TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 29, 2021
DEUTERONOMY 4:1-2,6-8 JAMES 1:1-8, 21B-22 MARK 7:1-8, 14-15
The readings today are about commandments. The passage from Deuteronomy is a simple plea. Moses is giving his last instruction before the people pass over into the Promised Land. He reminds them of the commandments God gave them and encourages them to follow them closely. “You shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” These commandments are to become the legal foundation of a new nation. They can be found in the book of Exodus, chapters 20 thru 24. In scope, these commandments extend way beyond the traditional ten. If you read these chapters you’ll see that they can clearly stand as a nation’s constitution, as its foundation for law and order. These laws united and transformed the twelve tribes. As Moses notes in his concluding remark, “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”
Our second reading, from the letter of James, reflects on the gift God has planted in our hearts. This is referring to the law. James exhorts his readers to not merely pay lip service to the law, but to move from the dictates of the law to positive action towards the needy. He enjoins the reader “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” In other words, these laws, placed in our hearts, are meant to make the world a better place.
In the gospel passage Jesus addresses the corrupting of the law. The Pharisees and some scribes have been closely monitoring Jesus and his disciples. “They observed that some of his disciples, ate their meals with unclean, that is unwashed hands.” When they pounced on this infraction of the law, Jesus’ response was swift and unequivocal.“Well did Isaiah prophecy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from
me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’”
This was a slap in the face of the religious leaders. They had placed the law under a microscope and identified every possible nuance of every law. Washing ones’ hands before eating is a matter of simple hygiene. The Pharisees made it a religious obligation. Ignoring this obligation was a sin in their eyes!
Jesus then moved his focus from the Pharisees and scribes. He declared to the crowd that nothing they ate or touched could make them unclean; only an unclean heart could make a person unclean. He then enumerated what hearts can spawn that makes people unclean to the world around them: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, licentiousness, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly.”
What can we learn from this scene? Jesus is teaching us to avoid interpreting divinely given commandments in a negative way – don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t be unchaste. He is inviting his disciples to stress the positive aspects of the commandments – be generous to the poor, help make the lives of others better, respect the body, yours and others, be positive and productive in your relationships, personal and business, try to build a solid and loving relationship with God.
Here’s some homework for you. Read chapters 20 thru 26 Exodus, Moses giving the commandments. Then read chapters 5 thru 7 in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus giving the beatitudes. A span of a thousand years of religious evolution separates these two documents. Can you see the evolution? Do you understand Jesus’ mission better by comparing the two? I’ll conclude with one additional thought that you might find helpful for your reflection. Moses was preparing the people to enter the Promised Land. Jesus was preparing the people for the Kingdom of God.
- Published in Church Reflections
TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 22, 2021
JOSHUA 21:1-2A, 15-17 EPHESIANS 5:21-32 JOHN 6:60-69
We’ve been reading sections of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel since July 25th. We paused last Sunday to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. This Sunday we conclude the “Bread of Life Discourse” by reflecting on the peoples’ reaction to what Jesus taught.
Jesus delivered this discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum, a city along the Sea of Galilee. This area was quite liberal and open to new ideas. The synagogue, the town’s community center, would periodically invite speakers of interest to address the community. Jesus, though from Galilee, would have been of interest to the people. He seemed to have a fresh, new approach to Judaism often putting him in open conflict with the religious leaders. The synagogue provided a good forum for the people to hear what he had to say. But the audience ended up struggling with his message.
Recall some of his statements from this teaching: “I am the living bread come down from heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you.” “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Acceptance of this teaching required more than intellectual understanding. It required faith.
Today’s first scripture reading from the Book of Joshua parallels this moment in the synagogue. The children of Israel were nearing the Promised Land. Joshua camped at Shechem and demanded a profession of faith
from the people before they continued on. They would be coming into contact with foreign religions. Joshua challenged the people to make a profession of faith to the God of their ancestors before they moved on. The people recalled how God protected and cared for them throughout their journey, and so renewed their faith in the God who delivered them from the land of slavery.
In the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus was challenging the people there, and his disciples, to take a leap of faith. He had presented himself as the fulfillment of the Passover. God had sent him to be the new and eternal paschal lamb, slain for the redemption of the world, and eaten as life-giving bread. He wasn’t asking them to totally understand the paschal mystery. He was inviting them to begin a new journey of faith. Many couldn’t take that step. But then Peter stepped forward and spoke for the faithful few. “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
As we conclude our lengthy reflection on the Bread of Life Discourse we’re faced with a similar choice. We have to ask ourselves if we really believe in him and what he teaches about himself. Do we believe that when we celebrate the Eucharist he’s with us in the flesh as the living Lamb sacrificed for our redemption? Do we believe that he’s the bread of life for us and the world? Do we believe that he is the food for eternal life?
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THE FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY, August 15, 2021
REVELATION 11:19A, 12:1-6A 1 CORINTHIANS 15:20-27 LUKE 1:39-56
The feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven celebrates much more than Mary being taken bodily to heaven. This feast speaks hope to a suffering Church locked in a life and death conflict with the world. Let’s reflect on this aspect of the feast by focusing on the passage from the Book of Revelation that we’ve read today.
We see a cosmic image: a woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon at her feet. Wearing a crown adorned with 12 stars, she’s the image of the Church crowned as the glory of the Israel and its 12 tribes, and as the New Israel built upon the 12 apostles of the Lamb. The child about to be born is the Christ and his Kingdom, “destined to rule over all the nations.”
A second image appears, a red dragon with 7 crowned heads and 10 horns. This is the dark, brutal, powerful energy which is anti-Christ. At the time this was written the dragon was Rome using its power to prevent the birth of the Kingdom. Today, that same dragon takes the form of hostile governments, powerful global corporations, and misguided religious demagogues.
The Second Vatican Council crowned Mary, the Mother of the Church. This title firmly placed her in the upper room with the apostles and disciples waiting for the fire of the Paraclete, and the coming of the Kingdom. Today we look at this image of the woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet and see Mary, the mother of the Church inspiring hope and strength as we resist all that’s antiChrist. Today we’re the disciples joining Mary in the upper room awaiting the birth of the Kingdom of God.
Mother of the Church,
the Lord is with you and with his faithful people.
Bless us, as you blessed the early disciples with courage, hope and joy.
Give strength to our faith as we wait in anticipation of the new world, the Kingdom of God.
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NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 8, 2021
1 KINGS 19:4-8 EPHESIANS 4:30-5:2 JOHN 6:41-51
This week we’re going to focus our reflection on one sentence from John’s Gospel. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
John wrote his Gospel between 90 AD and 100 AD. It’s very different from the three other Gospels. One very notable difference is the account of the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel Jesus doesn’t take bread and wine and say, “This is my body,” This is my blood.” Instead, he delivers a lengthy teaching culminating with his washing the feet of the disciples. It’s in chapter six of his Gospel that we’re presented with Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist. In this chapter he never mentions “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” Instead, he delivers what has become to be known as the Bread of Life Discourse, which culminates in the sentence I noted at the beginning of this reflection. Let’s unpack the meaning of this beautiful and powerful teaching.
Jesus teaches that he’s “the living bread that came down from heaven.” This is a reference to the exodus journey. God fed the people with manna, “the bread from heaven.” This bread was a pledge of God’s loving care for the children of Israel and their food during their journey to the Promised Land. Jesus applied this image to himself re-defining the bread from heaven. It isn’t bread that fills a hungry stomach. He, himself, is the food for life’s journey. He, himself, is LIVING bread. Jesus intensifies this powerful image even more by stressing: “the bread that I will give is MY FLESH for the life of the world.”
In John’s Gospel, the Last Supper takes place the day before the Passover when, as
Mark’s Gospel tells us, “they sacrificed the Passover Lamb.” (Mark 14:12) This is implying that Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice will bring life to the entire world. In the context of this teaching, we mustn’t forget that the Passover Lamb was not only to be slain, it was to be eaten. Jesus reinforced this when he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” The implications of this teaching are astounding.
Over and over again during the Eucharistic Liturgy we hear the term the Paschal Mystery. The Bread of Life Discourse defines this mystery. It takes the image of the Passover Lamb, slaughtered and eaten, and applies it to the person of Jesus. We’ve all heard the statement: “You are what you eat.” In the Eucharistic celebration we proclaim the death of the Lord – his sacrifice on the cross-AND we eat his flesh and drink his blood in the Eucharistic bread and wine. This is the fulfillment of the first Passover.
Jesus is the true and eternal Passover Lamb, sacrificed and eaten by those who believe in him. Our communion with him unites us in communion with the Father, also. By eating his flesh and drinking his blood we become him, and he becomes us.
Let’s conclude this reflection by adding one more level to this mystery. We must always be mindful of our vocation as believers. Christ continues to mold the world into the kingdom of God through the work of his disciples who remain in communion with him. Let’s never forget his teaching in Matthew 10:40: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me.”
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EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 1, 2021
EXODUS 16:2-4,12-15 EPHESIANS 4:17-20-24 JOHN 6:6-24, 35
Let’s begin our reflection today by looking at the first reading for the day, a passage from the book of Exodus. The people were getting desperate because they had no food. God reassured both Moses and the people of his unfailing commitment to them.
God had proved his loyalty to them throughout their journey. He fed them with manna in the morning, and in the evening with quail. At one point there was no water, so God told Moses to strike a rock. Water gushed forth.
The children of Israel had a special place in God’s heart, but they struggled with that relationship. During their forty-year sojourn in desert they would be challenged to submit totally to God. For this relationship to blossom they would have to acknowledge their ultimate powerlessness.
In the gospel passage we see a similar situation. Jesus had just fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. He then left the people and sailed to Capernaum. Excited by this miracle, the people got into boats and followed him.
Jesus intuited that they still hadn’t understood the meaning of the event. So, he tried to clarify it for them. “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but the food that endures for eternal life.” They retorted by recalling that Moses had given them bread from heaven. Jesus came back at them.
“It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Still not understanding. Still thinking only of food for their stomachs, they pleaded with him: “Give us this bread always.” He was offering them another bread, the bread of life, but they lacked the faith to receive it. They had to open their hearts to eat this bread, not their mouths. He shared a final teaching with them. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
What can we learn from these readings? To accept the bread of life, we first have to empty our hearts of our human desires. We need to submit to God. We need to acknowledge our powerlessness and rejoice in our total dependence on God. Only then will we come to recognize the profound hunger we have for God. Only then, can God satiate that hunger with the bread from heaven, his very life. Only then can we become like him. Only then can we see him as he is. Only then can we say with Saint Paul, “I no longer live; Christ lives in me.”
- Published in Church Reflections