The Bible has a long memory. When the gospel writers try to describe the extraordinary impact of Jesus' ministry they often color their accounts with memories of previous great people in the history of Israel. Such is the case with today's readings for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The Gospel reading is from John's account of the multiplication of the loaves. The feeding of the vast crowds that follow Jesus recalls a number of Old Testament precedents.
"His heart was moved with compassion for them" (Mk 6:34)
In contemporary ecumenical dialogues, today's second reading is used most frequently to set forth the ideal of the visible oneness for which we long. How do peoples who are separated become united? Today's readings emphasize the role of compassionate leaders in the work of reconciliation. In the New Testament texts the focus in on the person of Christ as the one who accomplishes oneness.
It happened one time when I was leading a group on a trip to the Holy Land that I arrived with no luggage. Every other person in the group was happily claiming their bags. I waited anxiously, eagerly expecting to see mine come rolling down the conveyer belt. And then the belt stopped. There were no more bags and I didn't have mine. My heart sank. How would I manage without the changes of clothing, the toiletries, and the books that I had so carefully packed? Three days went by before my suitcase was found and delivered to me. In the meantime others in the group shared with me whatever they had. It was humbling to put on others' clothes and to rely on others' generosity. However, these acts of unselfishness created an instant bond as I was no longer the only one sharing from my "expertise."
Why do we find it so difficult to accept people who manifest extraordinary talent? Artists, poets, thinkers all tell us that they sometimes feel ostracized when they try to express their creative ideas. Do their remarkable gifts cast shadows on our own unremarkable abilities? Does putting them down lift us up? Or have we convinced ourselves that their difference is merely idiosyncrasy, and our rejection is really aimed only at their alleged pride?
The Sting of Death
It is always so difficult to deal with the death of another. There is really very little that can ease the pain that cuts so deeply into life. Soothing words and thoughtful gestures may comfort for a time, but then the searing pain returns and we are often left bereft. The sting of death often causes a festering that is not easily healed.
John the Baptist: a colorful, larger-than-life, strange figure, he foreshadows Jesus and indeed seems both to live in his shadow and to shadow him across the landscape. A person of contrasts himself, he also appears in stark contrast to Jesus. On this feast I find myself pondering shadows and contrasts, looking for insight to enrich the coming days.
It is like a mustard seed . . . the smallest of all seeds on the earth . . ." (Mark 4:31)
It is a solemn ritual, enacted only on very special occasions. It requires a binding commitment on the part of both parties. Words are exchanged and stipulations agreed upon. And then the pocket knife appears. The pearled handle is cracked and the blade a bit dull. This promises to be a painful reminder that the taking of oaths is not to be done lightly. In the woods behind our house in a childhood long ago, I willingly pricked my finger and smeared a droplet of blood with that of my bestest friend. And we became sisters.
At last it's Sunday!
Why is Sunday considered a special day? Children, of course, are happy with it because there is no school. For many adults, it is a day away from work. That is, unless one brings work home and turns the day into a time to 'catch up.' Some people argue that the best television news commentators appear on programs that are aired on Sunday morning. Then, in the afternoon, one can watch 'the game.' It is obvious that biblical authors had something entirely different in mind when they emphasized the importance of the Sabbath.
Hallelujah, this Sunday we celebrate Pentecost! The word Pentecost means fiftieth and as stated by many biblical scholars, was originally the name of an agricultural festival that was celebrated fifty days after the Passover. Jewish tradition also held that Moses received the law on this day. For Christians, Pentecost is the great event where the Holy Spirit descends and is poured out to all, transforming those present to be bold disciples united in faith, love and hope. Pentecost represented a new beginning for those who were there for this phenomenon.