Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
I learnt a few things from the visit of the Archbishop and clergy from Barcelona last week. One was not to organise any talks or presentations in the early afternoon after lunch as they will almost all fall asleep during it – this is siesta time! The second was that a large group of priests in a pub wearing clerical collars now get constantly asked if they are the ‘real thing’ or if they are on a ‘stag night’. Finally that Latin still comes in handy as a common liturgical language.
This weekends’ passage from John’s Gospel is the beginning of a section configured around four major Jewish feasts: the weekly Sabbath, and the annual feasts of Passover in March/April, Tabernacles in October and Dedication (or Hanukkah) in early December.
The Jewish people believed that as they remembered and celebrated the past events of their history, the God who saved their ancestors in the past was present with them in the now and continuing his saving work in their midst (much as we believe about our sacraments).
In today’s episode, John identifies the Jews’ feast of Passover. At Passover, the Jews remembered, among other things, how God had fed the hungry people escaping from Egypt with the manna, the bread from heaven. As the Jews celebrated the feast every year, they believed, rightly, (and still believe today) that the God who saved his people then was still present with them and saving them now.
Against this backdrop of Passover, John recounts Jesus’ feeding of the hungry crowd out in the wilderness on the other side of the lake. As the chapter continues over the next four Sundays, he will use the event to make the point that the real bread of life is Jesus himself, really present to his little community of disciples.
What do we make of all this as we gather each Sunday twenty centuries later? We believe that Jesus himself is present and active among us. He touches and nourishes our spirit by the message he has shared with us, stirring our deepest desires and strengthening our hopes. He nourishes us with his own life, his risen, irrepressible life, as we associate our minds and wills with his in our offering of ourselves in trust to the same God of Jesus who raised even the crucified Christ to life.
It is interesting to note the crowd’s reactions to the involvement of Jesus: “This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.” “They were about to come and take him by force and make him king.” They thought they were responding well – but they missed the point. They were measuring Jesus by their own categories, in light of their own experience, seeing him, among other things, as the answer to their hopes and desires. What is wrong with that? Simply: they were not open to the uniqueness of this person, the mystery of this Jesus who immeasurably surpassed their narrow, limiting definitions. They were taming him, boxing him in!
We have to move beyond our vision of Jesus and be open to his utter uniqueness, the mystery of his person – beyond our capacity to describe, to capture, to understand. Time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament helps us to go beyond our limited understanding of the presence of Christ when we can simply adore and spend time with Him and open ourselves to accept His will for us.
I noticed an amusing reference in the Catholic Herald to an article termed ‘Bad reasons for missing mass’. The writer used the image of taking a shower and talked about 13 reasons for not taking a shower. One was ‘I was forced to take a shower as a child’. Another was ‘people who shower are hypocrites, they think that they are cleaner than everyone else’etc.
Canon Anthony O’Brien