Archive for August, 2006|Monthly archive page

The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time B: August 27, 2006

Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Ephesians 5:21-32
John 6:60-69

Dear Jesus,

Why does imposed subservience play such a prominent role in religious observance? I have watched you for many years now and have listened to your word. I’ve never heard you say anything that would indicate that power should have a role to play in communities that have you as their core. Yours are to be communities of shared responsibility and service. That’s what you modeled and the lesson is hard to learn.

I struggle with this. I’m sure you know how much I want to be in control, even of my own life. Surprises unnerve me, as do modes of acting contrary to my own. I like to be among likeminded ones. And since I think I know what is best I am most happy when others agree and are willing to do as they are told. At least that is the way I used to be. The tendency is still there but now I fight against it and realize that if a community is monochromatic it does not reflect you. If a community is not diverse, it is not in your likeness. If a community does not have in evidence multiple races, the poor as well as the materially endowed, the able and those who are disabled, the sane and those suffering from mental illness, that community is not formed after your heart.

The company you keep has scandalized people in every age. You fled the establishment and set your table for prostitutes, and publicans, and those that fit neatly under the category of sinner – all essentially untouchable in the acceptable community. You risked ritual impurity every time you sat to a meal with your guests. You served, poured the wine, broke the bread, made sure that each one’s needs were met. And you listened to their stories.

Did you touch lepers? Or did you cure them from a distance? You touched blind eyes, dead bodies, those possessed and invited them to experience God’s healing power and promise through deliverance. Seldom did you let them join the narrow band of your followers. You sent them out to witness to others still locked in bondage the freedom of the children of God.

If our community is rooted in the Gospel, must not our hallmark be the proclamation that all are welcome here?

These past several weeks, I have been hearing your challenge to eat your flesh and drink your blood and so to have life. I find myself struggling with what you mean. The teaching concludes with your ultimatum – unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. And the result? Many who were disciples turned a walked away. Was the reason they left because they saw the implication: that everyone was challenged to eat and everyone invited to have life within? And it all depended on yielding to you and the Spirit you poured out.

It is difficult not to be ambitious, not to want to climb to the top and be in charge. Our society preaches the gospel of material success, the wonders of youth, and of power. It’s very attractive, even alluring. Who doesn’t want to capture the gold? Do you wince when you read this, or do you shake your head and marvel at how much I have yet to learn? Is the best that I can aspire to is to serve? And in that service must learn that you are the source of what I do? I am dependent upon you. It is all about you.

All are welcome at your table. But I wonder if you do not say, as part of that invitation, that if you come and eat you must also then be willing to serve, to put what you have done and ingested into practice. And those ministers must not be all from one caste, the powerful ministering to the weak, the able to the disabled, the seeing to the blind, those of facile tongue to the mute, and those with hearing to the deaf. Wouldn’t you be happy if it were the other way around? And if it is not, is someone in power denying to others, the less desirable, the weaker members of society, the validity of their hearing your invitation?

Would you get back to me about this, please? There is a lot for me to think about here. And I wonder if it is possible for me to live out the implications of what I think I see. If I am wrong, please tell me. If I am right, please help me.



The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – B August 20, 2006

Proverbs 9:1-6
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Dear Jesus,

If I had been there that day, where would I have been seated? On which side would I have been? There are, aren’t there, two distinct groups here as you teach, the crowds to whom you address the words in this section from John’s Gospel, and the disciples. Where would I have been? How would I have heard these words?

I’d like to think that I would be among the disciples, the ones who have thrown in their lot with you and heard your invitation to follow you. Disciples are the ones you challenge to learn by looking over your shoulder and then imitate what you do. Would I have heard you and made up my mind to follow?

I’ve come to understand that the crowds are those people who gather about you out of curiosity, people who have not made a decision about you. They are the ones you take pity on because they mill about, wandering and aimless, searching for meaning, searching for something that will make them whole. In French, they would be Les Miserables, the wretched who have little to live for. They are like sheep without a shepherd and you are compassionate toward them.

May I be in the crowd this time? Then I would hear this message for the first time and not be dulled to it through frequency of repetition. Am I hungry as they are? Do I thirst? And more, am I near despair that these appetites of mine will ever be satisfied, appetites that go beyond a desire for food and drink and have more to do with a desire to know that I am loved, valued, and that I have a destiny beyond what can be dreamed or imagined.

Your invitation is so lavish that it astounds. Where are the disqualifiers that would be part of sales pitches today? Where are the limitations and boundaries that we have come to expect limiting those who may approach the table and join in the feast? You are like the woman in Proverbs shrieking out over the city’s din to get the attention of the preoccupied, of those who are simple and foolish, lacking understanding: Come, eat of my food; drink of the wine I have mixed.

Sitting among the lost and formerly forsaken, would I have gasped at your obvious desire to be accessible, to be consumed by those who yield to your invitation? Would I have been preoccupied with the how of this so much so that I could not marvel at the wonder of it? Please say that would not be so. There are always those literalists who get stuck on the surface of things and fail to get beyond to the truth. Let me not be there. Let me marvel at your challenge to devour you, every word, every action, to gnaw on the marrow of the meaning that you have come from heaven for us and are the way for us to achieve God’s glory. I can feel the tears well when I begin to understand that caste that others would impose is not your understanding of me. I can be among the lowliest in others’ estimation. Through you and in God’s eyes, if I devour you, I am beloved!

But your disciples were a scandal to their contemporaries. Expected religiosity wasn’t evidenced in the way they comported themselves. Dour faces and gloomy countenances yielded to the joy of knowing you and spilled over into singing and playing to the Lord. Disciples came to know, and I gratefully number myself among them, that if we shared in the meal our lives had to be transformed with the pouring out of self in love that those who had not eaten could never understand. If we eat, we must imitate you in vulnerability willing to be devoured as you are. There is joy in that pouring out of self because it is then that we discover the transforming and liberating presence that you are, that gives meaning to our lives, that fills us with hope.

It is true, isn’t it? One day it will be the day of the Lord and God’s reign will begin. One day, if we eat the Bread and drink the Wine and put our thanksgiving into action, our grateful hearts will motivate us to make the difference in helping all find their place at the table in the banquet God has prepared for us forever.

Which side was I sitting on? I guess it doesn’t matter as long as I listened and believed. Please know that I am trying.



The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – B August 13, 2006

1 Kings 19:4-8
Ephesians 4:30-5:2
John 6:41-51

Dear Jesus,

Do you get impatient with me? I used to be a teacher and can remember my own impatience with students who didn’t get the lesson in the time I thought they should. Of course, I tried never to show that impatience, but I felt it on the inside. Are you like that? There are times when I can hear you saying, “How long am I to be with you and still….” And would there be a subtle shaking of the head like a parent’s when a child stumbles?

How long have I been on this journey with you? How long ago was it that I first dared to walk behind you and try to learn? Do you know about Turkish Delight, that candy that tastes so sweet in the mouth but as soon as it is swallowed there is an insatiable craving for more? Being with you is like that, a delightful experience that creates an insatiable appetite for more. One can never get enough of you or the words that come from your mouth. Everything makes sense with you. I am terrified whenever I think of being parted from you. Forever would be unthinkable. And all the while I want to hear more, to learn more, to be with you more.

Yet it is strange how I feel. I’ve been journeying with you these many years and I still feel like I am in the starting gate and on my knees waiting for the sound of the shot that will begin the race. In my youth, I never thought about the distance. There was seemingly boundless energy and I knew I could surmount any obstacle. The folly of youth! It amazes me that I thought I could do it all myself. I was strong. I was courageous. My tongue was glib. Oh, what I would accomplish for you and the favor I would win for doing it!

That was then. This is now and I find I get weary. My confidence isn’t nearly what it used to be. I knew so much then with wisdom far beyond my years. Now I wonder if it is the heat of the noonday sun beating on my hatless pate that saps my strength and makes me doubt even what I thought I knew. I hunger. I thirst. It is all for you.

Once again last evening, I sat looking into the face of the setting sun. There were tears as I thought of you and ached with longing. Twilight enveloped me immersed in thoughts of all that is wrong in the world now. War. Famine. Disease. I could get dulled by the immediacy of the accounts told in relentless and lurid detail of the sufferings of brothers and sisters around the world. Thinking of the evils as around the world serves also to distance them. But then a story of suffering in the neighborhood brings it all home and I have to face the fact that the horrors are immediate even if they happen on the other side of the planet and it is my family being affected there, just as it is my neighbor in the city being stabbed, beaten, discarded in a garbage sack. The sun set and darkness began.

I could hear the waves lapping the shore near where I sat and the rhythm became a mantra of your name. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. I kept repeating your name with every breath and I felt nourished the way I do when I have been fed at the Table. It is you I gnaw on there. It is you who quench my thirst as I drink from the Cup. And as I reflected on the experience I remembered that you said to be food and drink for us was why you came from heaven to abide with us. Sometimes I wish I could hear you say that for the first time and be shocked instead of being used to your words. I can read the gospel passage and not gasp because I have learned to accommodate and make acceptable and limited your demands.

You do not want me to accommodate, do you? You do not want me to make the words acceptable, or, should I say comfortable? You do not want me to put limitations that I can live with on your demands. I should gasp with the freshness of it all even as I weep realizing how much more I have to learn.

Please be patient with me as I remember what this journey so long ago begun is all about. The Father gave me this holy longing, this insatiable appetite for the Turkish Delight that is you because through living out the implications of the Meal you will bring me to heaven. And not only me, but those with whom I eat and drink the holy meal of Word and Sacrament and those with whom I am sent to make your difference in the world. Do you remind me that there is still time to form community? Are you telling me that I must shake off complacency and work for peace because to do that is to build up God’s kingdom here and now? Do you command me to forgive even as I am forgiven so that I can honestly and with integrity proclaim to all who are searching that all are welcome here. There are no pariahs. No one is to be shunned. All are welcome at the table because that is your will. Then, will heaven begin?