22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Year B

Dt 4: 1 – 2;  Mk 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23

A few moments ago the lector having read form the Scriptures proclaimed to us, “This is the Word of God”, and we enthusiastically responded, “Thanks be to God”.

Do we really believe that our Scriptures are the Word of God?

Then why is it that some, possibly many of us, seldom read and reflect on the Word of God?  How l is it that we just do not see the Bible as essential to our spirituality?

Pope John Paul, in 2002 reminded us that, “Scripture is the first source of all Christian Spirituality.”  Each one of us is trying to live out our lives to the best of our ability.  We all want to be the best possible people we can.  We all want those around us, friends and family to achieve the same goal, and in doing this we will make the world a happier place for all.

John Paul gives us the recipe for making our world, happier, more peaceful, a better place for all.  He tells us that “Christ is truly present in his Word and in the Sacraments especially the Eucharist.  Recognising him requires a gaze of faith which is acquired through habitual reading of the Word of God.”

If we want to get to know and understand Jesus; if we want to build a relationship with Jesus; if we want to learn and take on the values and ideals of Jesus; then the place to start is our Scriptures.  Every Sunday the Church gives us three readings from the Old and New Testaments.  Why not use these readings for prayer and reflection throughout the week?  Devote a little times to this practice each day – say ten minutes.  Monday and Tuesday use the first reading. The second reading is for Wednesday and Thursday.  Friday and Saturday reflect on the Gospel.

To-day’s liturgy opened with Moses proclaiming to the people,

“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live.”  This reading comes from the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book in the Bible.  We need to page back to Exodus to find the original story.  There we learn how the Hebrew people having escaped from the slavery of Egypt and after a long trek arrived at Mount Sinai. It was there that they entered into a covenant with God.

“I will be your God and you will be my people.”

Sinai is usually associated with the people receiving the Ten Commandments.  Scholars tell us that the original Hebrew word we usually translate, commandments, can also be translated as commitments.  What a difference it would make to our spirituality if we regard them as the Ten Commitments we make to the Almighty.  Instead of ten laws imposed from above by a mighty, powerful God, we would see ourselves and God in a loving partnership – we accept these ten bits of sound advice and voluntarily commit ourselves to them.

Indeed, this is what actually happened.

Exodus 24 describes the ceremony celebrating the Covenant between the Hebrew people and God.  During the ceremony Moses reads out the ten commitments.

“Moses wrote down all the Words of the Lord”.   Then “Taking the book of the covenant, Moses read aloud to the people, who answered, ‘All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.”

Perhaps your response to this new insight is, “That is very interesting but I would never have figured that out for myself.”

I quite agree with you.  However the help, to grow in understanding the Word of God, is available.

James, in the second reading encourages us to follow this new approach to life.  “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.  Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Once again we are called back to the basics of our faith.  Christ is truly present in his Word.  Christ is truly present in the Scriptures.  The Scriptures are truly the Word of God.

This may surprise you – but we have Pope John Paul’s word that it is true.  Surely we are being invited to pick up the Scriptures and make the reading of the Word part our daily spiritual lives.  Surely the Bible should be our first book of prayer.

The Second Vatican Council stated very clearly how the leadership of the Church see this.

“The Council, earnestly and specifically urges all the Christian faithful, to learn by frequent reading of the divine scriptures the ‘excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ”.  This is what our religious practice in all about.  The more we get to know and understand the Scriptures, the better we will know and understand Jesus – and then – we will follow in his footsteps.

How are we going to respond to this call?

The solution is easy.

  • Start reading a little scripture each day from the Sunday readings.
  • Go to the website of the Catholic Bible Foundation, www.catholicbible.org.za.  There you will find, every second week, a short explanation of the Gospel Reading.
  • Start to-day.

“Your Words are spirit Lord, and they are life; you have the message of eternal life.”

Article 44: The Word of the Lord

Part 1

Yahweh, your God, is in your midst; a mighty saviour. He will exult with joy over you. He will renew you by his love. He will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.  Zp 3: 17

How could Zephaniah have come to such an amazing and unique understanding of God?  He must have enjoyed a very unique relationship with his God. We too are called into a similar relationship. “But how on earth is my relationship going to reach such a depth,” you may well ask?

Pope Benedict XVI gives us the answer.

“I remind all Christians that our personal and communal relationship with God depends on our growing familiarity with the Word of God. To everyone the Lord says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  (Rev 3: 20)  (124)

* * * * * * *

In 2008 Pope Benedict assembled Bishops from all over the world for a Synod. The topic of discussion was, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” Based on the discussion he published a document in which he addresses the findings of the Bishops.  This document is titled “Verbum Domini” (The Word of the Lord). The quotation given above  comes from the final paragraph. Pope Benedict obviously regards Verbum Domini as very important and so should we. He is convinced that the Bible should be an essential part of our spirituality.

“ This sacred Synod earnestly and specifically urges all the Christian faithful, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “ excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ.” prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine sayings.”    (25)

Is this teaching new? Certainly not!  John Paul II frequently spoke and wrote about the importance of the Bible for our spiritual lives.  In 2002 he wrote:

“In the new millennium we are called to contemplate Christ with a gaze fixed, on the face of the Lord.  But where does one concretely contemplate the face of Christ? Christ is truly present in his Word and in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.  Recognizing him requires a gaze of faith which is acquired through the habitual reading of the Word of God. (23)

Do we really appreciate the importance of the Word of God in our lives? Is it possible that we are being given a wake-up call? Now is the time for us to start reading the Scriptures regularly. The Church makes this really easy for us. The Liturgical readings for the year are  the official Scripture reading programme for an entire year.

One often hears that Christianity is a religion of the Book. This is not quite correct. The Synod Fathers tell us that God speaks to us in a variety of ways.

They rightly referred to a symphony of the Word, to a single word expressed in multiple ways. Jesus Christ is truly the Word of God. The Word of God, divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. God has spoken through the prophets and the Word preached by the Apostles. Creation itself is an essential part of the symphony.   (7)

Our faithfulness to reading and praying the Word of God is not just a personal matter. Not surprisingly, the Synod called for:

“a greater “biblical apostolate”, not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all  pastoral work.  There should be a commitment to emphasizing the centrality of the Word of God in the Church’s life. This does not mean adding a meeting here or there in parishes, but rather of examining the ordinary activities of Christian communities and associations. Just imagine the transformation that would follow if  the Women of St Anne, the Knights of  da Gama and every other Church organization committed themselves to making the Word of God central to living out Christianity. (73)

The Scripture message will come to life in a way that helps the faithful to realise that God’s Word is present and at work in their everyday lives. (59) Our Christian Journey to Christ will be based on the Word of God.  Our spiritual life will be based on the Word of God.  Through prayerful and frequent reading of the Bible we will, with time, deepen our personal relationship with Christ. How could we live without the knowledge of Scripture, by which we come to know Christ himself, who is the life of all believers?

Let us go forth proclaiming the Word everywhere by the witness of our lives. May the Lord himself, as in the time of the prophet Amos, raise up in our midst a new hunger and thirst for the Word of God. (91)

Numbers in brackets indicate the paragraph in Verbum Domini.

19th Sunday of Ordinary time, Year B

John 6: 41 – 51

Come Holy Spirit make us holy.

Fill our hearts with a burning desire for the Truth, the Way and the Fullness of Life.  Enkindle in us your fire that it may make us into light that shines and warms and consoles.  Let our heavy tongues find words to speak of your love and beauty.  Make us a new creation so that we become people of love, your holy ones, visible words of God; then we will renew the face of the earth and everything will be created anew.  Amen.

The Gospels were written to be read to a public audience.  (Our practice of private reading is a fairly recent development.)  The authors needed to use various techniques to hold their audience’s attention.  Repetition was often used to lay emphasis on what was important.

* * * * * * * *

For example:

I have grouped some of the repetitions which I invite you to read aloud, with meaning and feeling, as they might have sounded originally.

41 … I am the bread that came down from heaven.

48I am the bread of life.

50 … this is the bread that comes down from heaven

51I am the living bread that has come down from heaven.

44 … I will raise him up on the last day.

47 … everybody who believes has eternal life.

50 … eat and not die.

51 … will live forever.

Now read Jn 6: 41 – 57.

Let us begin our reflection by re-visiting the beginning of Chapter 6 where we have the feeding of the two crowds.

In your imagination picture Jesus seated, talking to his disciples and the Jewish people who had followed him across the lake.  A bunch of local pagans approach. There is an uneasiness stirring among the Jewish people.  The disciples are even more uncomfortable.  How is Jesus going to react?  Hopefully he will put these people in their place and send them packing.  But, NO!!  He welcomes them and they join everybody else.  “How could he”, think many in the crowd!!

The teaching really begins in earnest when Jesus suggests they share a picnic together, even offer each other something to eat.  Remember, this sharing was started by the little boy.  Was he a pagan? Probably!!!

Slowly the barriers begin to come down. Pagans and Jews begin to see their neighbours as people.  Differences of race, religion, customs, begin to come tumbling down.  Jesus invitation is a breath of fresh air blowing away their prejudices. He is the bread of life..

Two thousand years later Jesus’ teaching is just as relevant. We continue to label and exclude people as sinners, unclean, inferior, defective …

We all believe that after death we will have a different kind of existence. What this will be we really do not know.  The fact that “Eternal life” appears so frequently in the Gospels suggest that this term also applies to the here and now.  Now is the only moment we have. It is now that we forgive, let go of our prejudices, reach out to others, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger …

We all want to live our lives in happiness, have ‘eternal life’. This search for happiness will not be satisfied with just meeting our basic human needs for food and shelter.  Our aspirations go much higher to love, education, pleasure.  But remember Jesus calls us to service of those who are close to us and to those who have little. We need to share with others. By following Jesus example we to will live life to the full. We will have eternal life.

It is certain that our God wants the very best for everyone of us. We have been gifted with so many talents and our God wants us to put these to the best possible use.

We have the perfect example in Jesus.  He has shown us how to live to the full.  His example, teachings and words have been written down for us – His WORD –  the Scriptures – living bread.  The more we read the Word, the better we come to know Jesus and the more likely that we will adopt his way of life.

How can a person resemble God?  As John reflected on Jesus’ life he realized that Jesus must really be very like God.  We in our turn can resemble Jesus.  As we take on Jesus’ values so little by little what was said of Jesus could be said of us.

Look at Jesus’ life and you will find this description of God reflected there.

Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt

and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;

Who does not persist in anger forever,

but delights rather in clemency,

and will have compassion on us,

treading underfoot our guilt?

You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.  Mi 7: 18 – 19

Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain,

that he may instruct us in his ways.

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares

and their spears into pruning hooks;

One nation shall not raise the sword against another,

nor shall they train for war again.

O house of Jacob come let us walk in the light of the Lord.   Is 2: 3 – 4

All peoples come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Article 42: The God of Order

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The year is 550 BC. The Hebrew people have lost the war with Babylon. The
destruction was unbelievable. Families have been destroyed, livelihoods gone,
security non-existent, all is chaos for a people in exile. In the midst of this tragedy
a priest ponders how to reconcile the beauty of creation with this mess. Where is
God? What kind of a God do we have?

He starts writing: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.”

How to continue? Why not tell a story about the first week when all began.

He ‘knows’ how the world is structured. The Earth is a solid, flat disk. The sky
above is a dome holding back an ocean of water. There are doors in the dome
which God opens to allow rain and snow to fall. Under the earth there is another
water supply from which the oceans and springs are supplied. The earth will not
float, so it is supported on solid columns. Nobody has ever questioned what the
columns rest on! The sun, moon and stars hang from the ceiling above. “Sheol –
the place of the dead” has to be below the earth’s surface because that is where
dead bodies go. God lives in the heavens, way above the dome and the upper water
supply.

The writer tells of eight acts of creation spread over six days and God rested on the
seventh. The priest believed in the sacredness of the Sabbath so he had to have
God resting on the Sabbath. Two acts of creation will have to take place on the third

to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars.” Why speak
of small and big lights? Why not use sun and moon. In Babylon the Sun and Moon
were regarded as gods and Yahweh is not about to sow confusion by creating other
gods. God is one.

The oceans and the atmosphere are next to receive God’s attention. These are
decorated with the birds and the fish and once again this creation receives a
blessing.

The dawning of the sixth day commences with God decorating the earth (created
on the third day) with animals. The house is now complete. It is time for the family
to occupy their new home. Humanity is created. “God created man (humanity) in
the image of himself; in the divine image he created them (humanity); male and
female he created them.” God’s children have taken up residence and “we” strongly
resemble him.

Where are the groceries? The animals get the green plants for sustenance. To us
He says; “I give you all plants that bear seed, and every tree that bears fruit; they
shall be your food.” (1: 29) We will have to wait till Gen 9: 3 before we can enjoy
a ‘braai’.

Did God restore order to the lives of the exiled people? He did. Cyrus of Persia
allowed them to return home in 538 BC.