream that God has in mind since the creation of the world. The question spontaneously arises: will it be realized, or will there be someone that will be directed toward Jesus and some other instead—the majority judging from what has occurred so far in the world—who will reject Christ and his word, and will move away permanently from him?
The answer is contained in the second part of the passage: "And the will of him who sent me is that I lose nothing of what he has given me, but instead that I raise it up on the last day" (v. 39) . In God's plan defections or failures are not contemplated. His program will take place infallibly because it is unthinkable that Christ is not able to bring it to fruition. Without doing violence to the freedom of man, he will draw all people to himself, in an irresistible way; he will raise everyone on the last day. This expression has been mistakenly understood as a reference to the end of the world.
In John's Gospel the last day is one in which Jesus, on the cross, bowed his head, giving to humanity his Spirit (Jn 19:30). That is the last day to which the entire plan of God aimed, unending day, day in which the seed of new life, the very life of God entered the world.
With a final appeal to the Father’s will (v. 40) Jesus explains that God's plan is realized in three stages.
It is necessary, above all, to see the Son.
The memory of the encounter with Jesus of Nazareth remained indelible in the mind, heart, and also in the eyes of John, as it transpires from the first words of the letter that he writes to the Christians of his communities of Asia Minor: "What we have heard and have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, I mean the Word who is Life…The Life was made known, we have seen Eternal Life and we bear witness, and we are telling you of it. It was with the Father and made himself known to us. So we tell you what we have seen and heard" (1 Jn 1:1-3).
This visual experience of the man Jesus is no longer possible; it is realized in a unique moment of the world’s history. But letting our eyes be opened by his word and acknowledging in him the Son, the God who made himself present in the world, who came to bring us the bread of life, is the first step to enable us to accept his gift. After this recognition, personal adhesion follows. It is not enough to know Jesus, having seen him. Many have met him along the roads of Palestine, yet not everyone got drawn by his proposal.
The second step is to believe.
Only one who after knowing him on the testimony of those who saw and heard him, and giving him one’s own adhesion, really sees Jesus. The culmination of the path to salvation is the communication by the Father of the divine life to those who believe in Christ.
Gathered in community, today we do not remember the dead—for a Christian the dead do not exist because those who believe in Jesus do not die (Jn 11:26) —but the living, all the brethren who, having ended their gestation in this world, entered in the light, being born to the definitive life from which every form of darkness and death is excluded.
In this world, many of them might have struggled to "see" in Jesus the Son of God and to "believe" in him. Some have given their commitment to him at the last moment; others did not want to “see him” or welcome him for all their life. What will be their fate and how can we be close to them and show them our love? At the time of their birth to new life, all were certainly welcomed by the Father with the only words that he addresses to every person who, though a sinner, is his son or daughter: "Since you are precious in my sight, and important—for I have loved you" (Is 43:4).
Our prayer, our love and maybe even our forgiveness help them to complete the journey that they did not finish in this life towards the definitive embrace with the Father. The joyful message that the first mass’ readings give us is that Jesus will not leave incomplete his mission as Savior for no one.