For the last three weeks we have heard Jesus explain that he is the Bread of Life. Hearing "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood" and "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" was challenging, to say the least (John 6:53, 55). Now it is decision time. Can all his disciples accept this? No. Not just one, not just a few, but "many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" (John 6:66). This is shocking. These are his disciples. These are people who have accepted and followed him through his teachings, healing, and miracles. This was not the response Joshua received when he gathered all the tribes of Israel and forced the people to take a stand. They all joined Joshua and his household in pledging to continue to serve the Lord. But such is not the case with Jesus. So then he addresses just the Twelve: "Do you also want to leave?" (John 6:67). Peter, speaking on behalf of all the apostles, answers: Where can we go? We do believe. You are the One. The Twelve have committed.
Are you ready to take a stand? Even if it means disagreeing with others, will you stand up for what you believe?READ MORE
We are invited to a banquet today. Will we come and eat? Wisdom invites us first. In Proverbs, Wisdom is a woman who has prepared a meal and calls on everyone to eat and drink. Naturally, since she is Wisdom, this food is knowledge and insight: "Forsake foolishness...advance in the way of understanding" (Proverbs 9:6). Similarly, Saint Paul invites the Christians of Ephesus to live wisely, not foolishly, so that they can "understand what is the will of the Lord" (Ephesians 5:17). He encourages them to sing psalms and play songs, inviting them to "give thanks...in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Ephesians 5:20). The word Paul uses for "giving thanks" is eucharisteo, the word we use for the meal we celebrate, the meal Jesus invites us to partake in. Like Wisdom, Jesus does not command in today's Gospel. He invites. He invites everyone to share in his banquet. He is both host and meal. "The one who feeds on me will have life because of me" (John 6:57). We are all invited to consume him. We will then have life. Truly, we give thanks.
How does consuming Jesus in the Eucharist give you life?READ MORE
God gives us strength for our journeys. Elijah is a great example. As prophets are wont to do, Elijah as angered the authorities. He flees into the desert to escape the king, but is quickly overwhelmed and despairs, praying for death. The angel of the Lord cares for him, giving him food and water and prodding him to continue. Through God's generosity, Elijah is strengthened in body and strengthened in resolve, able to complete his pilgrimage. God 's most generous gift, of course, is Jesus, God's only Son, who speaks in similar terms in the Gospel: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:51). Jesus, the Bread of Life, gives us the ultimate gift—his life—strengthening us for our ultimate journey. Life is difficult, so we need that strength, as Saint Paul well knows. Paul implores the Ephesians to imitate God in the way we treat one another. Like Christ, we are encouraged to live lives of self-sacrifice.
What do you most need strength for your journey? Do you pray for strength in times of need?READ MORE
We hunger. Today’s readings point to that basic human need in all its meanings. In the first reading, the Israelites are so hungry that they tell Moses they’d rather have remained in slavery when at least they had food to eat. Seeing nothing but desert around them, they were convinced they would starve to death. But God provided food—manna and quail—that would sustain them on their journey. Moreover, God provided hope. In giving sustenance to them in their desperation, God restored hope to a people who needed a reason to go on. Last week we saw Jesus feed more than five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. But today we hear Jesus say, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). Naturally, the crowd wants this magic food. Then Jesus reveals its source: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Now it is apparent that Jesus is not just addressing our physical hunger. He gives our lives sustenance, gives our lives hope, gives our lives meaning. In short, Jesus gives our lives life.
What gives your life meaning? In what ways is God the source?READ MORE
The Gospel today—the multiplication of the loaves and fish—is a familiar one. In fact, it is the only miracle story found in all four Gospels. Not only that, a similar miracle is recounted in the second book of Kings, which we hear today as well. An unnamed donor gives twenty barley loaves to Elisha, who immediately orders that they be given to the people to eat, for there was a famine in the land. In adding generosity to generosity, this "man of God" (2 Kings 4:42) has transformed as much as one person was able to carry from a distant town into what was more than enough to satisfy the hunger of a hundred people. In the Gospel, it is Jesus who "took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them," transforming the five loaves of bread into more than enough to satisfy a crowd of over five thousand (John 6:11). These two signs, Elisha and Jesus generously sharing what began as a meager amount of food and satisfying the hunger of many, point to God, the source of all generosity.
How can you share what you have been given to satisfy those who are hungry?READ MORE
The great division of the early church, which St. Paul often addressed in his letters, was the division between Jews and Gentiles, or, more accurately, between Christians and Jewish background and Christians outside the Jewish tradition. Paul, formerly Jewish, now Christian and a missionary to the Gentiles, preached that Jesus “broke down the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14). Through the cross, “you who were far off” (Gentiles) and “those who were near” (Jews) have become one, the church, one body of Christ (Ephesians 2:17).READ MORE
Like we learned last week, it's not easy to be one of God's missionaries. Look at Amos. In the verse preceding today's first reading, Amos prophesied, "Jeroboam shall die by the sword/and Israel shall surely be exiled from its land" (Amos 7:11). This did not go over well. Jeroboam, after all, was the king of Israel. No wonder Amos was told to leave and never come back. But Amos did not leave, for he was sent by God to "prophesy to my people of Israel" (Amos 7:15). The apostles had it easier, for Jesus told them that if they are rejected they should merely "shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them" (Mark 6:11). But this delivered a strong statement, as it meant that that home was unclean, capable of polluting the rest of the town. Still, the apostles did not have it easy. They traveled without any food, money, or extra clothing. They had to trust God, had to be dependent on strangers. But in doing so, they successfully carried out Jesus' mission. They proclaimed the saving power of God in Christ Jesus, as did perhaps the most influential missionary of all time, St. Paul, whose Letter to the Ephesians begins with the rhapsody of praise we hear today.
How can we be part of God's mission?READ MORE
The life of a prophet is not easy. Prophecy demands one go against the flow. Ezekiel had an especially difficult task. He was called by God to prophesy just after the Chosen People were driven into exile. Somehow, he had to restore a sense of trust that God was still God, still all-powerful and still faithful to the covenant. But the Israelites were understandably “hard of face and obstinate of heart,” having been defeated by the Babylonians and evicted from the Promised Land (Ezekiel 2:4). Jesus faced an equally stubborn people in his fellow Nazarenes. Whether they were resentful or just plain skeptical, they could not accept that a great prophet could possibly have come from among their number. But if there is to be a positive lesson here, Paul points us toward it. Initially he begs the Lord to remove the infirmity that afflicts him. Scripture scholars are not sure if this is a physical ailment, an opponent, or something else entirely. But whatever the case, Paul makes his peace with it, realizing that in his very weakness the grace of God show itself most strongly. The power of God manifests itself most clearly in overcoming a difficulty, not in being easily successful.
How is the power of God manifested in you?READ MORE
The goodness of God in times of need is in full display in today’s readings. The author of the book of Wisdom wrote at a time that Greek culture had permeated Jewish traditions and Greek rule had divided the Jewish community. Wisdom tries to reconnect the people to their ancestral faith. God’s creation is good, and did not include death. We were created to be immortal in the image of God. Though the devil brought sin and death into the world, “justice is undying” (Wisdom 1:15). Living in accordance with God’s goodness leads to unending life with God. A century or so later a severe famine in Jerusalem inspires Paul to write a primer on Christian charity. Those who have in abundance are obligated to give to those who are in need. After all, Jesus, though he was God, emptied himself for our sake, allowing us to become rich in his grace. In today’s Gospel, Jesus encountered two people in need: Jairus, whose daughter was ill to the point of death, and an unnamed woman, who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years. Despite the opposite ways they approach Jesus, the faith of both in the goodness of God and in the power of Jesus over disease and death leads to healing and new life.
Do you see yourself more like Jairus, pleading to Jesus for help, or like the woman, too timid to approach Jesus directly?READ MORE
It is Isaiah who wrote, “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Isaiah 49:1), but it just as easily could have been John the Baptist. He was also called before birth to serve the Lord. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son who would “be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb...to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Luke 1:15-17).READ MORE
What wonders the Lord can do! A tender shoot from a cedar becomes the tallest tree on the mountain. Seed scattered on the earth yields fruit of its own accord. A tiny mustard seed grows into a huge shrub. What’s more, in each case the fruit of God’s work extends its blessings to others. The majestic cedar in Ezekiel’s story provides shade and shelter for every kind of bird. The sower of the seed harvests the fruit of the untended plants. The mustard plant yields pods filled with seeds that add flavor to food. But these are all parables. Each image used by Ezekiel and Mark describes something else. Because the Israelites were in exile at that time, Ezekiel needed them to trust that God had not abandoned them. The tender shoot from the crown of the old tree suggests a future king from the linage of David, himself the youngest son of Jesse. The two parables of Jesus in today’s passage from Mark explicitly connect the stories to the kingdom of God. Like the fledgling Christian community in the time of Mark and Paul, the kingdom of God starts out tiny and seemingly insignificant. But if a small shoot can grow into a majestic cedar, if a tiny mustard seed can grow into a large plant, if a microscopic sperm and egg can grow into a human person, so much so can the kingdom of God be built up into a whole world as one.
How can you help build up the kingdom of God in the world?READ MORE
Some awfully strong accusations are made of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “He is out of his mind,” “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:21, 22, 30). The accusers fail to understand where Jesus was getting the power to drive out demons, misattributing it to Satan, the prince of demons. Jesus explains how this is impossible, but then he turns it around by making an extremely harsh pronouncement: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness” (Mark 3:29). Why is it that this blasphemy, alone among all others, is unforgivable? Perhaps it is because it turns good and evil upside down. It says that what is good and holy is driven by evil. No, it is not an evil spirit, but the opposite, the Holy Spirit, that is “possessing” Jesus as he acts according to his Father’s will. So it is for us when we allow the Holy Spirit to act through us. As Jesus tells the crowd, of all the people who were gathered around him—relatives, scribes, neighbors, his own disciples—the ones who can truly be considered his family are those who do the will of God. Those who do the will of God are manifesting the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit who is driving them.
Are there times when you misconstrue the work of the Spirit, too readily dismissing something as misguided or wrong?READ MORE
Covenants in ancient times, whether between individuals or tribes, were often sealed with the blood of animals. Why? Because blood was equated with life. In Exodus, after agreeing to remain faithful to God and the commandments, the people perform a ritual that includes animal sacrifice. Moses sprinkles the altar and then the people with the blood of young bulls. What seems to us today to be disgusting was for the ancient Israelites a sharing of life. Blood was life. By sprinkling both the altar and the people with blood, Moses showed that God and the people were united in life. In the new covenant, the blood is not the blood of goats and calves, but the blood of Jesus himself. Life is not just life here on earth, but eternal life with God. Sacrifice becomes redemptive. When Jesus transformed the Passover meal into the first Eucharist, he anticipated his redemptive act to come, looking forward to being able to “drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). Today, as the Eucharist is celebrated around the world, we all continue to share in this life-giving covenant between God and humanity.
Does the Eucharist help you realize the covenant God made with us?READ MORE