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
After fifteen weeks of journeying through the seasons of Lent and Easter, we return today to what is often prosaically called “Ordinary Time” but which I prefer to call the Season of Growth or the Season of Discipleship. In the Gospel today from Mark we are reminded of this when Jesus tells two of his familiar parables about seeds, soil and growth.
Even when the beginnings are so small as to be almost hidden there is one thing that is always certain – at least in the economy of God’s life – and that is a rich harvest. The farmer scatters the seeds on the ground and night and day the seed sprouts and grows. This doesn’t mean that we should just sit back and allow God to do all the work! No, the image of a certain harvest promises that even when our efforts to announce the goodness of God’s kingdom may appear to be fruitless or insignificant, we should not be discouraged or give up. Despite the church buying into the modern obsession with statistics, the only evidence of success that we need is that the harvest will arrive.
In a similar way the parable of the mustard seed reminds us that kingdom is not about the huge and flashy greatness that other kingdoms attempt to build for themselves. The mustard bush is enough to provide shade for the birds of the sky.
In our more sophisticated experience of church, it can be tempting to imagine that we have to be success-driven and strive for the great and mighty events and seek power and influence. These parables should provide us with a warning that we cannot look down on the small beginnings and simple devotion of people. One person’s vocation is always precious, or a few people meeting together to seek God’s will for their life or to plan and pray often herald the beginning of some beautiful new initiative that is also part of God’s plan for new creation.
The challenge remains for us to discern how to be the best kingdom-workers and kingdom-explainers that we possibly can be in our own day.
Grace and peace.
We had the Mission Sunday Annual appeal this weekend, so only a short homily was preached to allow time to watch the Catholic Mission video and take up the collection. A Journey Radio reflection is also available.
Sunday 11, Year B.
Our first reading from Genesis 22 is often regarded as one of the finest examples of a short story in all or Western literature. In 19 short verses, the reader is taken on a terrible and shocking journey along with Abraham and Isaac – your only son, the son that you love – for three days until they reach the mountain of Moriah (which 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us would become the temple mount in Jerusalem). Although the reader knows that this is a test for Abraham, he is not in on that little secret; so we can only wonder how he endured these three days while he would have been beside himself in grief as he walked along with Isaac, prepared camps, ate meals together and shared stories around a camp-fire – and yet pretended that nothing was amiss in this horrible pilgrimage.
The lectionary reading skips over some of the details, so it well worth reading the full passage to see all the details – and especially the poignant exchange between Isaac – now carrying the wood that would be used to burn the sacrifice and his father, as in innocence Isaac looks up at his father and asks the powerful question: ‘here is the flint/fire and the wood – but where is the lamb of sacrifice?’ With the faith and obedient trust that has become Abraham’s greatest mark and honour, he answers with powerful prophetic insight: ‘The Lord himself, will provide the lamb – my son.’ We are left to wonder whether ‘the son’ is meant to be ironic – a hint from Abraham to Isaac of the darker purposes that he is being forced to embark upon. When they reach the summit of the mountain, there Abraham binds his son – an act that provides the title for this sacrifice – the Akedah of Isaac (or in Hebrew, Akeidat Yitzchak). We are not told how old Isaac is at this point – at the end of Genesis 21 we are simply told that ‘a long time passed’ so Isaac could be a young boy (yet old enough to carry a pile of branches), or a young man. Whatever his age, it seems that Isaac, who now knows that he is to be the lamb of sacrifice, allows himself to be bound and so offered to the Lord. He also seems to be the stronger one in the pair – since he is the one assigned to carry the wood for the fire of sacrifice.
It is only after Isaac, now bound, and placed upon the newly constructed altar, and as Abraham – presumably racked in grief and tears – reaches out with the knife to lunge it into the neck of his beloved son. As he begins to bring the knife down, it is then that the angel of the Lord intervenes to prevent this heinous crime of human sacrifice from taking place. Then we are informed that a short distance away, a ram is caught up in the bushes, and so is available to take the place of Isaac and be sacrificed. Note it is a ram – not the lamb that Abraham prophesied. After this passage, any careful reader of scripture should be looking for this lamb – when will God come through and answer this promise? When will God finally provide the lamb of sacrifice?
Recorded at St Columbkille’s 9am – with the assistance of Daniel, a whole lot of rope and a huge knife from the presbytery kitchen.
The recording from the Vigil Mass is also available (where Mark assisted me): http://www.frrick.org/
Lent, Sunday 2, Year B.
Genesis 22:1-19; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10
In trying to understand the bible, for me, one of the most important questions to ask about any particular passage is – what is the context? Where does this passage fit within (for example) the ministry of Jesus and in this case – the Gospel of Matthew. Once we do this, it should become quickly clear that the primary interest of Jesus in giving the reply to this unlikely coalition force of the Pharisees and the Herodians is not to answer for all time the question of the proper relationship between the church and the state. Although many more conservative church leaders have used this text in this way, it should be clear that in these final days before his arrest Jesus is dealing with the situations that are being presented to him. The leaders of the Pharisees send some of their disciples with some Herodians – the pro-Roman supporters of King Herod. Since the Pharisees are mostly made up of ordinary and sincere followers of the Torah who would have rejected the Roman rule and authority and would certainly have opposed the hated additional tax that Rome had imposed. The question that is put to Jesus is very clever and brilliant as such things go. Jesus is set up for a fall if he answers this badly, since to say yes – it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor would have put him offside with the majority of the population who hated the tax; but to say no would make him liable to accusations of treason and his immediate arrest by the Romans would have been inevitable. So he asked for one of the denarius coins that were used to pay the tax. These Roman issued coins were forbidden from being in the temple area, because they were considered to be clearly blasphemous and idolatrous, containing as they did the image of the emperor and the title which claimed that he was divine and the high priest. Such coins should have been exchanged outside the temple for the Jewish equivalent which did not contain such images. In declaring that we must ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperors, and to God the things that are God’s’ Jesus reminds us that in fact all things properly belong to God: all of our lives and all that we possess are gifts that we have received from the Lord.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9m12s)
Sunday 29, Year A. Matthew 22:15-22
“Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.” So much of this season of Lent is acknowledging how true this – that we stand before each other as sinners. This cry attempts to express something of our need for God – to be healed. By myself, I cannot do this; but with the grace and compassion of God, I can achieve the impossible – a life of holiness with God.
This response to the Psalm today in this Ash Wednesday marks the necessity of the invitation that every Christian receives today to return to the Lord, the God of mercy. We are invited into a way of life that acknowledges our own poverty – a poverty that the Lord himself knows about because he experienced it in his own life.
We are invited into the more during this season of Lent. So often we accept a vision that is too small, rather than the richness of his life – a life of holiness and purpose.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9am (05’19”)
This Sunday, Bishop Peter Ingham’s Lenten Pastoral message – “This is Christian Hope: That the Future is in God’s Hands” – replaced the homily in all churches across the Diocese. You can watch the video here. Consequently, I did not preach nor record a homily this week. However, the homily from three years, recorded at St John Vianney Church in Fairy Meadow a few days after the devastating Christchurch earthquake is available below.
The fact that Jesus repeats a phrase seven times in our Gospel reading today perhaps suggests that there is something he wants us to learn. In a world that values money, security and wealth much more highly than the glories of God’s creation, the words of Jesus invite us to embrace a different way of being. One imagines that when Jesus preaches the sermon on the mount, he was surrounded by the lilies of the field in the Galilee spring and as he gestures upwards to the birds of the air there were many wheeling and flying free – just the same as Jesus lived and calls his disciples to live in the same freedom – embracing the amazing gifts of creation and the bounty and generosity of God.
Recorded at SJV, 8.30am (8’45″)
Sunday 08A. Matthew 6:24-34
The feast of the Presentation of the Lord, celebrated forty days after Christmas, brings the nativity stories to an end. It is a very Jewish feastday, concerned as it is with the purification of the mother after giving birth to a son (the purification period was doubled for the birth of a daughter – WTF?) and the redemption of the first-born son, in fulfilment of the Mosaic law. The story in the Gospel of Luke also brings the series of stories about the birth of Jesus to a conclusion, with only the final story of the the holy family travelling to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve years old (and on the cusp of manhood). Over the course of these stories, a whole series of figures is given to us in different life situations – from a couple in their middle years (Zechariah and Elizabeth), to a pair of teenagers just starting out (Mary and Joseph) and today two people in their older years who are ready after a faith-filled life to return to their maker. In the midst of all of these examples, Jesus provides the constant theme of a God who is near; a God who fits into all kinds of different situations and circumstances – as an older brother who shares our same human experiences and even our own temptations.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’09”) – includes final blessing at Mass.
Luke 2:22-40; Hebrews 2:14-18.
When John the Baptist, sees his cousin Jesus coming towards him, it seems a little odd to declare “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Presuming that John has not simply forgotten the name of his cousin, there must be something much deeper going on. As we have often seen before, one of the best ways to understand a word or phrase that seems to be out of context is to begin by looking through scripture and see where the word first appears. This is called the ‘principle of first mention.’ So when we do this, we find that there is even more odd story in the pages of the book of Genesis, in chapter 22. The Rabbis called this story where Abraham is called by God to take his son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice the “Akeda Sacrifice.” We recall that Abraham had been called by God to leave behind the security of his homeland to go to a place that God will show him, whereby he will become the father of a great nation. After many years of waiting, the Lord finally answers this promise when Abraham and Sarah give birth to a son, whom they call Isaac – the child of laughter. Some unspecified years have passed when the Lord calls Abraham to take “your son, your only son Isaac (in case Abraham is confused), whom you love,” and sacrifice him in the wilderness. Even though we are 22 long chapters into the Book of Genesis, this is the first time that the word ‘love’ appears in scripture. That has got to be significant!
Not knowing exactly what is to unfold, but trusting somehow in the creative goodness of God, Abraham does what he is told and journeys into the wilderness with his son and two servants. On the third day Abraham lifts up his eyes and sees the place in the distance. Leaving the servants with the donkey, he loads the wood upon Isaac and they travel the final distance to the mountain. It is here that Isaac asks the question that will burn in the hearts of believers until the day that Jesus offers his own life: “Father… behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham answers in a most prophetic way: “God himself will provide the lamb.” Father and son arrive on the mountain top, and they build an altar and prepare the wood for the sacrifice. He binds his son (which is where the word ‘akeda’ comes from) – Isaac seems unusually compliant through all of this, especially if he could be a fourteen or sixteen year old man at this point and could easily fight back against this act of child cruelty – and lays him down on the altar, with hand poised on the knife, ready to slaughter his son. It is at this point that God intervenes – phew! Abraham looks up in answer to the voice of the angel ordering him to stay his hand, and he sees caught there in the thickets of a nearby bush – not a lamb – but a ram, able to be offered in sacrifice. Abraham names the place ‘Moriah’ – the Lord will provide. [It is on this same place that hundreds of years later King Solomon will build the temple.] So yes, God provides the ram – but not the lamb for the sacrifice. So the people of God began to ask – when will God provide the lamb? Who is the lamb of God?
Recorded (badly) at QCCC Mt Tamborine, during Ignite Summer Camp.
Gospel proclaimed by Fr Morgan Batt, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Brisbane.
Sunday 2, Year A. John 1:29-34
The baptism that St John was offering in the Jordan River was a great challenge to the Jerusalem Temple. The main practical function of the temple was to provide a place on earth where worshippers could go and be cleansed by ritual baths and offering sacrifices. John was indicating that he did not accept the efficacy of the whole system of worship that his own father had been a priest for. Instead he offered a different way to be cleansed of your sin and to start in a fresh and new way, by being immersed in the waters of the Jordan River as a sign that you were turning away from a life of sin and choosing to follow in the ways of the Lord. So when Jesus presented himself for baptism in all his perfection and you-know – all that godliness stuff – it would have been a great shock to his cousin John. He knew that Jesus was different from everyone else in Galilee. He knew that his heart had never turned away from the ways of the Lord. He did not have anything to repent from. But Jesus will not listen to his objections and he wades down into the water and stands there in the middle of all the other sinners.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (8’05”)
Baptism of the Lord, Year A. Isaiah 42″1-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17
Image: © Plsa | Dreamstime Stock Photos