Sunday, July 26, 2009

Year B 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Kgs 4:42-44; Ps. 145: 10-11. 15-18; Eph. 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

"The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs" (Ps. 145). God not only answers all our needs, but is extravagant in caring for us. All too often it is only when we are in dire straits that we become conscious of our dependence on God. This consciousness often takes on the form of a wish that arises from our realization of how little we control. Hence, we wish for some higher power to intervene and make everything okay. Experience teaches us that God does not work this way. Wish as we might, we find ourselves facing reality time and again. If we are attentive and open to what God is doing, we see that we are not saved in spite of circumstances, but precisely through them. Faith in Christ calls us to live the reality we experience every day in the awareness of His presence. By living this way, we come to see that we are dependent on God all the time and that God is never absent.

What St. Paul writes to the Ephesians gives us deep insight into how God works in our lives, when he exhorts us "to live in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received" (Eph. 4:1). The first thing to note is that, as Christians, God works through the church, through our collective life together. God is at work among us when we bear “with one another through love.” Living with others is what perfects us, whether in families, in the work place, at school, or here in our parish.

It is too easy to become disaffected and put off. It is too easy to throw up our hands and walk away, convinced of our moral superiority, wallowing in our victimhood over petty matters. After all, we are only human. The thing we must realize is that everyone else with whom we have anything to do is also only human. Insofar as the other person in question is a Christian, s/he is aware of his/her need of God’s grace. This is why Paul implores the church in Ephesus to bear "with one another through love" (Eph. 4:2). Bearing with one another is done in specific ways, by being humble, patient, and gentle, as God is with us. It bears pointing out that humility, patience, and gentleness do not magically ward off difficult situations that unavoidably arise in families, schools, work places, and parishes. Rather, it is by confronting difficult circumstances that we begin to live in a worthy manner and come to know how to love our neighbor.

When talking to young children about the Golden Rule, which enjoins us to treat others the way we want to be treated, inevitably one or more of the children will say something like “because then others will treat you the way you want to be treated.” This misconception can be cleared up with a question, “Is that your experience?” Grace does not operate according to the laws of market exchange. In other words, when we treat people the way we want to be treated there is no guarantee that our effort will be reciprocated. In fact, we can be certain that such efforts will not always be returned. This is why Jesus said: "if you [only] love those who love you, what reward do you have" (Matt. 5:46)? Dealing with people who seem bent on undermining us presents us with the opportunity to become perfect in patience and forbearance by practicing the most neglected of the spiritual works of mercy: bearing wrongs patiently.

Grace operates according to laws of symbolic exchange. This is characterized by the billboard signs we see, like the one featuring Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League baseball that says: "Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson. Character. Pass It On." Nicholas Frankovich begins telling the story of how Jackie Robinson came to be the first African-American major league baseball player by asking the question, "What motivated Robinson to take the high road" in enduring all the garbage he endured, especially early in his major league career? As Frankovich relates it Brooklyn Dodgers’ president and general manager, Branch Rickey, a committed Christian, said to Robinson at their first meeting: "I know you’re a good ballplayer. What I don’t know is whether you have the guts [to be the first black major league player]." Robinson assured him that he was one to fight back and defend his honor. Rickey corrected him: "I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back." Over the course of his career, Jackie Robinson endured many slurs, slanders, and insults, but patiently endured it all, showing his true character and leaving behind a legacy that still contributes to the full realization of the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: that people be judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

This brings us to Eucharist, which is at the core of today’s readings. When we receive communion it is not merely a communion of each one of us individually with Christ Jesus, it is an intentional act in which we express our desire, trusting God to fulfill it, to be of one heart and mind with each other, despite all of the forces at work pulling us apart. The bread we receive from God is more than barely loaves, or Jesus made present to us in the host as if trapped in some kind of a J.K. Rowling-conceived horcrux. The hand of God feeds us with the bread of life, life in Christ, which is life in all its dimensions. Communion is not somehow an act apart; it is an event, that is, something in which we fully, consciously, and actively participate.

Coming to Mass is not a way of escaping reality for an hour or so every week. Even our stories of miraculous feedings in today's readings do not smack of magical pyrotechnics. In both cases there were a lot of people and just a little food, but somehow there was enough for everyone to eat and some left over. Nobody knew how it happened; they just knew that it did. This cannot help but remind us that Mass is not a magic show in which the priest, saying the words of consecration, transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, making Him present where he was previously absent. Jesus Christ is really and truly present when we, the baptized, assemble and when the words of Scripture are proclaimed. The real miracle is what happens when we go forth and live in a manner worthy of the calling we have received


  1. Great homily Scott I really enjoyed. 'Bearing wrongs patiently' is something I very much struggle with.

  2. Heh heh, you said, "horcrux"
    Actually, right on comment.

  3. What a wonderful resource! Thanks for sharing with everyone.