1st Reading – 2 Chronicles 36: 14 – 23
Along with Ezra and Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles represent a type of ‘history’ of the people of Israel from their origins to the period of reconstruction AFTER the exile. The world had changed. The author exalts David even more than he is exalted in Kings 1 & 2; the exile was viewed more as the people’s failure to worship Yahweh. But in today’s reading, we hear God hating the sin but loves the sinner. God is always ready to forgive at the first sign of a repentant heart, (M. Birmingham’s W&W Wkbk for Yr B, p. 214).
“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the person who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness,” (J.C. Arnold’s Why Forgive?, p. 44).
2nd Reading – Ephesians 2: 4-10
The theology in this letter is in sharp contrast to the retributive-type justice we see in the first reading. How does this writer see God working in human history?
To many Greeks philosophical systems and self-improvement ideas were seen as ways to great human capabilities. To them the ‘saving act’ was knowledge. The Christian writer who composed this letter is trying to emphasize that ‘salvation’ is God’s transforming gift to sinners. The writer was trying to stress that God’s great love (revealed and given freely to us in Jesus) is not a reward for good works or great knowledge. Yet, a life of good deeds is the natural outcome, (Celebration, March 2003).
God is personal. God is not a by-itself, or an in-itself, or an in-and-of itself, but rather God exists in a communion of persons toward one another in self-giving Love, revealed in Word and Spirit in human life, in history, in the world. God is immutably toward us and for us in the self-giving Love that is constitutive of the divine life. All reality is personal. Everything that exists is from God, in God, for God, who is God precisely in the relations of interpersonal self-giving Love: Father, Son, Spirit, (M. Downey’s Altogether Gift, p. 62).
The Gospel – John 3: 14-21
John’s Gospel is one of darkness and light; this contrast is used throughout it. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night (verse 2) looking for new life. We later find Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion anointing Jesus’ body with over a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. (John 19: 38-42)
In the Book of Numbers the Israelites while wandering in the desert complained about being hungry, thirsty, — then when serpents began to bite them, they were sure that God was punishing them. Moses prayed to God and God told Moses to make a fiery serpent out of bronze and put it on a pole. Anyone bitten by a snake could look upon the bronze serpent and be saved from death. In this gospel, Jesus compared himself to this serpent — the one lifted up who can save us from death. (Sunday by Sunday, March 2003)
The contradiction in the paschal mystery is that what we abhor — the cross — becomes the instrument of redemption. God saves Israelites from death. Yet, in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ we must embrace death for the only way to eternal life is by dying to ourselves. In this ‘dying’ we can then allow ourselves to be lifted up like Christ. Our good works — reaching out to others, working to improve the world around us, caring and acting kindly and justly– all of this is ‘being lifted up’ — being crucified so we might live. We sometimes choose to do difficult things – not because the suffering is good but because the end is good. (Living Liturgy, 2003)
Light and believing is important in this gospel. The light = Christ who enables us to see; seeing is believing — it is also activity. John’s gospel uses the verb believe 98 times — never is the noun used. Both believing and not believing is expressed in actions. Those who do not believe hate the light and do ‘wicked things’ and their ‘works are evil.’ To come into the light exposes evil deeds. The one who lives the truth is the one who does the truth. A Christian must live the choice for Jesus with one’s whole life. (Living Liturgy, 2003)
Sometimes wouldn’t we really rather be able to ‘save ourselves’? Wouldn’t we like to point to our successes, our virtues, our improvements, our earnestness — all our efforts and deeds? But salvation is not our doing and at least on ‘bad days’ we are grateful for that. Maybe like Nicodemus we come to Jesus in the dark and only when we trust God’s rich mercy and abundant grace can we finally come to not fear the light. We do not so much achieve our salvation as we entrust ourselves to it – by God’s love and favor we are saved. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In the end our faith must help us ‘deal with’ the suffering in life. It is the ‘test’ of every religion to try to answer this question: “what are we to do with our pain? In and with Jesus we can face the reality of pain, suffering, rejection – even death – and then let this reality transform us. This is the ‘Paschal Mystery’ of Jesus – the dying and rising that is a part of our lives. If we do not transform pain, we will transmit it. (from Richard Rohr)
Reading 1: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
This is a story of a people in relationship with their God. It is a story of sin and grace, bondage and deliverance. The exodus-event, then and now, was the axis upon which Israel’s history spun, just as the cross is the axis upon which Christianity revolves. While there is no certain date for the book, most scholars place it around 13 BC. (Word & Worship, Birmingham, 593)
Manna was a sweet substance excreted from insects that lived in the Sinai desert. It is left on the leaves of the tamarisk shrub during May and June. It cools overnight, drops to the earth and becomes firm. If left on the ground, it would soon melt again; but if it is gathered in the early morning, it provides a tasty, nourishing feast. It is still eaten today. The word ‘manna’ may be from the Aramaic man hu, or what is this?. Quail are migratory birds that often fall from exhaustion over the desert. Both are regarded as gifts from God. (594) What do you see as the gifts from God in your life? At a time when the Israelites may have been the least-deserving of help, God showers them with nourishment.
Reading 2: Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
This reading is all about choice. How do we become the people that God calls us to be? How do we say no to doing wrong and yes to doing right? Sometimes our bad habits are just that…habits. Sometimes it is easier to keep doing what might be wrong for us because it is what we have always done. But it is futile.
Through Christ, there is hope! We can shed our old ways and be renewed! Like the white cloth in Baptism, we can “wear” a new life. We can choose to be new, but only through Jesus. How might this apply beyond ourselves, like the state of the economy, the environment, problems in the church…a lot is broken in this world…if God doesn’t fix them, who will (a loaded question)?
Gospel: John 6:24-35
We are forever wanting. As Ronald Rolheiser put in his book, The Holy Longing, “…there is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace. This desire lies at the center of our lives, in the marrow of our bones, and in the deep recesses of the soul, “(p.3). But he ends his book, “Thus, given that we live under a smiling, relaxed, all-forgiving, and all-powerful God, we too should relax and smile, at least once in a while, because, irrespective of anything that has ever happened or will ever happen, in the end, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and every manner of being shall be well, “(p. 241). We will never go hungry or thirst if we do the work of God, which is to believe in Him.
What memories do you have of bread? How does God feed you with the living bread?
Jesus specifies only one work of God, faith in the person of his Son. Faith is not a human accomplishment but is affected by God himself. (Footprints on the Mountain, Faley, 517). What do you think of that?
The people are confused. They had just witnessed the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, then Jesus left. They didn’t know how he got there, but he avoids this question. It is more important why THEY are there! They are looking for more miracles from him, like Moses. Jesus explains to them that Moses didn’t perform the miracle of the manna, God did. And now God has sent them bread in the form of Jesus. Are they ready to hear this news?
“For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” In the ancient world, where the skills of reading and writing were not generally diffused, the seal served as a signature. The seal was usually made of semiprecious stone. It was regarded as something to be kept on the person at all times. (Dictionary of the Bible, McKenzie, 782) Jesus was chosen, permanently sealed with God’s mark. It isn’t just what Jesus taught that we believe in…it is Jesus himself.
In the Hebrew mind-set, faith is an act of heart and soul – not necessarily the intellect. To our modern culture, faith often refers to matters of the mind – belief in certain dogmas, or belief in one who possesses authority (i.e. doctor, clergy, etc.). In Middle Eastern thought faith has more to do with loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. (Word & Worship, Birmingham, 597). Can you think of times when you made decisions with your head vs. your heart?
Let us pray in the spirit of the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:1-6):
Brothers and sisters,
St. Paul urges us to live in a manner worthy of the call
we have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as we were also called to the one hope of our call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all. AMEN
This is the translation in The Message: “In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.” How does this speak to you?
1st Reading: 2 Kings 4: 42-44
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B, 583-584:
The faith history of Israel between King David’s death and the Babylonian exile (586 B.C.) is encapsulated in the Books of Kings. These books relate the history of a people in relationship with their God. It gives a rather panoramic view of the Davidic dynasty, the relationship between the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judea), and the religious judgments of a people. During this time the prophetic tradition also developed. The kings and leaders and the people were not only to worship Yahweh, but they were to live according to the wisdom and love of Yahweh. Elijah and Elisha were early, legendary prophets and holy men. Many of the remembered stories of them are a bit like epic cinema. None of the other prophets spoke of miracles, but the powerful ministries of these two men are replete with such stories.
Barley loaves were used in the Temple offering. The man who brought the bread to Elisha as “first fruit” also has a liturgical significance. By rights the man should have taken the ritual bread to the Gilgal sanctuary, which had been turned into a shrine to the pagan god, Baal. He chose, instead, to take the bread to Elisha as a sign that he would not worship idols but would remain true to the one Lord and God. First fruits are sacred, something very meaningful and precious to offer to the Lord. What are your first fruits? Are you willing to lift them up to the Lord?
The Gospel: John 6: 1-15
What does this story reveal to you about God? Notice the setting: It is by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. 5,000 people were there (quite different from the wedding feast of Cana, the first sign in John’s gospel). Jesus is up on a mountain, like Moses – and like Moses he is called to care for a great, hungry multitude. Twelve wicker baskets…like the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles, all the people—a number of completeness. Barley is the type of bread used, the bread of the poor – it also was used in Temple worship. Barley is a hearty grain. It can survive extreme weather conditions such as heat and drought. It matures in less time than other grains. The feast of Passover coincides with the barley feast, so it no surprise that barley cakes take a star role in this drama. Galilee was famous for its pickled fish; dried fish was also common – an easy ‘luncheon meat’ to bring along for a journey. The word fish in Greek (ichtys) was also an acronym for Jesus Christ Savior, Son of God, and a symbol used in the early church to identify Christians.
Consider how limited the disciples seem in their problem solving. Philip can’t seem to figure out how to feed the crowd. Their limitations are like the church’s limitations. There aren’t enough priests…how will the people receive Eucharist? But Andrew and the little boy are more imaginative. How do we overcome our limitations?
Also consider what happens with the crowd when they have to share. Jesus created a sense of community when 5 thousand people (probably more since as the scripture says, it only included men) gathered. There is common ground in everyone sharing the same food…one body, one Spirit (in Ephesians). Sunday by Sunday by Shawn Madigan, CSJ
1st Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6
How does God punish evil? By focusing more on the good! Instead of striking down the evil doers, God promises that he will gather ALL of his flock and they shall multiply. None shall be missing!
And who is the righteous shoot of David but Jesus Christ. This type of writing in the Bible is considered typology. “typology is seen as a method by which Old Testament events are seen as types or figures of the work of Christ; more than that, it reflects a theological understanding of salvation as enacted and revealed in history,” (Medieval Liturgy, Mayeski, 63). Events are fulfilled in Christ. Right now, Christ continues to fulfill these things in the Church. Where do you see this? How do we live in security and justice today?
Jeremiah speaks out against the kings of Israel who have traditionally been seen as shepherds to God’s people. Their power was to protect and guide their people, not to destroy and use them. Needless to say, Jeremiah was not popular among these corrupt kings. He suffered greatly (and not silently either!) Jeremiah spoke about the sheep being scattered across the land – the people were exiled. Israel sinned and was unfaithful to the covenant. (Birmingham, W&W, 575) What scatters and drives us away from God?
2nd Reading: Ephesians 2: 13-18
Peace is a many-splendored word! The Hebrew word, shalom, has a rich meaning of fullness of goodness, completeness, perfection. Peace is not about mere prosperity – an essential component of peace is righteousness. Where there is no righteousness, there is no genuine peace. Jesus brings us this kind of peace. (Dictionary of the Bible, John McKenzie, S.J., 651)
“that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two”…what do you think that means? Paul indirectly refers to Trinity, that Jesus the Son and the Father are united and later on, that “we both have access in one Spirit to the Father”. Who is we? We are the Gentiles and the Jews, together equal and both offered this peace that only Jesus can provide. We are invited to have a relationship like that of Trinity. God wants to be one with all of us. That is true peace.
Also consider Paul’s language of who is near and far. Think of those who are near and far from you, especially this summer when there is so much travel. It is good to go away but there is always an ache to be together again! How are you near and far from God?
The Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
This gospel is very carefully structured. We need to pay close attention to the order that Mark has given us. At the beginning of this 6th chapter, Jesus goes home to Nazareth but is rejected by his own people (the gospel of 2 Sundays ago). Then, last Sunday we see Jesus (not deterred at all by the rejection) sending out his apostles in twos to preach and to heal. This week we jump over Mark’s story of John the Baptist’s death to the return of the apostles and Jesus’ compassion toward them – and then toward the crowd of hungry people in “a deserted place”. What do you make of this story and the order? We all need to go off to a deserted place to rest at times. What deserted places have you found helpful?
Picture Jesus listening to the apostles. It is almost like when Dad comes home from work and everyone fights to be first to tell him about their day. He listens to them with such compassion…he knows how hard they are trying and wants them to have rest. But the crowd is ever present and needy. We might be irritated by this! But, “their need calls forth from him what he does best – generously subordinate his needs so he can minister to the needs of others…There will always be a faithful Shepherd who will not mislead, who will not abandon the truth, who will never desert the flock,” (Workbook for Lectors, 211). How does this compare with the first reading?
Shepherding in the church, which today embraces many people in diverse ministries, calls for a Christ-like openness and responsiveness. How we do things is as important as what we do. That is the asceticism of Christianity. (Footprints on the Mountain, Faley, 491). What do you think?
The Hebrew word for pity described in the text is ‘womb’. Jesus is drawn to help the crowd because his heart burns for them like a mother to a baby within her. When people are hurting and hungry, disciples of Christ are to extend the compassion of God and one’s very life to them – balanced, of course, with appropriate doses of much needed solitude, contemplation, and prayer (W&W, Birmingham, 578). How do you achieve this balance?
In The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis, he says that the shepherd (or priest) takes on the smell of the sheep. But he also says that ALL evangelizers must take this on. “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the ‘smell of the sheep’ and the sheep are willing to hear their voice, “ (p. 8). We are all called.
1st Reading – Amos 7: 12-15
Amos was a relative nobody – or as he says a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores (a seasonal job which involved puncturing their fig-like fruit at a certain time – it improved the taste). He was not a ‘professional or ordained’ religious person; Amaziah was a priest of Bethel, the royal sanctuary, sort of a national cathedral. Amos was not getting paid to ‘make’ the king look good – or to ‘stroke his ego’. We do know that he felt called by God to speak this powerful and unpopular message. He was not called because he was great; he is great because he responded to God’s call and did as God requested. In this way Amos prefigures those in the gospel who are sent out.(Living Liturgy, 2003, 171)
Amos sounds like he was comfortable with his pursuit in life as a shepherd and then God called him to be a prophet to the people. Have you ever felt “comfortable” but had a nagging sense that God was calling you to something more? Amos was almost like an early Robin Hood. He had a mission – proclaim God’s Word to the people, no matter how unpopular or unpatriotic it may be, even if it meant castigating the king (Word & Worship, Birmingham, 565). Think of the focus and determination he must have had…could you do it?
2nd Reading – The Letter to the Ephesians 1: 3-14
This letter is like a love letter…we are chosen, blessed, adopted by a God who loves us. It is doubtful that Paul actually wrote this letter, but it might have been based on previous letters he had written. It is a collection of prayers and preaching, probably an ancient liturgical hymn used in the baptismal liturgy (W&W, Birmingham, 565).
From Can You Drink the Cup? Henri Nouwen:
Jesus took upon himself all this suffering and lifted it up on the cross, not as a curse but as a blessing. He gave himself away for us, so that we may live in community. He became for us food and drink so that we can be fed for everlasting life. The Eucharist is that sacred mystery through which what we lived as a curse we now live as a blessing (p. 74-75). This is what this letter to the Ephesians is getting at. We are blessed and made holy by Christ. We are chosen to be one with Him. We enter into this mystery at Eucharist in a tangible way. We are all welcome to the table. Do you feel these words when you receive Eucharist?
The Gospel – Mark 6: 7-13
From Living Liturgy, 2003, 170: In our own lives we carry much baggage on our journey as disciples of Jesus. We have closets full of clothes, pantries and refrigerators full of food . . . The practical instructions of Jesus might not suit us well today; it might even be irresponsible to divest ourselves of all of our possessions. It could certainly be dangerous to go out ‘hitch-hiking’ through the country to try to share the good news of Jesus Christ. At the same time, this gospel does invite us to examine what it is that hinders us in our day and society from fulfilling our mission on which Jesus sends us.
What distracts us? What fears and attitudes get in our way? What burdens do we carry needlessly? What keeps us from living our baptism?
Jesus sent the disciples with oil. Oil was commonly used in the treatment of medical conditions, thus it was appropriately associated with Jesus’ miraculous healing mission. Jesus used the things of ordinary life and common experience to demonstrate God’s incredible power – water, mud, spittle, bread, wine (W&W, Birmingham, 567). Where is God in the ordinary of your life today?
“Shake the dust off your feet” is almost taking a stand in nonviolence. No retaliation, just move on. There are no grudges. Can you shake the dust off your feet if someone is unwelcoming to you? By knowing where they were welcome, it set up a network of safe houses for the disciples. Perhaps this was the beginning of the early church.
1st Reading: Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
Jesus reminds his hearers that not only did he promise the Spirit, but so did his Father. John the Baptist also prophesied regarding the sending of the Spirit. Jesus thus relates the prophetic utterances of 2 prophets: himself and John the Baptist. But this is not a one-time event! It is the active movement of the Spirit in the ongoing life of the church. (Birmingham, W&W, p. 321) How is Spirit active in our church? How is Spirit active in YOU?
Reflect on the experience of the disciples after the death of Jesus. Imagine what it would have been like to have followed Jesus, lived with him, eaten with him, and now he was gone. He is not physically here anymore. How does that make you feel? What are you going to do now?
There is concern in verse 6 over God’s intention for the salvation of Israel. Where was Israel’s place in what God was doing in Christ? There is hope that Christ will deliver Israel, but there is also concern and question. Hope is not dead in spite of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. Acts highlights the drama of a people turning away from the messianic fulfillment that was theirs for the taking. However, this rejection is still fraught with the future hope of restoration. All is not lost for Israel (Birmingham, W&W, p. 322).
There is a feeling like the disciples want everything to be fixed FOR them. The ‘men dressed in white garments’ asked why they were looking up. In the movie Evan Almighty, Morgan Freeman who plays God, asks the same question. He says that is our problem: everyone is always looking up. Can you think of times when you looked up, rather than involved yourself in the solution?
2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series (p. 90-94):
We see what Paul asks for a Church which he loves and which is doing well:
- A Spirit of Wisdom (Sophia, wisdom of the deep things of God): To be a thinking people. Plato said, “The unexamined life is the life not worth living.” A questioning faith is a healthy one!
- For fuller revelation and fuller knowledge: Our spiritual life is like a muscle. It must be exercised regularly. Just like any friendship, it takes effort.
- New realization of the Christian hope: isn’t this what the disciples are faced with in the Ascension?
- New realization in the power of God: Because of the resurrection, God’s purpose cannot be stopped by any action of men (or women). In a world which looks chaotic, it is well to realize that God is still in control.
We are the body of Christ. There is a legend that the angel Gabriel asks Jesus after the Ascension what will happen if the disciples grow tired and don’t spread the good news. “What if the people who come after them forget? What is away down in the twentieth century people just don’t tell others about you? Haven’t you made any other plans?” And Jesus answered: “I haven’t made any other plans. I’m counting on them.” To say that the Church is the Body means that Jesus is counting on us.
The Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
From Raymond Brown’s A Risen Christ in Eastertime (p. 34-36):
They doubted. The doubt reminds us that, even after the resurrection, faith is not an automatic response. But Jesus is not repelled by their doubt, for he now comes closer to the disciples to speak. Doubting or not, they have worshipped him, and he responds to them. The mission is entrusted to the Eleven, even though some doubted. We are left to suspect that the word of Jesus solved the doubt, and that by proclaiming to others, their faith was strengthened. Does this resolve your doubts too?
“Make disciples of all nations” The apostles cannot simply wait for the Gentiles to come; they must go out to them. And if in the ministry the chief Jewish followers of Jesus (the Twelve) were called disciples, that privilege and title is to be extended to all nations (and you!).