Philosopher vs. Priest: Manna and Body of Christ

Storing up Manna - photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/ralphandjenny/

I’m back from a brief hiatus! Real life got in the way, but things have settled back down, and I’m excited to start back this week with another Philosopher vs. Priest post!
Check out this week’s reading here.

JJ:

From this reading I would surmise that evangelism is more important than providing aid, such as food, to those in need. Is that a fair interpretation of the priorities communicated by Jesus in this reading?

Jimmy:

Perhaps, I should provide a little bit of context to the Gospel readings for the past two weeks and the next two weeks.  We have been reading from John Chapter 6 which mostly contains the Bread of Life discourse.  This is a highly thematic discourse which in short can be reduced to speak of Jesus as our nourishment and in particular the Eucharist/Last Supper as his means to continue to provide his nourishment to his followers.  Anyhow, I offer that just as a bit of perspective for the next couple of Sundays.

Now to your question.

I suppose your question about the priorities of evangelizing versus providing aid for the poor is lead by the fact that  Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”   I believe rather than speaking about the priority of evangelizing over physical nourishment, Jesus in this statement is more making a statement of his superiority over Moses.  Moses provided manna in the desert which provided passing physical nourishment while Jesus provides himself the true mana which supplies everlasting nourishment for eternal life. The true comparison being made is between Moses and Jesus rather than between evangelizing versus physical aid.

On another level, today’s readings showcases the fact that the Jewish people fail to acknowledge Jesus as the bread from Heaven because they presumed the bread from heaven couldn’t possibly be the carpenter, the son of Joseph and Mary.  Throughout the Gospels we see that those who had long awaited the Messiah often fail to recognize him because the didn’t fit their idea of who he should be.  As a philosopher can you speak about the role that bias or preconceiving ideas can play in preventing us from acknowledging reality?

JJ:

Great question! I can share a few observations I have made through teaching philosophy and presenting at conferences that I think are relevant to the problem with bias.

First, it seems that most people feel the obligation to have an opinion on any and everything. If a person is out drinking with their friends and somehow the topic of Ancient Mongolian Agriculture comes up, they’re likely to offer up some opinion. There are likely many reasons we try to have an opinion even when we don’t know anything about a topic, but one thing that’s sure is that we have a very difficult time saying “I’m not sure, I really don’t know anything about that.”

The other thing I’ve seen is that we tend to relate new ideas to ideas that we already have. That’s inherently the way we learn, which is overall a good thing, because it helps us make connections between ideas. However, I’ve seen this go to extremes far too often. At conferences I’ve attended, people asking questions always tie a presenter’s material to their own research, sometimes to the point that the connections they’re making are ridiculous.

These natural tendencies all serve an important purpose in the way we learn, but if we’re not careful, they can cause us to too easily disregard new ideas and ways of understanding the world. It’s very easy to fall into the notion that we know what we believe and are secure with that. We then conform everything else to that. Keeping an open mind is difficult, but ultimately important to be able to truly learn new ideas.

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