Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 29th, 2018)

The Lord’s Gospel for today presents a startling and strange revelation, indeed a miracle.

This revelation, this miracle, is meant to demonstrate the astounding truth regarding the identity of the Lord Jesus- that he speaks and acts in the very person of God, indeed, that he is, as the faith of the apostles testify: the one true God, who has accepted for himself a human nature and lived a real human life.

Thus, we have a revelation that is leading us to an even greater revelation.

What Christ accomplishes in multiplying mere fragments of food is foreshadowed in the power demonstrated by the Old Testament prophets, indeed their mighty deeds point towards him.

The lesson? Christ is God. He is not, as some claim, merely a prophet, an ethicist, a philosopher or social activist. None of these things can adequately give us an account of Christ’s identity. Christ is the one, whom the Gospels testify “that the winds and seas obey”. He is the one who can forgive sins. He is the one who can bring life out of death. He is the one who fulfills the Law and the Prophets. He is the Lord of Sabbath. And he is the one whose mighty deeds include feeding a multitude with only a few scraps of food at his disposal.

He is God and in the brilliant light of this revelation, we are compelled to a decision. Will Christ be the God that we worship or will we follow some other god? The other god need not be the mythological beings of pagan religion. The other god can be anything that we raise to ultimate concern in our lives- it could be wealth, or power, or honors, or pleasure. It can be any of the strivings of our egoism. It can be our politics or our culture. It can be the pretenses of our opinions or our ideologies. False gods are as ubiquitous and plentiful as human desires and Christ is contrary to all of them.

Will it be Christ or will it be someone or something else that we will worship?

Those who decide for Christ set themselves on the path towards becoming his disciples.

Disciples receive from Christ the privilege of knowing Christ in such a way that they can become like him, and this is the other revelation that today’s Gospel invites us to see and understand.

We become like Christ, not just as a result of knowing certain facts or even doctrines about him, or even from doing good deeds, but of partaking of his divine life.

Partaking of Christ’s divine life means that he offers his life to us in response to our offering our own lives to him. This exchange happens for us, to us, in a mysterious revelation we Christians call the Eucharist or Holy Communion.

The Eucharist or Holy Communion is our reception Christ’s divine life as food and drink.

Thus, the revelation of the multiplied loaves and fishes, presented to us today in the Lord’s Gospel, foreshadows a an even greater revelation- God will give to us not just food and drink, but his divine life as our food and drink, and partaking of this we can become like him- for it is his life that we will consume, it is his life that we will eat and drink. It is his life that we hope to become for our own sakes and for the sake of the world.

This all is, of course, the great mystery and meaning of not only the Lord’s Gospel for today, but of the Eucharist, the Holy Communion which we will be invited to receive. We decide. We decide to give our lives to Christ and he gives his divine life to us.

I know that for many, Christ exists in their lives as but one God among many gods and that for many, the Eucharist is no longer Holy Communion, but merely a symbol of community and culture, but here today, you have before yourself the opportunity to finally decide for Christ, to abandon the false gods and to receive from Christ, not just a symbol, but the gift of his real presence, the gift of his divine life.

But know that if you do, your life must and will change.

You will not find here at this altar the mere earthly food, but the transformation of earthly food into Christ’s divine life. The multiplication that God in Christ effects here is not merely loaves and fish but his divine life in and for you.

God in Christ does not want you merely to glory in his power, to accept his sacraments as mere spectacles, to revere his wonders with the same reverence you give to a symphony or a beautiful vista. God in Christ wants you to share in his life. That’s what the Eucharist is. That’s what Holy Communion is. For those who are content with mere symbols, ask yourself why you would settle for less than what God in Christ desires to give to you. And so, if you expect anything less than Christ’s divine life, you are in the wrong place and you are seeking a god that is not here.

giovanni_lanfranco_-_miracle_of_the_bread_and_fish_-_wga12454.jpg

Advertisements

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 26th, 2015)

With this Sunday, the Church begins a presentation of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. (Excerpts from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John will be the Church’s Gospel reading for the next few weeks.)

The Gospel of John is in its elegant literary style, perhaps the most beautiful of the four Gospels. It begins with what might be described as a hymn of praise to God in Christ, who revealed himself to the world by accepting for himself a human nature and living a real, human life.

God is not presented in the Gospel of John as merely an idea or feeling, but as a living, divine person who offers his creatures (that’s us) the extraordinary possibility of sharing a relationship with him. This relationship imparts great gifts to those who accept it- foremost being the forgiveness of our sins and friendship with God.

John writes from the perspective of one who knew the Lord Jesus intimately, personally. His Gospel is not presenting a theory about the Lord Jesus, the kind of which historians create, but testimony to how the Lord Jesus revealed himself as God- a revelation that John himself encountered in real flesh and blood. The Gospel of John is not about how a man named John knew a figure of historical importance, but how he met and became friends with Jesus Christ who is really and truly God. Jesus Christ is not for John a symbol of God or a new kind of prophet, but he is God himself, who surprised everyone by revealing himself in the world as a flesh and blood man.

John insists that this privileged encounter with God in Christ is not the stuff of legends or myths, but of actual fact and real life circumstances. Thus he describes how not only his own, but how other people’s encounters with God in Christ transformed their lives forever.

John presents the revelation of God in Christ in the context of seven great events or signs. In each of these events, God in Christ speaks and acts in the person of God and what he says and does upsets the status quo, throwing people off, initiating total conversion in some and inciting great anger and opposition in others. In each case, the Lord Jesus compels people to make a decision about him, and if that decision is accepting him for whom he reveals himself to be, then that person’s life is transformed.

Whatever our decision might be, for or against, the encounter with God in Christ changes people’s lives forever.

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John is about a great miracle through which God in Christ manifests his divine identity. This miracle is feeding a vast multitude of people with a small quantity of food.

Now I know, some preachers try to sell this idea that the great miracle is that people were provoked by the Lord Jesus to be generous, and there was no real multiplication of the food. This is not only a bad, corrupted interpretation, it is not what the testimony from the Gospel of John is about.

Sharing what we have with others, especially with those in need is a good thing for us to do, but the testimony in the Gospel of John you heard this morning is not first and foremost about us, it is about the Lord Jesus, and in this particular case it is testimony to a miracle that John believed indicated to him that the Lord Jesus was God. Precedents for this kind of miracle existed in the story of Israel’s great prophets, and one was referenced today, a story about the prophet Elisha from the second book of Kings, but as the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John progresses, it becomes clear that what the Lord Jesus has done in this miracle was about much more than showing himself to be a wonderworking prophet. Jesus Christ is acting and speaking in today’s Gospel in the very person of God!

I can’t stress to you enough that this revelation, the revelation of Jesus Christ as God, is what the Gospels, indeed, what the Church is all about.

Testimony to the revelation of Jesus Christ as God is extraordinary, indeed upsetting for many, especially now as God is viewed as little more than an idea or feeling, rather than a living divine person with whom we can relate to.

Ideas and feelings are our own, we make them and give them whatever significance that we prefer. Persons are different, as in every person we meet, there is always a potential demand placed on us, a decision- if this is the case with the human persons that we encounter, how much more so for Jesus who is a divine person, who is God.

It is because of the demand and decision that Christ places upon us that it seems easier for some folks to make him less that who he claims to be. It is for this reason that some folks take a Gospel, like the one we heard today, and want to make of it a nice, pleasant story about sharing, rather than a weird and wonderful miracle. Nice, pleasant stories are emotionally satisfying and let’s face it, place little if any pressure on us to do anything. Miracles are emotionally upsetting, and if accepted for what they imply, the pressure to change one’s life in response is immense indeed!

Jesus Christ is not just a maker of stories. Jesus Christ is a maker of miracles.

There is one more thing about today’s Gospel that is important to know about. John is up to something in the sixth chapter of his Gospel and if you miss this detail you miss the point of what he saying not only about the Lord Jesus, but also about his Church and how we come to have a relationship with God in Christ in his Church.

John presents this miracle story knowing that stories about the miracles of the prophets anticipated and foreshadowed the Lord Jesus. When the prophets worked wonders, they were signaling to the people what God would one day reveal in Christ.

John wants us to understand that what Christ does in this miracle anticipates and foreshadows a wonder that he will work in the Church- he will feed his people, with something greater than that of the multiplication of food. God in Christ will feed his people with his own divine life and this will happen in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament.

The miracle story you heard this morning is really a kind of introduction to a greater revelation that God in Christ will reveal in the Eucharist.

The remainder of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel will provide startling insights from the Lord Jesus himself regarding the Eucharist, and like the miracle of today’s Gospel, what Christ the Lord has to say about the Eucharist will place a demand on us and compel us to a decision.

Demand and decision.

These two categories are likely not ways that many Catholics nowadays are accustomed to think relate to the Eucharist.

The Eucharist has become for many Catholics a nice gesture, a pleasant custom, a way of feeling good about oneself, that the Eucharist places a demand on us to change our lives and compels a decision for or against Jesus Christ is likely not what many might think when they come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

But more than anything else, this is precisely what the Eucharist is doing and compels us to do.

Why?

Because the Eucharist is not just an idea about God or a feeling about Jesus, instead, the Eucharist is an encounter with the divine life and presence of God in Christ.

And as the Gospel of John, makes it clear, the encounter with God in Christ will always and is supposed to change your life.

250px-Maria_Schutz_(Freiburg)_03

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time (October 24th, 2014)

The Apostle Paul reminds us this morning that the Church prioritizes over (and even against) any of our own causes, opinions, agendas, ideologies, ethnic distinctions, the fundamental unity of the Church that is accomplished by our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, our Baptism into Christ which incorporates us into the Church, and the sovereignty of God over not only the Church, but all of creation.

In other words, Christ is God, the Church belongs to Christ, and through the Church, and we belong to Christ. When we mitigate this way of understanding Christ, the Church or ourselves we inevitably introduce divisions into the Church, which then inevitably cause the Church to falter in her mission.

When the Church is failing in her mission, this failure is usually not because of something external to the Church, but because of divisiveness that exists from within. A divisive Church is a self-referential Church, one that has displaced the Lordship of Christ with mere worldly interests. A divisive Church does not attract and generates little, if any, life. It cannot inspire the radical commitment to the Gospel that is revealed in vocations to priesthood, religious life and matrimony and levels out the heroic, missionary zeal of discipleship through a bureaucratic institutionalism, replacing witness to the Gospel with mere commentary about the Church and how we can change policies to better meet our needs.

There is no life giving potential in the divisive Church because there is no longer one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God- instead there is only our ego, our ideologies, our causes, and the many gods of worldliness.

The best that a divisive Church can accomplish is maintaining faith-themed infrastructure- comfortably decorated, state of the art facilities, but these will only be skeletons without flesh, empty buildings without a living divine or human presence.

Which Church do we want? We are all faced with this decision.

Christ calls us to task, he judges us, for being distracted and pre-occupied. Where is our sense of urgency in terms of the demands of the Gospel?

Look how much attention and anxiety we can muster in regards to the weather, but what of the Gospel and the mission that Christ gives us?

Imagine the urgency and seriousness with which we would approach a court case or how we readily conform our lives to the demands of merely human laws and judgment. But does the reality of God’s judgment matter? Do we consider that even now God measures our love against his standard of justice, mercy and forgiveness? What of the law of Christ in his Gospel? In regards to Christ’s law are we willing to conform to a new way of life, or in this regard to we seek the exemption? Do we consider the Gospel merely as affirming us as we are or for what it really and truly is- an invitation to repent and live a different way of life?

The demand of the Gospel cannot be deferred. The demand of the Gospel presses upon us with great urgency in the present moment.

The day of the judgment of the Lord is not a matter of the future, but of today!

statue_of_st__paul_hdr_by_scwl-d4gsmh7