21 ST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME "B"
AUGUST 25, 1991
Joshua 24. 1-2, 15-17,
18 -- Psalm 34 -- Ephesians 4.32 - 5, 2, 21-32 -- John 6. 53,
60 - 69
ST. MARY'S PARISH,
Gerald Regnitter; lay presider.
The readings of today's
liturgy present us with some really interesting images and messages.
The first reading shows us the people of Israel, newly delivered to
the promised land of Palestine, proclaiming and celebrating their determination
to serve the Lord.
The second reading
from Paul raises the hair on the back of the necks of people who believe
that it demeans women and distorts the relationship between men and
women. And yet, we know that Paul is searching for an example from
his time and culture which would explain just how deeply Christ loves
his people, his church.
The third reading
from the Gospel of John concludes the series from the last three Sundays
where Jesus tells us how intimately we need to be united with him in
order to have eternal life. We see that many were unable to accept
his invitation to eat his flesh, the bread of life.
While preparing this
reflection on the readings, I considered a whole series of choices.
I could talk about the example, of the Israelites accepting Jahweh
because he had proven his love for them, and how we could reflect on
God's love for us in the past and then make a similar declaration...
I considered talking
about what kinds of examples you or I would create to illustrate the
incredible and deep love of Christ for his church. What culture and
time-images would we use? I even dug out some old record albums to
listen to the love images our culture uses.
If you had the task
I have today, you would have found many additional choices coming from
our readings. The word of God is rich.
I found myself being
pulled back to the opening of today's Gospel and what I find to be
a very uncomfortable message.
In the Gospel we
hear that the Jews and many of the disciples of Jesus thought that
what Jesus had been saying about eating his flesh was " Intolerable
What would that mean?
The word the original language of the New Testament uses for flesh
means a body that is corruptible, smelly, diseased, and very, very
human. It was not some sanitized and germ free piece of unleavened
Well, what would be intolerable language for me today?
would be some message that does not make sense according to my thinking
or values. It would probably be something that I do not want to hear.
Maybe it would be
a message that told me that if I want eternal life I should sell everything
I have and live a life of poverty and service for the rest of my life.
That could be "intolerable". After all, didn't I work hard
for the benefits I have? Was I not just enjoying the results of good
efforts and initiative?
Maybe it would be
a message that told me that if I wanted to love God I would have to
really connect with some pretty undesirable people. People that I considered
slimy and pretty awful in nearly every respect. That message might
do it for me....
I have heard intolerable
messages in my life more frequently than I care to recall.
that haunts me even after many years is one I came across nearly 28
years ago. This was the message :" If
you want to know how much you love God, ask yourself how much you love
the person you love the least ... because that person is God."
I would like to argue
and say that this is not really so ... Have I not been told as well
that whatever care and love I show to any person is an expression of
love for God? If I am going to show love for the other parts of his
Body, why does it have to be the stinking and unpleasant parts?
If I am being honest
, I can't get away with that kind of logic.
And then I remember
that the message said that what I did to the "least" of his
brothers I was doing to him...
At the Saturday evening
mass at St. Michael's when I picked up the consecrated hosts for our
service today, Fr. Sheldon had a story that he used in his homily that
really fits our message today;
a rabbi going down the road with his disciples, and he asked them
'How can you tell precisely when darkkness becomes the dawn?' One
of the disciples thought for a while, and said, 'Rabbi, it must be
when there is enough light that you can tell the color of the flowers
beside the road.' ' No that is not the answer.' After a while a second
disciple siad, 'Rabbi, darkness becomes dawn when you can tell the
difference between the Eucalyptus and a fig tree.' ' No that is not
the answer either,' said the Rabbi. After more thought, a third disciple
said, ' Rabbi, darkness becomes the dawn when you can tell the difference
between the sillouette of a horse and of a donkey.' ' No, that is
not correct either' said the Rabbi. Finally a fourth disciple said
' Rabbi, we know you are trying to teach us something, please tell
us the answer. When is it that the darkness becomes the dawn?' The
Rabbi replied: ' It is darkness until when you look into the face
of your neighbour and see the face of God.' "
When I recite the
creed or hear a reading like today's message from St. Paul, I want
to turn away from certain messages and sort of not hear them -- you
know what I mean. I am sure you have a way of not really hearing all
kinds of things that are said to you by other people...
For example, do we
really hear Paul's message that we are all connected as parts of Christ's
body -- like a leg is attached to the torso, like the hand is connected
to the arm .... like a husband and wife are connected....
Well, that connectedness
brings us pretty close to and interdependent with an awful lot of body
parts that I have trouble liking.
For example, I have
trouble liking someone who is all over me slobbering drunk ... I have
trouble caring about someone that I have seen being cruel to a child...
I have trouble caring about someone who promotes a political or economic
policy that creates war and poverty in our society .... I have trouble
caring about someone who puts me down and makes me feel cheap -- especially
someone who points out my faults to me... someone who does not like
me at all...
Just take a second
and think about the people you really don't like and consider to be
slime or garbage kind of people....
I don't want to think
about being connected to them in a dependent and caring interrelationship,
even if that is what we pray about when we say in our Creed ... I believe
in the Communion of Saints. The Saints we pray about is the entire
community of God's people throughout time and geography.
When we proclaim
that basic statement of our Christian faith we are declaring something
that has implications that can be pretty intolerable. What we are declaring
is our belief that we are parts of Christ's body -- and that the connectedness
bought about by our baptism connects us to EVERYONE that has ever become
connected through God's call and invitation to them. That is all of
It connects us to
the Blessed Virgin that Trevor talked to us about last Sunday.... but
it also connects us to Hitler and to that father-in-law that is always
putting me down, and it connects me to people that have not even been
born yet --- it connects me to the people that are dying in convulsions
or in cancer pain or of hunger or in a drunken coma --- it connects
me to the brand new child that is right now being born in a slum in
Receife Brazil...A child who will become an abandoned child and be
killed by a death squad hired by a merchant to clean up the streets
in front of his store.
Think about it for
a moment .. we are part of this communion of saints -- we are part
of this body of Christ. We have been invited to become part of that
body by God's initiation to baptism ... and we have been united to
Christ by partaking of the Eucharist -- by eating his flesh and drinking
his blood --- the same flesh and blood that he was asking the Jews
and his disciples to consume if they wished for eternal life... That
was the intolerable message that Jesus delivered Can I accept this
message, or it also intolerable to me today?
Dare I approach his
altar and eat of this eternal bread? Dare I acknowledge my connectedness
and all of the frightening and glorious implications of that?
Of course not ..
I don't dare and I don't deserve --- I am not worthy to receive him
. We repeat that every Sunday before we accept his invitation to eat.
You and I are invited
and have been declared worthy by the actions of that same Jesus who
asks us what he asked his disciples ... " Does this upset you
? ... What about you, do you want to go away too?"
By ourself we do
not have the courage to accept this intolerable message ... we have
however the courage and strength that comes when we recognize God's
incredible love for us . We can look to the Israelites who had come
to know God's love by considering how God had cared for them during
their deliverance from Egypt and their 40 years in the desert. We can
reflect on our personal and community experience and say along with
Peter ... "Lord, whom shall we go to? You have the message of
eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of
Let us eat of the
bread that brings eternal life -- knowing that even though we do not
find ourselves worthy, God does, and his judgement is better than ours
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