Saturday, August 11, 2018

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kgs 19:4-8
Ps 34
Eph 4:30-5:2
Jn 6:41-51

"Taste and see, the goodness of the Lord"

The psalm response begins with two imperative verbs. The subject of an imperative verb isn’t stated but is understood to be you.  You taste the goodness of the Lord. You see the goodness of the Lord. It is probably best that the you is understood  rather than stated.  Various emphases could dramatically affect the sense of the statement. 

Taste is a complex word with multiple meanings and shades of meaning.  In medicine it means one of the five basic senses served by a complicated neural pathway.  In everyday life it means, among other things, not wearing plaid, stripes, and polka dots together unless you are a fashion designer. It may mean to experience something as in a taste of one’s own medicine; a statement that always frightens me.  And of course it can mean to sample something such as the soup to determine if there is enough salt.

Taste has specific meanings in scripture. It sometimes means to absorb nourishment in a way that it is closer to the meaning of to eat.  Thus, in response to Jonah’s preaching the King of the Ninevites proclaimed a fast when he decreed:  “Let neither man nor beast nor herd nor flock taste anything . . .”  The psalm tells us that taste includes discerning moral values, and savoring the knowledge of God, enjoying the delights of our lives here on earth and anticipating the joys of heaven.   

Elijah is an important figure in scripture.  He had tasted the delights of the Lord. He had discerned the moral laws of the Lord.   He was fearless in his prophesying  to those who had fallen from the worship of the true God, to those who had forgotten the covenant.  

In the reading from Kings Elijah was in deep despair. He had fled the wrath of Jezebel. He prayed for death. He had given up hope.  He had lost faith.  He was despondent.  When he woke from sleep he ate only after the angel commanded him.  He then set off on a journey of 40 days.  

The Jewish Study Biblenotes that  an unburdened man could walk from 15 to 25 miles a day.  Thus, in 40 days Elijah covered between 600 and 1000 miles on foot.  To put it into context, if Elijah walked 800 miles he covered the distance from Boston to Detroit.   What went through his mind during that arduous trek?  What goes through ourminds during the 40-day journeys we are forced to take on foot during our lives?  Chemotherapy. Chronic pain.  Loss. The diminishment of aging.  Are we able to taste and see the goodness of the Lord as Elijah did in spite of the despair?  

Elijah was a prophet pursued.  In today’s Gospel we are reminded that Jesus was—and remains—misunderstood  by those who purportedly believe and by those who militantly do not believe. 

A few weeks ago we heard Matthew’s Gospel in which the crowd asked,  “Where did this man get such wisdom and might deeds?  Is he not the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother named Mary?” Today we hear once more what is called the “prejudice of familiarity.” There are also hints of the “prejudice of theology” and “the bias of philosophy”

The crowd’s incredulity makes sense.  How can Jesus, an ordinary guy in their experience, son of Joseph and Mary, make the claim, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”?  If nothing else their theology prevented them from accepting such a claim, a claim that their theological understanding would determine to be blasphemous.

In his commentary on this passage from his superb book: The Gospel of John: A Reading the late Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow writes:  “In expressing their justifiable reaction, the Jews . . . illustrate the absurdity of all those who put their trust in philosophical argument and theological reasoning to compel belief in Jesus Christ.  For, . . there is no argument that cannot be overturned by counterargument, and no theological reasoning that cannot, sooner or later, be reduced to absurdity." 

It is a brash statement. Fr. Marrow continues: "The ONLY way to accept Jesus’ claim is faith. Every other way being a rejection. You either believe he 'came down from heaven' or you do not. Knowing his father and mother has nothing to do with accepting or rejecting the revelation."

Toward the end of the Gospel, Jesus begins a statement with Amen, amen, a signal that what He is about to say is important.  And it is important:  “Whoever eats this bread will live forever;and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The life that Jesus promises will not be under the sway of death.  That life will not be interrupted by the act of dying.

In a few minutes you will hear me repeat the words: 

"Take this all of you and eat of it:
for this is my body 
which will be given up for you." 

And shortly afterwards we will taste, we will see, and we will experience the goodness of the Lord. 
I think I've finally bounced back from jet lag.  It was a bear.  Normally I do a lot better returning to the U.S. from Europe but that was not the case this trip.  A very busy week coming up.  Will be covering at a parish in Westport, MA for part of the week.  Because of the distance will spend several nights down there rather than trying to commute.  

The photos are a result of wandering in Slovenia on some nice days.  

The first is from the base of the castle looking down on Congress Square.  The church is referred to as the Ursuline Church as it is attached to their convent.  

Looking across the Ljubljanica Riveron a Sunday afternoon in the spring.

Descending from the castle on the side opposite where I ascended.  The his was very steep and cobblestoned.  One day I saw a woman getting ready to walk up in three-inch heels.  It was not going to be a pleasant experience.  I've no idea what the trip down would be like.  

Symmetry in the windows of an apartment interrupted only by the randomness of the open panes.

Up close and personal with Ljubljanski Grad (Ljubljana Castle)

A table arrangement.  There is an elegance to the tables at the many outdoor cafes that is often lacking in the U.S.  

One of the many cobblestoned alleys.  

Flower baskets are suspended everywhere in the city. 

Another outdoor table.  For some reason I am fascinated by empty tables still holding the used glasses.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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