When I reflect on the daily readings for this blog, I have a number of mental avenues that I pursue. Sometimes inspiration strikes me quickly, and I’ll be filled with an idea that comes to light as I reread (thanks, Holy Spirit!). Sometimes I’ll reflect on what’s going on in my life, or the world, or my past, and see if any of them speak to this reading. And sometimes I’ll open up my study Bible (the New American Bible), which contains a plethora of cross-references, insight, and explanations on Sacred Scripture.
So upon reflecting on today’s Gospel selection from John, I decided that a fair bit of this felt familiar (I touched on some of Jesus’ comments here just last week). So, wanting to make sure I wasn’t missing some nuance of Christ’s words, I took a peek at my study Bible for additional insight. And I found something I don’t recall having found in a daily reading before: no commentary whatsoever, beyond the cross-references to other parts of the Bible that are omnipresent.
Scratching my head a bit, I looked at the boldface name of the section, since my study Bible breaks down each section with the gist of the passage or story (for example, earlier sections in Chapter 12 of John were given headers of The Anointing at Bethany, The Entry into Jerusalem, and The Coming of Jesus’ Hour). The section of today’s reading — John 12:44-50 – had a title of Recapitulation.
That’s not a word I use very often, and – without context – I didn’t want to take a guess at what it meant, so I looked it up. My dictionary defines recapitulation as “an act or instance of summarizing and restating the main points of something: his recapitulation of the argument.”
In other words, this section of the Bible which feels like a summary of some of his earlier teachings is, in fact, exactly that.
So, today is a handy encapsulation of some of the biggies:
- Jesus is the light of the world.
- Whoever believes in Christ also believes in the Father.
- Jesus did not come to condemn us to but to save the world.
- Those who choose not to heed Christ’s words will be judged accordingly on the last day.
To anyone who’s a practicing Catholic, those ideas are pretty ingrained at this point. But I think it’s useful to remind ourselves of the basics, because they serve as the foundation for the rest of the faith.
When I first started writing for this blog, several years ago now, I really feared that I wouldn’t have much to discuss. One of the greatest joys of the Catholic faith for me is also one of its great frustrations: It’s so simple, comparatively speaking. Elsewhere (Matthew 22:36-40), Jesus proclaims the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. The second greatest commandment he proclaims as Love your neighbor as yourself.
Love God. Love one another.
A staggering amount of the moral teaching of the thousand-plus pages of the Bible can be summed up in those five words, so small that – if you were to type them in a 140-character tweet – you could copy and paste it four more times in the same tweet.
Today’s Gospel selection – this recapitulation – is similarly simple. But it’s vital that we know and understand it, or else the rest of faith is built on a terribly unstable foundation.
If you don’t truly understand that Jesus is the Lord, then you leave yourself open to “worshipping” all manner of false idols in the modern age.
If you don’t understand that Jesus is God, and the Heavenly Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, then you risk elevating one of the Trinity above the other, or failing to understand that the Spirit is waiting and eager to help us help others.
If you don’t believe that Jesus came to save the whole world, then you risk succumbing to holier-than-thou attitudes when you interact with nonbelievers, instead of glowing with the inner light of peace and serenity that can lead those still in the dark to the truth.
If you don’t understand the importance of heeding God’s message for the world, you risk not being as committed and passionate as you need to be in following the Word and spreading the Good News.
Why do I say “I love you” to my spouse multiple times a day, even if we already know it? Because it’s that important – to me, to her, and to our relationship. Why does Jesus seem to belabor certain points, messages, and themes in his teachings? Because they’re that important. If you don’t understand those and made them reflexive, the rest of the faith – the sign of the cross, prayers before meals, going to church on Sundays, the sign of peace – is, at best, training wheels for what’s really important . . . or, at worst, just window dressing.
So thanks be to God for the occasional “recapitulation” in Sacred Scripture, to help really drive home what’s important for us to know; anything that’s really important to say is worth saying again.