||Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
||Heb 11:1-2, 8-19
Discipleship: watching and waiting for the Lord’s return
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 examine a disciple’s responsibilities while awaiting Jesus’ return.
The first reading from the book of Wisdom is a retelling of the Passover story that emphasizes the patriarchs’ faith. This first reading sets up parallels between Israelites awaiting the Passover (today’s first and second readings) and the believing community awaiting the Lord’s second coming (today’s gospel).
The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews discusses God’s promises to Abraham (a great nation and land) that God fulfilled through the Mosaic law and the promised land. Faith–“the realization of things hoped for”–connects Abraham and Isaac to Christian eschatology. Like the patriarchs, the believing community remains “strangers and aliens seeking a homeland.” Our faith in God’s promises tells us that our home is in God’s kingdom at the messianic banquet.
Luke’s gospel is a collection of four parables that stresses our need for faithful watchfulness while we await Jesus’ parousia (second coming). The four parables are: (1) the lord who serves (Lk 12: 35-38), (2) the thief’s coming (Lk 12: 39-40), (3) the slaves appointed house-managers (Lk 12: 42-46), and (4) the slaves who ignore or don’t know the lord’s will (Lk 12: 47-48). Throughout these parables, Luke uses the Greek words κύριος (KOO-ree-os) meaning “lord,” and δοῦλος (DOO-los) meaning “slave.” To see Jesus’ message, we will look at the first parable:
- The lord who serves: The lord (κύριος) is at a wedding feast in his home. The slaves (δοῦλος) wait for him in the house’s private quarters. The lord slips out of the feast unexpectedly and returns to his private quarters. When the lord knocks, the waiting servants admit him. In a shocking cultural reversal, the lord ties up his wedding robe and waits on his slaves, serving them himself with food from the wedding feast.
- Luke’s meaning: By the time Luke writes his gospel (mid-80’s), the believing community has started to lose faith in the Lord’s return. Luke’s Jesus tells his disciples to be prepared for his return, which can happen at any time. Jesus (the κύριος) promises to reward faithful disciples (his δοῦλος) with a share in the wedding feast (the messianic banquet, God’s kingdom). In answer to Peter’s question Jesus tells three more parables with the same message of faithful waiting. The parables are meant for all disciples, but those who lead the ekklesia have greater obligations (see the third parable about the slaves appointed house-managers).
This week’s readings highlight the tension between God’s promises and the fulfillment of those promises. We hate to wait! Why doesn’t Jesus hurry up? Our ancestors in faith thought of it this way: Just as the Jewish people expect the messiah to return during the Passover celebration, the early Christians expected Jesus’ parousia to occur at the paschal event (Easter). When the Lord did not return at the midnight vigil, the Christian community celebrated the eucharist, in which Jesus comes in advance (through the sacraments) of his final coming. As disciples, we make God’s kingdom present now, in this world. Jesus is present to us now in the sacraments. What are we waiting for?
|1 Kgs 19:4-8
||Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
The bread of life: real food for our wilderness trip
In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue our five-week meditation on the Eucharist and faith.
The first reading from 1 Kings is a story about Elijah, a prophet in the northern kingdom (Israel). In a contest between God and Ba’al (the chief Canaanite god), God and Elijah defeat Ba’al and Ba’al’s priests. Queen Jezebel forces Elijah into exile. In the wilderness, Elijah prays for death because he has been unable to turn the Israelites back to God. God gently touches and tenderly feeds Elijah with miraculous food to sustain Elijah for his long trip to Mount Horeb/Sinai.
The gospel continues John’s “Bread of Life” chapter (Jn 6). Last week we heard the beginning of Jesus’ teaching (or discourse) on the meaning of unperishable food: faith in Jesus as the continuing revelation of God, the new manna, the bread of life. Today’s gospel includes the following elements:
- The crowd murmurs and objects: The crowd “murmurs about” Jesus because he says he is “the bread coming down from heaven.” The word translated here as murmur is the Greek word γογγύζω (“gog-GOO-zoh”), Exodus (Ex 16:2) uses γογγύζω to describe the Hebrews grumbling or complaining to Moses about starving in the wilderness. John uses γογγύζω to connect the crowds’ complaint with the Hebrews’ complaint. In both cases, God provides the people with manna or bread from heaven. The crowd also complains because “they know” who Jesus is–Joseph’s son–and “they know” his father and mother. A contemporary translation would be: “Who does this guy think he is?” The crowd rejects Jesus as a qualified messenger and they complain about his message.
- Jesus corrects the crowd’s misconceptions: “Stop grumbling!” says Jesus. You may think you know who I am because you know my father and mother, but my heavenly Father is the one speaking here. The Father’s work is to bring everyone to faith in Jesus (Jn 6:29); the result of faith is eternal life–“raised on the last day.” Like a good rabbi, Jesus supports his assertion with scripture: “They shall all be taught by God.” (Is 54:13). Jesus, who is from God and who has “come down” teaches the people–but they must listen to learn. Only when they stop murmuring and listen can they hear Jesus, the new living manna coming down from heaven, tell them about the gift of eternal life. Jesus is the bread of life–the new Torah, God’s teaching that gives eternal life.
- Jesus raises the discussion to a higher level: “I AM the living bread. The bread I will give is my flesh.” Jesus goes further: not only is he the new manna–the new Torah–coming down, but he will also give the world his flesh to eat (literally “consume” or “devour”). In this Eucharistic teaching, Jesus promises to give his crucified and glorified body (and blood)–himself–to those who believe.
Today’s readings ask each RCIA participant and every believing community member to examine his or her faith and idea of God. Elijah was worn out from his work and mission and wanted to give up. We might have expected God to thunder against Elijah and punish him for his lack of faith. Instead God treats him tenderly, feeding Elijah for his forty-day journey. Jesus offers us–often tired and discouraged–eternal food, himself as food for our journey. Can we stop grumbling about God long enough to hear what God is telling us? Can we stop seeing the Jesus we want long enough to see Jesus as he is?