Speak Lord: Rescue us…

Gozo crucifix detailThe first reading for today, the first Sunday of Lent, prepares us for the Gospel of the day.

Moses instructs the people on how to live right before the Lord. Jesus fulfils that righteousness in his resisting temptation and making offering himself to God, becoming himself the first fruits of faithfulness, the living bread.

Moses said to the people: ‘The priest shall take the pannier from your hand and lay it before the altar of the Lord your God. Then, in the sight of the Lord your God, you must make this pronouncement:

‘“My father was a wandering Aramaean. He went down into Egypt to find refuge there, few in numbers; but there he became a nation, great, mighty, and strong. The Egyptians ill-treated us, they gave us no peace and inflicted harsh slavery on us. But we called on the Lord, the God of our fathers. The Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, our toil and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders. He brought us here and gave us this land, a land where milk and honey flow. Here then I bring the first-fruits of the produce of the soil that you, the Lord, have given me.”

‘You must then lay them before the Lord your God, and bow down in the sight of the Lord your God.’

Deuteronomy 26:4-10

As we confront our weaknesses this Lent it is good to notice also our blessings.

Sometimes these may be positive achievements, fruit of our cooperation with God’s grace.

Sometimes they may be (only) holy desires – but still prompted by God’s grace. We may not have accomplished this or that yet. We may have stumbled, fallen, countless times. And yet we still desire the good, strive for it, despite the failure  and disappointment.

When we fail, but keep on hoping, may our yearning and working serve to deepen trust in God who will allow nothing to separate us from himself.

Detail from crucifix in Jesuit retreat chapel, near Rabat (Victoria), Gozo. (c) 2009, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Speak, Bread of Life

Exposition, Piarist Church, Cracow aOn the 18th Sunday of Ordinary time in Year B, ie next Sunday, the gospel reading continues the reading from chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, begun last week.

Last week’s passage ended with Jesus heading for the hills to escape the enthusiasm of the crowd, that would crown him king.

When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’
Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs
but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Do not work for food that cannot last,
but work for food that endures to eternal life,
the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you,
for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’

Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’ So they said, ‘What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven,
it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven,
the true bread;
for the bread of God
is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.’

‘Sir,’ they said ‘give us that bread always.’ Jesus answered:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.’

John 6:24-35

On their meeting the people seem a little sheepish, the enthusiasm of yesterday (?) seems to have ebbed away. All they can ask is ‘when did you come here?’ Hardly the most pressing question to ask the prophet they would make king!

Jesus responds to their clumsiness with words that challenge. He calls them to something more than they might be asking for.

They show themselves willing, just about.

But this passage ends with challenge also. They want bread, life giving bread. Jesus offers (only) himself.

  • How happy with that are they?
  • How happy with that are we?
  • For what do we long? What is it we strive for?

Taste and see: the first fruits of God’s kingdom

Beatitudes 3Yesterday’s Gospel, that for the 17th Sunday in Year B, began the Church’s reading of chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.

Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.

Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’

Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted.

When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.

John 6:1-15

A story that starts of so promisingly ends with Jesus fleeing for the hills.

Two questions

  • Why does the crowd want to make him king?
  • Why does Jesus flee for the hills?

Why does the crowd want to make him king?

They want to make him king because they find in him the fulfilment of God’s promises. He sets the sick free from their illness; he liberates prisoners from slavery to sin; he feeds the hungry. God comes with his prophet to set his people free. Is Jesus a new Moses? Maybe the closeness of Passover might put the idea in people’s heads. But, more than a prophet, they want a king!

They want setting free from their oppressors, sickness, sin, hunger and especially the Romans. So they want a king – a new Maccabean, a new Solomon, a new David, a new Saul. But they have forgotten what the scriptures teaches… Israel is not well served by its kings. Saul was a bad king; David an adulterer who had such promise but did not deliver; Solomon who had wisdom amongst the nations but whose kingdom collapsed after him; and the Maccabees who won back Israel but lost it again, amidst corruption and all the rest. But the crowd ishungry – for a new king. There is the saying ‘third time lucky’, but this is getting ridiculous.

Why, faced with this enthusiasm for his coronation or kingly anointing, does Jesus flee for the hills?

In his baptism he received the anointing that made him Priest, Prophet and King. And his Kingship is lived out in service and love – in sacrifice, the gift of his Body and Blood as John makes clear in the rest of chapter 6.

Israel has its king – as I Samuel makes very clear. And it is God.

Jesus is already the faithful son of the Father. He proclaims the nearness of the kingdom, but not in anything as vapid and passing as a new monarchy, rather a kingdom firmly established in the fatherhood of God.

He shares the first fruits of the kingdom, but people are greedy for ‘more’. They seek to take the kingdom by force and not receive it as gift.

They have received so much, been fed to the full but they are still hungry, for finally they are not satisfied by what God offers.

Are we?

Photograph of statue of Jesus teaching in the hills of Galilee, Domus Galilei. (c) 2012, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Challenge and stretch us

Eucharist Grasse

Every third Cycle of the Lectionary for Mass (Year B) is dedicated to the Gospel of Mark.

However the Gospel of Mark is shorter than the others, and much of its text reproduced in the other synoptics (Matthew and Luke); and there is an important section of John’s Gospel – the Bread of Life discourse – that otherwise would not be otherwise be heard.

So each Year B, beginning on the 17th Sunday, this coming Sunday, (and up to and including the 21st Sunday) we pause Mark, and listen to John.

This year the readings from John are themselves interrupted by the feast of the Assumption, kept on a Sunday in England and Wales this year. So those responsible for the preparation of the Liturgy might like to think of combining the gospel readings of the 19th and 20th Sundays for the sake of the congregation’s hearing the Gospel pericope in its fullness. (However, please note that although such an adaptation is commended for weekdays in the General Introduction to the Lectionary it is not directly proposed for Sundays. Introduction, 84)

This Sunday’s Gospel sets the scene for all that follows.

Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.

Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’

Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted.

When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.

John 6:1-15

The scene is set.

  • The story of the miraculous feeding, known in Mark’s Gospel, is here placed in the context of Passover (the time of the Last Supper, and the Paschal Mystery which that Supper anticipated).
  • The inability of the disciples alone to respond to the needs of the people
  • The way in which the many are fed by God’s grace
  • The attentiveness to the precious food remaining
  • The way that the ministry of Jesus cannot be understood in normal political, worldly terms.

There is something new here, not only miraculous. The Gospel readings from John over the coming weeks make that point, again and again. There is no escaping the point. So will people stay and learn? Will people reject and leave? And if we have left, will we return?

  • How does the Lord help and encourage you?
  • How are you able to help and encourage others?
  • How can you share Jesus with others?

Photograph is of detail of door of the Cathedral of Grasse. (c) 2008, Allen Morris.