Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Sign of the Loaves

John 6:1-15
1. Jesus knew that they were going to carry Him off and make Him king, so He withdrew to the mountain alone. Why did Jesus do that? We call Him the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. It is right and just that Jesus rules in our hearts. If the people of His day wanted to declare Him to be King, why then did Jesus run away? It was not like He was one to escape His responsibilities.
2. It can be said that the people in those days after the multiplication of the loaves rightly identified Jesus as the King. But their reasons were not correct- they were thinking about filling their own stomachs with temporary food. That is, they were intent upon using Jesus for their worldly needs. On the other hand, Jesus was wanting to give them bread for life eternal- that is Himself.
3. Although the multiplication of the loaves was a phenomenal miracle, Jesus did not do it for its own sake, but as a sign. The miracle of the loaves recalls the reading from Second Kings. God fed a hundred people with a mere twenty loaves at the time of Elisha the prophet. That miracle was intended to confirm the prophetic authority of Elisha. So too does the multiplication of the loaves serve as a sign to confirm Jesus’ message. However it’s not a hundred people who are fed, but five thousand. And there are not twenty loaves, but only five loaves and a couple of fish. And there was not just some left over, but twelve baskets of scraps after everyone had eaten as much as they could. Clearly, Jesus is far greater than Elisha or any of the prophets.
4. The multiplication also recalls the mannah from heaven which fed the Israelites while they wandered in the wilderness at the time of the Exodus. Each day, the people were to go out and collect enough to eat for that one day. They had to learn to trust God to care for them each day by giving them enough to eat. In the wilderness, God worked through His servant Moses, the Lawgiver. Because Jesus fed the multitude through His own power, Jesus is superior to Moses. It is a sign that Jesus is God. Therefore, the New Covenant given through Jesus is superior to the Covenant given through Moses.
5. The sign likewise points to the abundant generosity of God. Like the changing of the water into wine at Cana, the Lord does not simply give enough, He gives an abundance. We may take this abundance for granted when we breathe the air or drink water or bask in the warm sunshine unaware that things do not have to be like this. We have not even discovered another planet that has the same conditions as earth throughout all our explorations using telescopes and robotic probes.
6. Looking forward, the multiplication of the loaves was a sign of the sacred meal which Jesus would institute on the night before He died. When we eat the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, it does not matter how large or small we consume, it is all Jesus. Jesus can feed over a billion Catholics and Orthodox Christians every Sunday or even every day- as many as come before Him in faith.
7. The aspect of the feeding of the five thousand that always attracts my attention is the boy with the five loaves and two fish. He has what might have been enough food for himself, but which clearly is not enough for everyone. Yet only in giving up his lunch will everyone eat- a fact which he did not know until he trusted in Jesus and shared his food. So it may seem with the things we possess, whether treasures of talents, or time. They may appear to be insignificant and insufficient. And they will remain so until we give them back to Jesus.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ride and Run

Today I rode the bike 27 miles. Then I ran between half and three quarters of a mile. The running made me much more tired than the bicycling did. I will really have to work on getting my breathing/ heart rate slowed down while running. It was great weather anyway.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sending Prophets

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1. When God asks someone to be a prophet, the primary message is the need for repentance. For example, God sent Amos to prophesy to the Israelites in the Northern Kingdom. In those days the Chosen People the Israelites were divided into two kingdoms, North with its temple in Bethel and the South with the Temple of Jerusalem. Anyway, the Lord sent Amos to the Northern Kingdom to warn them to repent. The people had slipped in their worship of God. They were not being just in their business dealings. They were imitating the pagans who lived around them, eagerly committing any sort of sin instead of being holy.
2. When Amos preached, they did not want to hear what he had to say. So they told him to go to Jerusalem, where maybe someone would be interested in hearing what Amos had to say. They even accused Amos of preaching in order to gain money, which he was not. Because they refused to listen to Amos and the others God had sent, their kingdom was destroyed. The people who lived there were killed, sold into slavery, or sent into exile, although not all. God did not send Amos in order to condemn the people of the Northern Kingdom, but rather to save them.
3. Likewise, when Jesus began His public ministry, He preached The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15). It is this same message that our Lord sent His apostles out to proclaim- a call to repent and believe. Just like in the time of Amos, some of the people listened to the apostles and some did not. The stakes were higher with the apostles. To believe means everlasting life and to disbelieve means eternal punishment.
4. There was a difference in the sending of the apostles, however. Jesus shared with them His divine authority and power. They were given the authority over unclean spirits and the power to heal the sick. Although we may see the exorcism of demons as being more “powerful”, the healing of the sick implies the power to forgive sins, which in those days at least was considered the root cause of illness and disease. To put things right with health was a sign of putting things right with God.
5. Of course, to get healed of sin and its effects, or to be freed from the oppression of the demons without an interior change and desire for holiness does not solve any problem. It is hard enough to avoid sin when you want to, but without repentance, there is no freedom from the ravages of sin nor a share in Christ’s victory over the evil one.
6. Although the primary message of prophecy is repentance, it is not the only one. The other message is that God loves us and wants us to be with Him. That is reason we ought to repent. As creatures, we ought to conform ourselves to the Creator. But the Lord wants us to be more than creatures. God has destined us to be His Children. As Saint Paul told the Ephesians, God has destined us in love for adoption through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:6). God does not intend to condemn people. Neither is God interested in turning us into unthinking robots. He desires our love. Jesus said that it is enough that a disciple should become like his teacher (Matthew 10:25). In Jesus, God has chosen us to be His beloved children- to be like His Son in every respect and to be received into His presence forever in heaven.
7. Because we have been chosen since before God created the world to be in the likeness of Christ His Son, we have to do what Jesus did. Therefore, as part of our baptismal call we are also prophets, not unlike Amos or the apostles. Through the way we live and how we speak, we must announce the Good News that God wants everyone to be a member of His family. But we also have to announce the need for repentance. If we do not encourage people to turn from sin, they might miss the chance to change.
8. With the mission to prophecy comes both the prophet’s reward and the prophet’s problems. Amos was told to mind his own business and go preach elsewhere. In time, the apostles were killed or exiled in an effort to keep them quiet about Jesus Christ. There will be those who try to silence us- through unjust laws or through violence or intimidation. But if we are faithful and persevere, when we enter into our reward, all those troubles will seem as nothing compared to the Glory that God will bestow on us.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lack of Faith

1. Last week we heard of the great signs performed by Jesus in response to the faith of the woman with the hemorrhage and the synagogue official Jairus. Because they believed in Jesus and put their trust in Him, they received a great healing, as well as peace in their souls. Maybe they only sought out Jesus because they had no where else to turn, but still they relied on Him even in the face of great difficulty.
2. This week, however, the theme appears to be the lack of faith. The townspeople of Nazareth are so sure that they know everything about Jesus that they cannot put their trust in Him. They even took offense at Him because of His outstanding teaching and the reports of the miracles and signs wrought by His hands.
3. Maybe they just could not get over their own opinions and see the evidence before their eyes. When I was a music student, one of the instructors cautioned us against getting a job in our home town, at least until we had become well established. He said that people’s memory of your childhood could prevent them from listening to your words of wisdom. Maybe it was like that. In any event, the lack of faith disturbed Jesus and He eventually moved His home to Capernaum.
4. Their failure to believe in Jesus made it impossible for Him to do any mighty signs for them. He was only able to accomplish a few healings. But not the kinds of healings that really signify Jesus’ Divinity and the salvation that is imminent. In fact, their disbelief made it impossible for them to hear the Good News of Salvation. Their lack of faith blinded them from being witnesses to the fulfillment of the promises of God that they themselves had longed to see accomplished.
5. In the first reading, we hear of the call of Ezekiel by God to be a prophet. At the time, the people were not obeying the commandments, they were not being faithful to God. And so the Lord sent Ezekiel into their midst. Some heard the call to holiness, others did not. But it was not to succeed that the Lord called Ezekiel, it was to faithfulness.
6. It seems a little strange that the All Powerful God who holds all of creation in being would send prophets who would fail. You might think that God could make sure that they did not. And when He sent His only begotten Son, you’d think that God would make sure that He was a success also. At least His hometown should have been behind Him. But they were not. It is really not a lack of power on the part of God. The failure of people to believe is in their exercise of free will. God has given us this gift of freedom and He will not take it back. I have heard people say that God made a mistake giving human beings free will. But He is God and I am not going to second guess Him. I will just have to trust that His way is the best way.
7. Even though the theme might appear to be lack of faith, in truth, faithfulness is the most important quality emphasized by today’s readings. For although Ezekiel may or may not have been successful, as the world counts success, he was faithful to his calling as a prophet. And Jesus did not give up when those whom He loved rejected Him, whether in His hometown or when He hung upon the cross. Jesus was faithful to God the Father. And He is faithful to us also.
8. The call to fidelity is not the call to great power, or to resounding success in this world. The call to fidelity is just that- the call to be faithful to God no matter what. There will be those who like us because of it. There will be others who do not like us. They might listen, or maybe they won’t.
9. The battle with faithfulness and trust may even be waged inside of ourselves more than outside. Consider Saint Paul and his nameless temptation. This great saint struggled mightily within himself to be faithful. And he had to learn that his own weakness could lead him to experience the true power of God. God is calling each of us. But are we going to be faithful?