Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday word, 03 Aug 2008

18th Sunday of the Year A (03 Aug 2008) Is 55. 1-3; Ps 145; Rm 8. 35,37-39; Mt 14. 13-21
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Holding On to Jesus’ Faith

The gospel’s opening words are my cue to reflect with you today: When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. Earlier in the gospel Matthew presented a confused John, something the Baptizer never had been in the First Gospel. Jesus responded to John’s confusion before Herod killed the Baptizer. That made Jesus the next prophet Herod would fear and want to kill, which may well be why Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

In a different way, the kingdom of heaven Jesus proclaimed confuses me, too. As we heard in the past weeks Jesus’ many parables about the kingdom it is intimate and also embraces everyone under the sun; it demands personal decision, and the most valuable data by which to decide are Jesus, his words and his faith. Jesus’ faith shapes our own faith, which affords us confidence that God’s life is emerging among us without us observing it.

The kingdom of heaven also involves judgment: weeds and wheat, the wheat gathered, the weeds rejected; last the power, the action of God in the kingdom is hidden, subtle, registering in ways we cannot readily notice: the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened./1/

Who of us doesn’t admit to being confused? Of course, John the Baptizer was confused for a different reason. John came preaching “hell fire and brimstone,” to use a phrase familiar to us, to prepare the Messiah’s way; and Jesus came offering comfort and rest to those who didn’t have it. No wonder the more John heard of Jesus and his ways, John grew confused: when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John in prison; Jesus healing, raising the dead and preaching the good news: Jesus was more than suspicious that his ministry threatened Herod as well as the religious professionals of his day. John beheaded; Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. Why?

Time to consider what direction to take; time to know that only one prophetic voice announcing the good news of the kingdom was left. In his own confusion, anxiety and fear and suddenly no longer alone, Jesus continued to announce the kingdom by deeds more than by words: his heart was moved with pity for the crowds, and he cured their sick and fed them until all ate and were satisfied. Jesus continued doing what he came to do, he kept faith and would keep it even when he was alone again in a garden, which often had been a refuge for him, alone facing his own death.

When that moment came Jesus knew that his disciples, whom he formed and who observed Jesus, would carry on what he began so that you and I would continue to hear about the kingdom; hear about Jesus’ faith; and desire to make his faith our own.

My faith is meager, yet I hold on to it because in doing so I embrace Jesus and Jesus embraces me. Holding on to faith means continuing to do what we have been doing as friends of Jesus. Continuing to act as friends of Jesus means to grow--all of us children, women and men--to feel compassion for others and strain at times to practice it. Holding on to faith keeps us within the orbit of the kingdom Jesus announced, and miraculously makes us agents of the kingdom, who sustain others although we may never know it.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week place yourself in the presence of the Trinity and become aware they created you for a purpose. Ask the disciples and the hungry crowds to present you to Jesus. Praise Jesus for his faith. Speak to Jesus in your own words about your confusion and your need for strength to hold on to Jesus’ faith. Close by saying slowly our Lord’s Prayer, which helps us to hold on each time we ask to be nourished to be effective witnesses in deed of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed. That brief request has extensive consequences for us and beyond us for the sake of the world.

1. Matthew 13.33 from Sunday’s gospel two weeks ago.
Wiki-image of Feeding the Mulititude by Wlliam Hole is in the public domain.

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