| 2 Kgs 4:42-44
|| Ps 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18
|| Eph 4:1-6
|| Jn 6:1-15
Bread as sign: what does it mean?
During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about the miracle, meaning, and warning of the bread.
The first reading, from the second book of Kings, tells how the prophet Elisha fed over a hundred people with only twenty barley loaves. This story is part of a cycle of Elisha stories that show God’s power working through the prophet. The Lectionary editors chose this reading for its clear parallels to Jesus’ feeding the five thousand in today’s gospel.
The second reading continues the letter to the Ephesus ekklesia. The letter’s major theme is the unity of all Christians in one believing community. Today’s reading is from the start of the ethical exhortation (or paraenesis) section. The author reminds Christians that the Spirit forms them into a single, harmonious believing community. In contrast to polytheistic Roman world, Jesus’ disciples belong to one Lord and they share one faith, signified in their one baptism. God is Father of all, leads all, and is present in all. The author exhorts the believing community to live the implications of that unity.
John’s gospel presents the sign of Jesus feeding the crowd in the wilderness, which introduces Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. (We will hear Jesus’ discourse over the next four weeks.) In John’s gospel, a sign is not simply a miracle, but the way Jesus reveals God’s glory. A sign incorporates a gift that God gave to the Israelites, and which Jesus now fulfills and makes complete.
- The gift to the Israelites. John sets the scene with two pieces of information: first, that “Jesus went up on the mountain” with his disciples; and second, “Passover was near.” Passover commemorates the Exodus, including Moses ascending the Sinai mountain to receive the Torah, and feeding the Israelites in the wilderness with God’s manna. Jesus’ sign will have something to do with manna and Torah.
- The gift fulfilled and made complete. Jesus’ gratuitous gift of food (and later himself) to crowds in the wilderness fulfills and completes God’s former gift of manna. This feeding becomes prophecy-in-action: it fulfills the messianic promises of a superabundant messianic meal in God’s kingdom, and it foretells the continuing gift of God’s ongoing presence in the believing community through the Eucharist. (We’ll hear more about the Eucharist in the discourse of the coming weeks.)
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider not only the sign’s meaning, but also our reaction. The crowd’s reaction to the sign, and Jesus’ response, should be a warning to the believing community and to each disciple. The crowd saw Jesus simply as someone who could give them bread and wanted him to be their temporal food king. But Jesus is not a give-them-what-they-want messiah. As individuals and as an ekklesia, Jesus calls us to witness and to serve as he did. We are always in danger that the crowd’s voice–loud, flattering, power-granting, profitable–will pull us from Jesus’ path. To follow what the crowd says and wants is to give up our discipleship to Jesus and his ekklesia. As we think about the meaning of Jesus’ self-giving gift, we ask: Who feeds us? Why do we take and eat? Whom do we feed?
| 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12
|| Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
|| Rom 8:28-30
|| Mt 13:44-52
Parables about choices in discipleship
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on God’s kingdom and our discipleship.
In the first reading from the book of Kings, Solomon asks God for wisdom, rather than riches or a long life. Wisdom (knowledge of God) should be valued above all else; the parables in today’s gospel depict the kingdom as a treasure beyond value.
In his letter to the Roman ekklesia, Paul describes God’s plan and care for a believer’s salvation. This passage has a complicated history; words like “predestined” and “justified” are sometimes freighted with meanings Paul didn’t intend. Paul’s point is simply that all things unfold according to God’s plan (God’s foreknowing). God designs (predestines) all humans to be able to be like (conformed to) Christ. God calls all to salvation through Christ. Those who accept God’s call, God “makes right” with God (justifies). Those who are “right with God,” God also allows to share now and in the future in the effects of Christ’s resurrection (glorifies). This is good news for disciples!
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus concludes teaching the crowds and disciples in parables. Jesus presents the kingdom as a hidden treasure, a merchant seeking pearls, and a dragnet. Jesus also directs a parable about a house-master to his disciples. In these parables, Jesus overturns his hearers’ expectations about how disciples come to God’s kingdom, who can enter, and how disciples understand and teach the kingdom.
- A hidden treasure. Jesus’ hearers would expect that something as important as the kingdom to be visible and obvious. Instead, Jesus tells them it is hidden. The surprise is that the treasure is found by chance. The parable invites the hearers to imagine finding such a treasure and how they would react.
- A merchant seeking pearls. Jesus’ hearers would expect that the kingdom would be easy to acquire. Instead, Jesus describes the merchant as actively seeking. The surprise is the way in which the merchant changes when he finds a unique pearl. Jesus says he sells everything he had; he is no longer a pearl merchant. The parable invites the hearers to imagine what would cause them to completely change their lives.
- A dragnet. Jesus’ hearers would expect the kingdom to be exclusive, limited to holy people or to people with special knowledge. The surprise is that the kingdom gathers in everyone, the good and the bad together. Only when the net is full do the fishermen pull it in and sort its contents. The parable invites the hearers to think about a kingdom that is open to all, and their place in such a kingdom.
- A house-master. Jesus directs this parable to his disciples who now know how to interpret parables. The disciples would expect the house-master to bring out only what is new. The surprise is the house-master brings out both new and old treasures. The parable invites disciples to think about the value of the Torah as well as Jesus’ new teachings in presenting the good news.
Today’s readings ask the believing community to consider how disciples discover the kingdom (by accident or by searching), who enters the kingdom, and how disciples understand God’s law. How we find the kingdom and find ourselves included isn’t important. It is our words and actions, rooted in God’s law, that make us disciples. Have we hidden our treasure or traded it away, or do we bring it out and share it?
||Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
Loving God: how a disciple prays
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings continue to examine the command to love God and how prayer fulfills that command.
The first reading from Genesis continues the Abraham story. Abraham and his guests travel to Sodom. God (one of Abraham’s guests) discusses his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s conversation with God is a form of petitioning prayer. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to parallel Jesus’ teaching about prayer in today’s gospel.
The second reading continues the letter to the ekklesia at Colossus. The author contrasts the OT rite of entering the community (circumcision) with the new order’s rite of entry (baptism). To emphasize God’s forgiveness, the author reverses the usual image of humans nailing Christ to the cross. Instead, God nails the charges against us (“the bond”)–which God has forgiven–to the cross.
Luke’s gospel concludes Jesus’ teachings about the law of love (which began with Lk 10:25) with a lesson on love of God through prayer. In Jesus’ time, prayer was often formal (such as the recitation of Psalms) and in Hebrew (the language of God in Torah). In contrast, Jesus’ prayers are conversational (expressing personal concerns) and in Aramaic (the language spoken around the dinner table). Jesus gives his disciples a simple model for prayer, and supports it with a parable and two sayings.
- Prayer: Why would the disciples ask “Teach us to pray”? They see that God answers Jesus’ prayers and they want that same effectiveness with God. Jesus teaches them that prayer is:
- Conversation with someone we know: “Father.”
- Worship: “Let your name be glorified. Let your kingdom draw near.”
- Asking: “Give us what we need. Forgive us as we forgive each other. Save us from the final trial.”
- Parable: The Greek word ἀναίδεια (an-AH-ee-die-ah), translated here as “persistence,” actually means “not-shame.” Middle Eastern culture seeks to avoid shame and to gain honor. The man in the house answers his needy friend because the man is honorable (he will not-shame himself, his family, or his community). The parable is not about our persistence in asking, but rather about God’s goodness and honor in answering our requests.
- Sayings: Jesus concludes his teaching about prayer with two sayings that support the parable. In the first saying (Lk 11:9-10), Jesus’ instructions to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” confirm that God wants to hear and to answer our requests. In the second saying (Lk 11:11-13), the human father’s own good intentions (despite his “wickedness”) cause him to give “good things” to his son. God the Father, who is completely good, wants to give the Spirit to the ones who ask.
As the first reading suggests and the gospel shows, God wants to be in relationship with us and wants to give us what we request. Sometimes we may think persistence in asking is most important in prayer. Really, it’s our persistence in prayer–to create the relationship with God–that Jesus teaches. How often do we pray? What do we want?
|2 Kgs 4: 42-44
||Ps 145: 10-11, 15-16, 17-18
||Eph 4: 1-6
||Jn 6: 1-15
The sign of bread in the wilderness
In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we begin a five-week meditation on the Eucharist and discipleship.
The first reading, from 2 Kings, tells the story of Elisha the prophet and his multiplication of barley loaves. The Lectionary editors chose this story because it parallels today’s gospel. In both readings a hungry crowd is present; only a small amount of food (barley loaves) is available; someone says that it isn’t enough to feed the crowd; the prophet ignores the objection and orders the food to be distributed; the crowd has enough to eat; and there is some left over.
This week the gospel author changes from Mark to John. Beginning this week (and for the next four weeks) we hear from Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6). This discourse has many themes, including Eucharist, messiahship, faith, and discipleship. Today’s gospel describes the sign that sets up the rest of the discourse; it has four elements:
- The timing. John tells us “the feast of Passover was near.” John wants us to connect Jesus’ sign of the multiplied barley loaves with the Passover events: the Passover meal, freedom from slavery in Egypt, the Sinai covenant, and the manna in the wilderness.
- The question. Jesus’ question to Philip (“Where can we buy food?”) stretches Philip’s understanding and faith. Philip gives a limited physical solution (“Two hundred days’ wages”). Andrew also gives a physical solution (“five barley loaves and two fish”). Philip and Andrew know their solutions are insufficient (“not enough,” “what good are these for so many”). Jesus’ solution is a spiritual sign that results in a superabundance (“more than they could eat.”)
- The sign. Jesus’ sign of the multiplied barley loaves prefigures the Eucharist. John uses the same formula (“took, gave thanks, distributed”) that we find in the Last Supper accounts–“he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it.” When Jesus “gives thanks,” John uses the word εὐχαριστέω (“yoo-kah-ris-TEH-oh”), the same word we use for the Eucharist. John presents this event as both an actual sign by Jesus and a liturgical sign for the believing community.
- The response. After experiencing Jesus’ sign, the crowd realizes that Jesus could be the “Prophet-like-Moses” foretold in Deut 18:15. In Jesus’ time, some rabbis taught that the messiah would give the people manna just as Moses gave the people manna in the dessert. Jesus knows that the crowds follow him because of his signs, not because they understand who he is. He rejects the crowds’ definition of messiahship and departs alone to the mountain.
Today’s readings present a complex sign. We can understand the multiplied barley loaves simply as an act of power–Jesus uses his power to feed the stranded crowd. But immediately we are presented with other ideas: God’s concern for our material needs (“Jesus distributed the loaves”), our role as disciples in feeding others (“where can we get enough food?”), our understanding of who Jesus is (“make him king”). RCIA participants and the whole believing community recognize this sign as an invitation to relationship with Jesus through the Eucharist. We find ourselves hungry on a mountain in the wilderness. Are we following Jesus because he gives us bread, or because he gives us himself? Do we make Jesus into a temporal ruler, or let him be the messiah? Do we anticipate Jesus’ response, or let his unexpected abundance come to us?