In the bible, numbers very often have a symbolic or mystical meaning. John’s Book of Revelation, for example, makes extensive use of numerology. His numbers are not to be taken literally; they have a deeper meaning. Today, let’s reflect on Luke’s use of numbers in his account of the feeding of the 5,000.
The event takes place after a long day of healing and teaching about the kingdom of God. Evening is coming, and the 12 suggest that the crowd be dismissed so that everyone can go to the towns around this “deserted place” to buy food for themselves. This “deserted place” is reminiscent of the desert of Tsin where God rained down manna upon the people of Israel during their exodus journey. That was the old order, the old time. Jesus challenges them to stay put and to give the people something to eat themselves. The 12 answer that they only have 5 loaves and 2 fish. They are about to experience the new order, the new time, the kingdom of God.
This gathering is marked by the number 12, the symbol of entirety and cosmic order. In the old order people, a group of tribes, were struggling in a “deserted place” and needed God to care for them. The people of the kingdom, however, are a community and have all they need. They have 5 loaves and 2 fish.
5 is symbolic of transformation and illumination. 2 symbolizes harmony. In this meal the people will be fed with an intimate knowledge of God which brings the harmony that only divine healing can bestow. This illumination and harmony spreads to groups of 50 and then to the entire group of 5,000.
But the kingdom of God is not exclusive. Its gates are open to everyone. The entire world is invited to eat in the kingdom of God. 12 baskets are left over after this first meal in the kingdom of God. Food of the kingdom of God awaits, and everyone is invited to this meal.
On this day, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we hear the words of invitation, powerful and clear that invite everyone to this meal in the kingdom of God, “Take and eat. This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in memory of me”
Lord Jesus, we worship you living among us in the sacrament of your body and blood. May we offer to the Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
(Prayer from the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ from the Sacramentary)
Following the Feast of Pentecost, the Church officially moves into Ordinary Time. The liturgical calendar is divided into “seasons:” Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, LentEaster, Pentecost and the Sundays following, Ordinary Time.
During the thirty weeks of Ordinary Time, the Church focuses our attention on the teachings of Jesus. We listen to many parables. We witness many miracles and healings that Jesus performed. We contemplate their meaning and try to adapt something we’ve gleaned from them to our everyday lives.
To start off this portion of the liturgical year, the Church accents three important elements of our faith by naming the Sundays: Trinity Sunday, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ and the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost our “understanding” of God is complete. The Father sent the Son to redeem us. The Son, in turn, sent the Holy Spirit to teach us, guide us and enlighten us. We contemplate God as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier One God, three Persons: The Holy Trinity.
In the Feast of the Body of Blood of Christ, we celebrate Jesus’ abiding presence among us in the Eucharist that we so often celebrate.
Then we celebrate the tremendous love of the Heart of Christ revealed to us though his life, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection. This is commemorated in the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
But today, we focus on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. In the second reading, from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, we’re given an important teaching: “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Paul is telling us that we have been drawn into the life of the Trinity because the Holy Spirit has poured God’s love into us. And so, we dare to call God, “our Father.”
This first reflection in Ordinary Time is profound but so basic to who we are as Christians. We believe that we’re children of God because we share God’s very life by sharing in God’s love. We deepen and perfect that love when we love as Jesus loved – when we love as totally as we can, when we lay down our lives for one another every day, when we live, not for ourselves, but for others.
Let’s conclude our reflection by recalling the teaching of John, the Evangelist. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16b)
We have two accounts of the Pentecost event to enrich our reflection today. Let’s look at the gospel account first.
John’s account is subtle; it’s contained within his resurrection account. The passage begins on the day of the resurrection. Shortly before sunrise Mary of Magdala discovered that Jesus’ body was no longer in the garden tomb. She went back to tell the disciples. Peter and John ran back to the tomb with her to find it just as she had reported. After inspecting the tomb they returned to the group leaving Mary at the tomb.
Weeping, she looked, once again, into the tomb. There were two angels dressed in white sitting on the slab where Jesus’ body had been laid. “Why are you weeping?” they asked. Numb with grief, their appearance made little impression on her. Her answer was simple and direct. “They’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.” She didn’t even wait for a response. She stood up only to find a man standing near her. He asked the same question as the angels. “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Presuming that he was the gardener she pleaded with him, “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.” Then, in the matter of a second, the darkness surrounding her gave way to the light of the sun. The man spoke her name, “Mary.” Jesus was alive!
Meanwhile Peter and John had returned to the other disciples who were in hiding behind locked doors. The fact that Jesus’ body had been taken away only increased their fear of imminent arrest. Their muffled conversation was suddenly replaced by gasps. People moved to the periphery of the room. Jesus was standing in the middle of the room. His rich, full voice extended the Sabbath greeting to them, “Shalom aleichem.” He showed them the wounds in his hands and his feet. It was Jesus. Truly. It was Jesus. He was alive! Some cried. Some laughed. Some put their hands over their mouths in amazement. He greeted them a second time. “Shalom aleichem.” Then, he commissioned them. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
It’s at this moment, the very evening of the resurrection, that John inserted the Pentecost event. It was a simple action. “He breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This was the moment of a second creation. Everyone in the room recalled the words of their ancient scripture. “God shaped man from the soil of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being.” Jesus went from one to another breathing
on them, blowing into them the breath of life – new life – divine life. He then anointed them for a mission. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.” He was sending them out to unbind humankind from the shackles of sin. He was giving them the power to open the gates of heaven.
Luke’s account was much more dramatic, and much more public. It took place fifty days after the resurrection – after the Passover of the Lord. It was on the day of the Jewish feast of Shavuot, commemorating the day God gave Moses the law – the day the twelve tribes became a nation with law and statutes.
The disciples were in hiding when they heard the deafening noise of a driving wind. It was so loud that it was heard in the street below them. Then a fire bolt exploded in the middle of the room sending tongues of fire to rest on the head of each man and woman. The flame purified them of their fear and hesitation. The people outside not only heard them proclaiming “the mighty acts of God,” but heard the proclamation in their own language, and the proclamation pierced their hearts. Three thousand people came to believe in Jesus that day!
On the day of Pentecost God breathed new life into the frightened disciples of Jesus. That day, the fire Jesus promised to cast over the earth entered the hearts of the disciples only to pour out of them in words of proclamation.
Today, let’s ask the Spirit to purify our hearts with holy fire that touched the early disciples. Let’s breathe in the Christ life that the Spirit brings. Let’s not be afraid any longer to see the world in a new way. Let’s not be afraid to witnesses to his teachings and his ministry and his living presence among us.
We’re celebrating the last Sunday of Easter, the seventh Sunday. We’ve been on a spiritual high as we reviewed and contemplated the Resurrection of Jesus.
On Easter Sunday we were with Mary Magdalene when she discovered that the body of Jesus was gone. We watched Peter as he bent down to look into the empty tomb. We witnessed John gazing into the tomb with the new eyes of faith.
The following Sunday after we heard Thomas say that he would never believe that Jesus was alive unless he touched his wounds. We watched his face when Jesus showed him his hands and his side. We came to realize that Thomas doubted because he had detached himself from the faith community, the body of Christ.
The third Sunday we felt the cool morning breeze along the Sea of Galilee. We saw Peter, Nathaniel, Thomas and a few others catching 153 very large fish. We saw Jesus feeding them with bread and fish, and then freeing Peter from the shackles of his three betrayals. We heard Peter called. We heard ourselves called. “Follow me.”
The fourth Sunday of Easter Jesus looked into our eyes. Love radiated from him as he embraced us and comforted us. He whispered to us his promise of future glory. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
On the fifth Sunday we listened to Jesus as we’ve never listened before. He imparted to us the secret of eternal life. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
He made a promise to us the following week. He told us that the Father would send us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. He promised that the Spirit would be our guarantee that throughout the centuries Jesus would remain with us. He would continue to teach us. He promised that we would experience peace – not the world’s idea of peace – true peace – peace of mind and heart – the peace that rests on us as we lay our heads against our Father’s breast.
The week of weeks is over. Now we wait for the new breath of the Spirit.
Today’s gospel passage is a prelude to the feast of Pentecost – the celebration of the birth, life and mission of the Church. In today’s gospel passage we’re at the last supper listening to Jesus prepare his apostles and disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He sets a context for the Spirit’s coming – love. “Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
Last week we heard the command Jesus spoke to us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” His call to a life of sacrificial love is the disciple’s manifesto. He teaches us that as we empty ourselves in love for one another, as we free ourselves of ego and self-centeredness, new life begins to grow in us. “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
The Holy Spirit begins his work in a heart that loves as Jesus loved, sacrificially. The Spirit feeds that love by illuminating our minds and reminding us of all Jesus told us.
Take a moment to think of some of the things Jesus told us.
“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for youselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach or moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.”
“How happy are the poor in spirit. How happy are the meek. How happy those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Happy the merciful and the clean of heart. Happy are the peacemakers.”
“You are the light of the world.” “You are the salt of the earth.”
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
When we draw these teachings into our hearts we invite God to make his dwelling in us. Then we begin to know his peace. It won’t be the peace we struggle to achieve in the world. God’s peace dwells in our hearts even in war and our personal struggles. Nothing can trouble our hearts. Nothing can disturb our peace because God has replaced our fear with his love.
When we succumb to the Spirit our hearts become the holy city spoken of in today’s reading from the Book of Revelation. We become the Spirit’s temple. We need no sun or moon because the glory of God is shining within us – the light of the Lamb who was slain.
In preparation for the coming feast of Pentecost I encourage you to pray daily to the Holy Spirit. Invite him into your heart. Ask for a deeper knowledge of Jesus’ teaching. Ask for peace of heart and mind. Ask for all you need to be a true disciple of Jesus. Consecrate yourself to him. Don’t be afraid.
We’re reading from John’s account of the Last Supper, the beginning of the Book of Glory. Jesus and his disciples were at table the night before the Jewish Passover when Jesus shocked them by getting up from the table and washing their feet as if he were the house slave. He told them, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that what I have done for you, you should also do.” Judas left the company shortly after this teaching. His feet had been washed but he hadn’t been cleansed. As he left the dinner walking into the night, the cross cast a shadow across the room. He would return soon, and with a kiss betray his Lord.
“Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” He looked around at the disciples and said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” With these words Jesus accepted the cross. It would be the sign of his glory for all time. It would give witness to the
new commandment he was about to give to everyone who wished to be his disciple. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus was asking us to love as he loved. He was asking us to love sacrificially. As he was about to empty himself on the cross, he asked us to empty ourselves for one another. He washed our feet. For love of us he poured out his life’s blood on the cross. Whenever we gather for the sacred meal, the Eucharistic banquet, we hear his call, “Do this in memory of me.”
“When we eat this bread
and drink this cup
we proclaim the death of the Lord
until he comes.”
Lord Jesus, with these words I consecrate my life to you.
May I be your disciple in spirit and in truth.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus declared: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.” We’re very used to hearing this teaching. Its familiarity, I’m afraid, can weaken our understanding of Jesus’ message.
There are three parts to this statement. The first is: “My sheep hear my voice.” Jesus is teaching us that when we hear his voice we enter into a new relationship with him. He isn’t speaking of our ability to hear sounds coming from his mouth; he’s speaking about our ability to hear his message, to digest it, to meld it into our every fiber.
The second part of the teaching is: “I know them.” He’s teaching something very profound. He’s saying that he knows who we are. He sees the beauty of our hearts and minds. He knows our struggles. He knows our sins. He knows our potential and how we use the gifts we have. His knowledge of us is loving and non-judgmental because we’re in harmony with him, because we’re in communion with him. We hear his voice. We listen to him.
“They follow me.” What does this mean? Does it mean that we say yes to doctrines that define him? Do we believe that he’s a man? Do we believe that he’s the Son of God? What do we mean when we say we follow him?
A scribe once told Jesus, “Teacher, I will follow you where ever you go.” Jesus said this to him.
“Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.” Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
Following Jesus is demanding. Following him may mean that we won’t have a place to live. It may mean that we must abandon our family. Remember when Jesus was preaching and someone told him that his mother and brothers were outside and wanted to speak with him? His answer continues to challenge us. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother and sister and mother.”
Over the centuries we Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, have created a great deal of wiggle room around his invitation to “Follow me.” We’ve pretty much cleansed his invitation of any of its radical implications.
I looked back into the bulletin files to see what I wrote about this same Sunday three years ago. I said pretty much the same thing but brought in an incident that took place a few months before, February 12, 2019. Twenty-one Coptic Christians were beheaded on a beach in Libya by members of the Islamic State. I’ll end today’s reflection with same question I ended with three years ago. What does it mean to be a Christian?
We continue reading accounts of the resurrection as we move through the Sundays of Easter. This Sunday brings us to the third account in John’s Gospel. It takes place along the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee).
Once again, this account begins in the darkness of the night. The apostles were gathered near the Sea of Galilee. Peter announced that he was going to fish. The rest of the apostles joined him, bringing their torches. They rowed out about a hundred yards and began casting their nets. They spent the entire night fishing but caught nothing.
As dawn began to break, a voice called out to them from the shore asking if they caught any fish. They answered, no. The man then instructed them to throw their nets over the right side of the boat. They listened to his suggestion. Often enough, while casting their nets, fisherman would have someone on the shore looking over the clear water to spot the movement of a school of fish. It’s very difficult for a fisherman to look into the water for fish while casting his net, hence, the need for a spotter.
To their joyful surprise they hauled in a catch. Later when they brought the net to shore they counted one hundred and fifty-three large fish! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and who
looked into the tomb and “saw and believed,” shouted out that he recognized the man. It was Jesus! Peter, impetuous as ever, jumped into the water and swam to shore. There was a strange scene awaiting him.
Jesus had built a charcoal fire and was cooking a fish. Along with the fish he had bread waiting for them. No one said anything. They knew that it was Jesus speaking to them, but they were in shock. “Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.”
This description of Jesus feeding his apostles is a Eucharistic image. The language is very similar to Saint Paul’s account of the Last Supper. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also the cup…’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24) As we search for the deeper meaning of this account it’s important to keep a connection between what takes place during this “breakfast” and the Eucharist.
Let’s look over John’s entire account. It began with Peter symbolically attempting his ministry to be “fishers of men.” However, he began his work in the darkness of the night and so his attempt was fruitless. With the coming of the early morn
ing light he heeded the call of Jesus to cast his net on the right side of the boat. The catch was incredible, one hundred and fiftythree large fish! The reference to the number of fish is symbolic. John often used numerological references, here 1+5+3 = 9. Nine is a numerological symbol of the divine. John was telling us that this catch, taking place in the early morning light, wasn’t the work of man it was God’s work.
John continued delving into the meaning of the event. At this early morning gathering of the children of light, more wonderful things took place. Peter, commissioned to be the rock and foundation, needed healing and forgiveness before he could assume his ministry. Three times he denied any knowledge of Jesus. So, three times Jesus asked him: “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answered, “You know I love you.” Jesus’ answers forgive him, heal him, and anoint him for his ministry. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep! Follow me!”
This Sunday’s resurrection account once again, leads us to reflect on the Eucharist we’re celebrating. In this sacred gathering of the children of the light the risen Lord reveals himself. He feeds us and offers himself to us as the bread of life. When he feeds us, he heals us and forgives our sins. He anoints us so that we can assume the ministry he began.
The Sundays of Easter are a very special time. Each resurrection account is an invitation for us to open our hearts to the risen Lord. These are weeks of healing and anointing. These are the weeks we look into the empty tomb, when we see more clearly, when we believe more profoundly. These are the weeks when we’re invited, like Peter, to become fishers of men.
Happy Easter – again! Six more weeks of Easter to go! A week of weeks. We’ll conclude our Easter celebration on June 5 th when we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But until then, we’ll continue focusing our attention on the resurrection of Jesus. This week we’re given the famous story of doubting Thomas for our reflection.
The account begins on the day of the resurrection. Very few of the disciples were brave enough to be with Jesus when he died, only Jesus’ mother, Mary and her sister, another Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary of Magdala, Salome and the beloved disciple, John. At his death, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus carried the body of Jesus and buried him in a tomb. After the burial, the Eleven, Jesus’ mother, and a group of disciples went into hiding in a space they had rented in Jerusalem. But they didn’t feel safe there. They were gripped with fear. They were sure the Jewish authorities would be looking to arrest them, too, at some point.
Suddenly, Jesus was with them. The doors were locked. No one saw him come in. But Jesus was standing there, right in their midst. He greeted them with the holy greeting, “Shalom,” peace. They stood in silence as he showed them his hands and his side. It was Jesus. His wounds were raw but he was alive! The room broke out in jubilation.
Then Jesus began an odd ritual. He came up to each person and breathed on them. Each one felt his warm, moist breath. He was bringing them back to the first moment of creation. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while the Spirit of God breathed over the waters.” Their lives had become a dark wasteland of chaos and fear. He whispered in their ears, “Receive the Holy Spirit” planting the seed of divine light into them. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained.”
As suddenly as he appeared, he vanished. Shortly after the event, Thomas knocked on the door. Waiting for someone to open, he was surprised to hear loud, excited talking inside. The moment the door opened everyone at
once began to tell him that Jesus had appeared to them.
Even though Thomas knew them all and trusted them, he couldn’t believe their crazy story. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week passed by. Another Sunday arrived. Everyone was gathered in the room. Thomas, too, was there. Again, they had the door securely locked, but somehow Jesus stood in their midst. Again, he extended the holy greeting, “Shalom,” peace. He walked right up to Thomas and addressed his disbelief. “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believing.”
Then Jesus turned and looked into the distance. He was looking at you. He was looking at me. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Our reflection today need only focus on that one sentence. A number of questions should cross our minds and challenge our faith when we think about it.
We’ve listened to the accounts of the resurrection and we believe that Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago. But that isn’t enough. It’s true that we haven’t seen Jesus the way the early disciples saw him that day. We haven’t touched his wounds. But Jesus’ statement about believing reaches wider and deeper than that.
In today’s account Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples who had gathered in fear. It rested within them for a while but burst forth on the day of Pentecost. That day, their belief exploded into witness, powerful witness. Their belief was like a light that burst into the hearts of those who listened to them.
We’re the ones who believe though we haven’t seen. Now, the question for our reflection today is very important. Have we freed the power of the Spirit that was planted within us when we first believed? It’s not enough to believe – we have to succumb to the Spirit so that the Spirit can give witness to the resurrection – so that those still in the dark can open their hearts to the light of the risen Lord.
It was very early Sunday morning. It was that still moment just as the light begins to dissolve the darkness. Mary Magdalene stood at the tomb of Jesus, confused and shocked. The tomb had been opened. The bruised body of Jesus was no longer there.
No matter how brilliant the rising sun might have been, Mary saw only darkness. She had witnessed the religious leaders challenging and attacking Jesus during his preaching journeys. Two days ago, her heart wrenched, she stood at the foot of his cross. Anger burned in her heart. His death wasn’t enough. Now they’ve taken his body, desecrated it. She ran back to the city to tell the group.
Simon Peter and John ran back with her to the tomb. Peter noted the burial cloths neatly folded. The tomb wasn’t plundered. No one stole the body. But what could have happened?
John stooped down to look into the tomb. A flash of understanding came to him. What Jesus taught, what he did, suddenly seemed to make sense. He walked back to the city with Peter in silence. Mary remained at the tomb, the morning sun burning her tear-filled eyes.
Every year I wish I could read the end of this account on Easter morning. It has a much happier ending. This portion of the account leaves Mary weeping, Peter confused, and John sorting out his new understanding of Jesus.
But perhaps, this portion of the account is meant to be an invitation for us to look into the empty tomb. What do we see? Is it daylight or darkness? What questions about the resurrection haunt our minds? What insights into the resurrection still need more light. If Jesus isn’t in the tomb, where is he?
Easter isn’t just a historical commemoration. It’s a reminder of the risen Lord’s presence today. Through our prayer, reflection, and our communal and sacramental lives can we meet him and hear him speak our names.
Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, you touch our lives by the healing power of your love. Watch over us now, and unveil for us the glory of the resurrection. May the life we receive through the Eucharist we celebrate continue to grow in our hearts. Amen.