18B – Bread of life (John 6:24-35; Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15)
When you read the Gospel of John, you must always be aware of the broad canvas upon which John writes his Gospel. He is always mindful and aware of all that has gone on before in the past – the history of the people of God; and he is also aware of what may come in the future as he writes for us who will come after him – as we do the things that he talks about. So as John tells us the story of John 6 that we have just read, the one story that he clearly has in mind, and which everyone who was there with him in Capernaum would also have had in mind, was the story that we have just read – the story of Exodus 16, those days when the Lord gave them bread from heaven. The Lord fed and nourished his people. For when the people came to him and said – give us this sign – give us this food to eat: they are asking Jesus to show himself as the true Messiah. They want him to prove and prove that he is the one that they have longed for; the one who will lead them on the new Exodus. That was the role of the Messiah. So Jesus is wanting to both affirm that and wanting them to remember the true nature of the Exodus, and what was actually happening.
When we go back to that scene and that place in Exodus 16, there are a number of things that we need to be aware of. The real event that we call the Exodus – the night of the Passover when the Lord with mighty hand and outstretched arm led the people of God from slavery to freedom – where in the book of Exodus that this happen, in which chapter? In chapter 14 you have the marvellous story of the people escaping through the Sea of Reeds and then in chapter 15 the magnificent song of Miriam of praise and thanksgiving – the one that we sing each year at the Easter Vigil as the response to the Third Reading. Here in chapter 16 we are in the very next chapter after the incredible events of the Exodus. Very little time has passed. Verse 1, which is not part of our reading today, tells us that a few weeks have passed since those incredible events – when they left Egypt with this whole cacophony of people along with their flocks and their herds, their sheep and their cattle. They left ready with provisions; they didn’t leave empty-handed. They had plenty of food to eat because they knew that the journey would be long and hard. So here in chapter 16 when they complain and cry and out and say to the Lord ‘how could you do this to us?’; ‘how could you lead us to this barren place?’ In the end of chapter 15 all they do is complain about the lack of water. So the Lord gives them water to drink. Here the Lord doesn’t say, ‘well, just go away and leave me alone, if you are not going to be thankful.’ No, he feeds his people. He gives them this food to eat.
When the dew lifts in the morning from the camp, and the people see this white flaky substance that has come there from overnight, they look at it and they say ‘what the…?’ (man-nu?) The Hebrew word for ‘what’ is ‘man’, so they look at this stuff and say ‘man-hu’ – what is that? And Moses says no, not ‘man-nu’, but the bread from heaven. This food that the Lord gives us. They are fed by God. The Lord gives them this food to eat. But the Lord also wants them to know that they are on a journey; what he is doing is creating a people. A people who are being led from slavery to freedom. It is sometimes said that while it only took God one night/one day to take Israel out of Egypt, it takes 40 years that they are in the wilderness – those 40 years of beginning to trust in God; beginning to allow the Lord to feed them; those 40 years to take Egypt out of Israel. To take those desires away; to allow them to know that indeed they can trust in God; indeed the Lord will feed them. He will give the manna in the morning; he will give the quail in the evening. The Lord will lead his people; the Lord will feed his people.
I don’t know about you, but at times I think back on the past – I look back at those memories and those things that I have done in the past that I regret, that still burden me and which are still present. And then I need the bread of God. I need the life of God to feed me now. To remind me not to go back; not to go back to those times when the fleshpots looked so wonderful – but they weren’t. Because that was slavery. The Lord wants to free us; he wants to do the same as what he tried to do with the people in the desert. To purify us and give us that hunger for the true bread; for that true presence of the Lord.
Recorded at St Col’s – Vigil and Sunday morning (10min 30sec)
This year we have been reading from the Gospel of Mark. Last week we had the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing over the lake and coming to find a large crowd of people, which he set out to teach at some length. Rather than continuing the story from Mark, we interrupt the story and change to have an extended reading from the Gospel of John, so that we have his unique perspective. John’s gospel was written much later than the other gospels, probably late in the first century. You have this deeply reflective, theological and spiritual understanding of Jesus and the mysteries of the Church. One of the curiosities of John’s Gospel is that when you go to the Last Supper with John, there is no mention of Jesus blessing the bread; of Jesus taking the cup and telling the disciples that this is my blood. We can wonder – why aren’t what we call the Institution Narratives – the story of the institution of the Eucharist mentioned in John’s Gospel? It is because it is here, in this sixth chapter of St John. I invite you as we journey through this magnificent chapter over the next five weeks to take the time to prayerfully and slowly read through the chapter. Take the time to ponder these majestic words and allow them to sink deeply into our spirit.
Here in this Gospel, one of the things we must remember is that nothing ever happens by chance. Every word is carefully chosen to drive home this deep symbolic and rich meaning. The gospel begins with Jesus and his disciples going up a mountain. This should evoke every other mountain in the Scriptures – from Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb to Mount Tabor – all the other mountains in scripture that have that rich sense of those places that you go to be with God; where God will reveal his presence and his power and his majesty. Then it simply says that there Jesus sat down. We probably will miss the significance of this: in the ancient world a master would sit down and his disciples would also sit down at his feet in order that he could teach them. This was the symbol and gesture of teaching. So Jesus sat down to teach and instruct his disciples. It is why when we gather at the Eucharist we sit down to listen to the readings – to hear the word of God – and to allow the readings being proclaimed to nourish and enrich us. Hopefully this will also happen in the preaching of the priest as he tries to expound upon the words of God. John is reminding us that what is happening here in this scene is what happens every time that we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. First we sit down to allow the word of God to nourish us; to allow Jesus to teach us.
But then he says the Feast of Passover was drawing close. What happens at Passover? The Lamb of God is sacrificed. That lamb of God that allowed the people of God, the Hebrew slaves to escape the judgement of God upon the kingdom of Egypt. They remembered this every year as that time when God delivered them from slavery to freedom. This is the signal for John to remind us that we are moving from that time of teaching in the Mass into that time of sacrifice. Then Jesus looks and see this massive crowd of 5000 people approaching up the mountain. He says to the disciples ‘what are we going to do? How are we going to feed this huge crowd?’ Philip speaks the words that are on all their lips – even 200 Denarii or six-month’s wages – would not be enough to buy food to even give them a little bit to eat. Even that much money is not enough – and we don’t even have this much money. Then Andrew recognises at least something that is available. He says, well actually there is this little boy, this child has five loaves; he has a couple of fish. But what is that among so many? Perhaps that is what we sometimes think when we get to the offertory at Mass; when those few scraps of bread, that little jug of wine is brought forward as a sign and symbol of what our offering is; of what you as the people of God bring and what I as the representative of Jesus in this gathering receive on your behalf. Such fragile attempts – mere scraps – and yet we know and we trust that somehow in that the Lord will take it; the Lord will take our lives; the Lord will take what we can offer; he will take and he will receive. Jesus does this – he takes these small and fragile offerings of this young child and he gives thanks. That word, in Greek, is eucharisteo – it is why we call this gathering the Eucharist – because it is here that we give thanks; that we gather to give our return to the Lord – to bless him, to worship him and to offer our thanksgiving for all that he does through us and in us. So Jesus does this; he gives thanks to God – he prays the blessing of God to be upon this fragile offering which is our lives. Then he himself breaks and gives – a sign of those four central actions that are at the heart of every Mass. We take the offering of our lives, we give and bring up the gifts which are blessed in the Eucharistic Prayer; where they are broken at the Lamb of God, and then distributed to each of us so that we can feed.
Here, when Jesus feeds personally each of the people in this crowd – then everyone eats and is full. Everyone is satisfied at this feast. We have so many hungers – don’t we? We want pleasures, we want recognition; we want to be like everyone else; we want to have the thrill of money or of sex or of wealth or of whatever we want… But none of these things every truly satisfies. Even if we have our fill, even if we have the latest gadgets, even if we travel to the four corners of the world, we are never satisfied. But here in this place, when we are allowed to eat of the very life of God, when the Lord himself feeds us, then we can be satisfied; then our hearts and our longings and our desires can be filled and fulfilled in Christ. That is why he feeds us; that is why we gather to give thanks. That is why we bring those fragile offerings of our lives because the Lord always wants to work with us; he always wants to take what we can give and bless that, and multiple that and fulfil those deepest longings in our hearts and spirits.
The final curious detail that is given to us in the Gospel, is that Jesus instructs them to gather all the scraps and fragments together that are left over from the feast. It is the same thing that we do at the Eucharist – that we are very attentive even to the smallest fragment of this precious gift – because we want to gather it, we want to collect it so that others also can share in this gift. It is that sense of unity in being gathered. John tells us that there were twelve baskets full of scraps and fragments at the end of the feast – the twelve as that richly symbolic number representing the 12 tribes of Israel – that fullness of the whole people of God. All of us are called to be gathered in unity as his people; as different and diverse as we are we are called to come together in this place, for this Eucharist we are allowed to be one; we are allowed to be gathered into the great feast of the Lord. Today as we celebrate this Eucharist. As we allow the gifts of our lives to be brought up and to be offered; as I pray that great prayer of thanksgiving on your behalf when I ask the Spirit of God to come and fall upon these gifts to make them into the body and blood of Christ; as we break them and as we share them, know that the Lord himself is feeding our deepest desires and longings. He is bringing them all to be blessed and multiplied and in our turn we are invited to give thanks for this great gift of the Eucharist.
Recorded at St Columbkille’s, Vigil (10min)
Sunday 17, Year B. John 6:1-15
We meet the disciples of Jesus today as they return from their missionary journeys where they went out in pairs to not only proclaim the message of salvation but they were also tasked to heal the sick and bring release to those bound with evil spirits. They return no longer as disciples – but they are now called for the first time ‘apostles’ – that is ones that are sent. Seeing how tired and stressed they are, Jesus invites them to go across the lake to a wilderness area (eremos topos) – the same phrase that is used to describe the wilderness that Jesus spent the forty days at the beginning of the Gospel. But when they cross the lake they find the even larger crowd has hurried even more than they did and are waiting for them when they step ashore. Jesus models the ministry of shepherd by having compassion on the crowd and he sets about to teach them at some length. (So a long homily is a sign of the preacher’s compassion on the crowds.)
Paul also offers us an insight into the ministry of the shepherd by describing the alienation that his audience used to live in – they were both spiritually and physically excluded from the life of the Jewish people by the commandments of Moses and the wall that surrounded the inner courts in the Jerusalem temple which bore an inscription which warned any Gentiles (in Greek) that if they entered into the inner courts they should prepare to die. Sorry about that.
What happens in the life and death of Jesus is the beginning of the incredible process of reconciliation – the tearing down of all barriers to allow both Jews and Gentiles to no longer be two separate streams, but now one newly recreated humanity able to live in the grace and peace of God.
Recorded at St Col’s, Saturday Vigil and Sunday morning (9mins)
Sunday 16, Year B
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one that has endured across the centuries of the Christian Church. The image of the young Jesus as the shepherd bringing home the stray or wounded lamb has been found on the walls of the catacombs, and a statue of the Good Shepherd has also been found dating back to only 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, despite its popularity – or perhaps because of its popularity – there have been two unfortunate elements that have entered into our understanding of this image.
The first is the propensity of Christian ministers to adopt the title of pastor and this understanding for ourselves. But what is clear in the Gospel of John 10 is that there is only one Shepherd who is noble or beautiful (better translations than ‘good’) and that is Jesus the Messiah. All Christians are as sheep in comparison to the Lord – which means we are all rather stupid, smelly and tend to wander away and get lost. All of us need to be pastored by the Lord.
The second has also always been a problem, but with shrinking church attendance and membership is becoming more problematic. This is the tendency to understand the image of the shepherd in very safe and friendly terms. We picture the shepherd as the one who leads the sheep back into the nice, safe and warm sheepfold of the church. But in fact the image that is used at the beginning of John 10 is of Jesus leading the sheep out of the sheepfold into the broad and good lands that lie beyond the safety of the church yard. It is out in the wilderness that the church really needs the safety and protection of the Lord.
Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year B. Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am)
It is rare for a feast day to bump-off the Sunday liturgy – usually only the feast days and solemnities of the Lord or of our Lady (but only during Ordinary Time) – but today the dedication of a basilica in the city of Rome from back in the fourth century displaces the Sunday cycle of readings and prayers. So this must be some church. Which it is. Not only is it the oldest church in the western branch of Christianity, being the first church dedicated after the so-called ‘conversion’ of the Emperor Constantine, it remains to this day the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Rome and consequently the mother church of the whole Catholic world and the see for our holy father Pope Francis. But like the universal church, and the papacy, this particular church has a rich and diverse history including being sacked, burnt and destroyed by earthquake. It has also been repaired and rebuilt many times. It has also been the site of five Ecumenical Councils and was the location of the proclamation of the first Holy Year in 1300. Although small parts of the church date to its original dedication in 324, the majority of the present building only dates from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The readings today help to point us into much deeper mysteries then simply the fate of one particular church – even one as significant and beautiful as this.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (10min 58sec)
First Reading Eze 47:1–2, 8–9, 12;
Response Ps 46:5; Psalm Ps 46:2–3, 5–6, 8–9;
Second Reading 1 Co 3:9c–11, 16–17;
Gospel Acclamation 2 Ch 7:16;
Gospel Jn 2:13–22
The audio at the start of the homily today is from the video “Elijah” by Dan Stevers. Elijah in I Kings 17-18 is presented as the dude – the great hero of the people of Israel. He is able to break a 40 month drought, beat a chariot in a 30km race, raise the dead, call down fire in a contest with 450 prophets of the false God Ba’al. He is a verifiable super-hero and I suspect that most of the young children in Israel would want to be Elijah when they grew up. So it comes as a shock in I Kings 19 that his whole world-view has fallen apart. He flees for his life after Queen Jezebel threatens his life, going first to Beersheba in the southernmost point of the next Kingdom of Judah – well beyond the powers of King Ahab and Jezebel from the northern kingdom of Israel. But then leaving his trusted servant there, Elijah heads out into the wilderness and calls out to God to take his life because he has had enough – perhaps a little like Moses in Numbers 11. But instead the Lord provides food and drink for Elijah to give his strength for the journey. Elijah then sets out on a pilgrimage even further south across the Sinai peninsula to the mountain of the Lord – Mount Horeb (also called Mount Sinai). There he finds the cave that Moses had gone to when he wanted to experience the glory of the Lord (Exodus 33). The Lord first questions Elijah and then promises to make his presence felt. While Elijah waits on the side of the mountain, three mighty signs that normally signal the presence of the Lord are unleashed upon the mountain – the wind storm that is so strong that rocks are split and shattered (the sounds of the storm); an earthquake that continues to break apart the mountain (the feeling) and a fire that can be seen. But despite these mighty signs that can be heard, felt and seen, the Lord is not present in any of these signs and wonders. Instead Elijah hears the faintest whisper of a voice – literally ‘the sound of fine silence’ [qôl dĕmāmâ daqqâ].
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (13’17”)
Sunday 19, Year A. I Kings 19:9a,11-13a; Matt 14:22-33
When it comes time to celebrate Trinity Sunday it can be tempting to settle in for another discussion on this abstract and irrelevant theological idea. Yet the readings that are offered for this Year A cycle give the clear basis for why the divine dance of love that describes the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit is anything but abstract and in fact offers us a profound reflection about our very nature and identity.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’21”)
Trinity Sunday (ETA) Exodus 34; John 3.
In the program Grand Designs, host Kevin McCloud walks with people who are transforming often old buildings into new and beautiful designs. I had a little experience with this when I was in Nowra Parish and the old parish hall, which for many years was used by the school as classrooms, but had been laying abandoned for more than a decade. Because experts judged that the building’s fabric was essentially sound, it was better – and cheaper – to renovate the space for a new parish centre, rather than demolishing it and starting again. But once it had been gutted, many questions arose – such as how much space to allow for the various elements, like large meeting spaces, offices, catechist centre; do you keep the existing flooring / walls / ceiling, or do you add in a new ceiling to allow for air-conditioning and new lighting. The process is a little similar to what St Peter leads us through in the opening section of his first letter, which we will journey with during the season of Easter. Just as you need to examine the breadth, height and depth of a room to make sure it suits its purpose, so also in the Christian life we need to determine a similar reality.
Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (9’03’)
Second Sunday of Easter, Year A (Sunday of Divine Mercy)
1 Peter 1:3-9
The gospel that we just heard is one of those that makes you really wonder who Jesus is? What kind of person says something as outrageous as ‘If any man comes to me without hating (miseo) his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.’ (Luke 14:26-27) This seems to be the opposite of what Jesus says elsewhere, like in the Sermon on the Mountain, where he says ‘You have heard it said, love your neighbour and hate (miseo) your enemy, but I say to you Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:43-44) The word miseo is very strong – it is where you get the word misogynist (hatred of women) or misanthrope (hatred of humanity). Of course, in part it is classically a semitic usage that makes comparisons between two objects via a strong contrast rather than a simple comparison.
The teaching that Jesus gives here, even though it is addressed to the crowds, is meant for those who had followed for some time, rather than new disciples. Jesus wants to bring true freedom to these disciples, who then like now, can be so easily distracted by then many choices available. True freedom and hence joy comes when we are able to establish proper priorities – where Jesus is placed first and central in our lives. Then, and only then, can all the other things in our lives – including our family and friends be included. If we want to experience joy in our lives, then place Jesus first, then others, then you.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (8’38”)
Sunday 23, Year C. Luke 14:25-33
About a month ago I accepted the invitation of one of our parishioners – Peter – to go gliding with him. It is certainly an incredible experience as you are towed up a couple thousand metres by an old crop-duster, and then once you reach the designated height the cable connecting you to the plain is released and then you are on your own – somehow managing to glide and soar up there – and not crash. Rather cool – especially because the only noise (still fairly considerable) is of the air rushing past – you don’t also have the vociferation of motors. (more…)