Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday word

19th Sunday of the Year B (13 Aug 2006) 1Kg19.4-8; Ps 34; Eph4.30-5.2; Jn6. 41-51
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Allowing God To Teach Us What Matters Most

Different forms of literature use language differently in order to express best what authors seek to convey. Video-literature--movies--make a good example. Villains can be dressed in dark clothing; innocent people and heroes in light colors. Something happening in shadows or at night may be murky, mysterious or malicious. And if you’re like me and enjoy suspense films, sinister music--even a single, unresolved note colored with a touch of vibrato, “mmmmmm!”--is a clue as bright as daylight that something ominous is around the corner.

Biblical literature is no different because God’s revelation is clothed in human language. The Fourth Gospel exploits language in order both to convey meaning and deepen it. The word world in the Fourth Gospel connotes more than geography. The world means the way of living we know well: the familiar; the customary; and what human minds can grasp. The other realm is not familiar; it is not bound by our customs, our surroundings or our social standing. That realm is the realm of God.

The realm of God challenges our presumed, comfortable, secure ways of living. God’s realm invites us to live in new ways, ways in which we grow to appreciate the standards of the world as less real, less satisfying, less secure.

St. Paul, responding to practical concerns about living Christian lives, offered examples of ways of the world to avoid. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. St. Paul remembered Jesus had placed them on a par with murder.*

Another aspect of the realm of God is that it is unfamiliar to our usual way of diagnosing and perceiving. The Fourth Gospel places this conviction in the context of Jesus’ self-identification as the bread that came down from heaven. Many of those who heard him said that thought that they knew who he really was. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’”

This was no abstract entertainment or debate about doctrine. It was presumptuous: because they knew his parents, and thus from where he came, they thought they knew his origins.

When we celebrate the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, we shift our focus from the world--what is customary and familiar to us--and focus in a more alert fashion on the presence of Christ first in his word, which is offered to whet our appetites for his eucharist.

Its God-provided nourishment sustains us in unmatched ways. An angel of the Lord provided Elijah’s bread and water, which he needed at the very moment when he gave up on his vocation and even prayed for death.

The eucharist of Christ’s body and blood is communion which nourishes and strengthens us for what matters most. It is not merely part of the order of mass. Nor is the eucharist an extra, like an optional accessory to our autos or add-on for computers. “We come to share our story,” as the song sings it, that is, who we are in God as the scriptures unfold that knowledge to us.

We partake of the broken bread in order to live the godly life to which Jesus invites us for the sake of the world. Equally important, “We come to know our rising from the dead”**--what matters most. Paul, help us sing that into our hearts. [Musician accompanies us all in singing the entire refrain.]

Yet, we humans are tempted to complain often about what matters little or not at all. In the winter, it’s the cold. In the summer, it’s the heat. Of late it has been the price of gas. Those are a far cry from complaining to the point of death. We can’t compare them with parents grieving the death of children by rickets or rockets, disease or drowning. People terrorized by war’s inhumanity have a greater claim on God and a greater right to complain to God than we do about cold, heat and the price of gas. Jesus did not come to save us from such things but from sin and its consequences.

Reserve 10 minutes each day this week to consider how God is creating you to change the world. In those 10 minutes allow God to show you what matters most and how Jesus nourishes you to change the world: one deed; one word; one day at a time.

* cf., Matthew 5. 21-22

**”Song of the Body of Christ,” words by David Haas, which he arranged to a Hawaiian traditional melody. It may be found in Gather at #613.

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