"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

18th SUNDAY (B) August 5, 2018

Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78; Ephesians 4: 17, 20-24; John 6: 24-35

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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 The 18th

SUNDAY

of Ordinary

Time

If you have ever wanted to try focusing your preaching on the Hebrew Scriptures, here is your chance. The episode today from Exodus is part of the desert/wilderness journey. It's symbolism is rich preaching fare – a faith community's arduous journey over a long period of time through harsh terrain. Sounds very modern to me! In the Exodus reading, God has led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and now we find them in the midst of their trek through the desert. They have gotten free, but the journey isn't over yet. They have much to face and learn about themselves and God on the way to their promised land. The narrative is powerful and parallels our own faith experience.

However, notice the references to "the whole Israelite community" is this reading. Such references to the people as a community are found throughout the entire desert narrative, from the very beginning moments when God first leads the people out of Egypt. The whole community leaves together and the whole community is fed, afflicted, led, tested, and grumbles. So, while the reading my suggest to the preacher the personal struggles we go through on our individual faith journeys, remember this is a community faith story, the whole community is being addressed. We are encouraged to reflect on the trials and sufferings that threaten the very life and identity of our own faith community as we travel together.

Let's begin by looking at the desert experience from a grammatical point of view, and I know this is strange, but bear with me. In a simple declarative sentence we have a subject, verb and object. The subject does the action, the verb identifies the action and the object of the sentence receives the action. Throughout this Exodus experience one thing is very clear – God is the subject of the sentence. God does the significant actions in the story. God is the one who sees the affliction of the people in slavery and God decides to come to their rescue. God notices, rescues, leads, protects, feeds, speaks, etc. God even hears "the grumbling of the Israelites" and decides to respond on their behalf. (In a way, their grumbling is like a prayer, or maybe, a lament. God is never far from the people and so hears their constant complaints.) Back to our grammar lesson: the people, on the other hand, are the "objects of the sentence." They are in need, can do nothing for themselves. They are the recipients of God's gracious acts.

Exodus reveals who God is to these people and to us. The struggles of the wilderness also reveal who we are; we are often weak, wavering, grumbling and in need of a faithful God who takes the initiative towards us. And more – we need a God who notices that we are in slavery, even when we are so used to our condition and do not even have the desire to make the effort to get free. God has begun the process; the people have been led out. But that is only their first step towards freedom; they have a long and arduous journey ahead of them. During the journey God will teach them who God is for them and will form them into a community of God’s people.

They are undergoing trials in the desert. Trials are more profound than daily temptations. Trials threaten our very existence and our identity as a people of God. Trials make us want to give up, turn around and go back to the old slavery. As they travel to freedom, the people are meeting resistance – daily, strong forces that would overpower them. Breaking habits, addictions and debilitating ways of living is very difficult and in the midst of the process, there is a temptation to go back. Our church underwent a profound change after Vatican II. Granted there were many false starts and sometimes rapid change from accustomed ways. It has been a painful and often a journey filled with conflict. There are people who still want to undo the work of the Council and return us to a church where decisions were made for us and we were an isolated and barricaded island community in the world.

I would be careful not to paint God as the One who sends the trials, or the tests on our journey. Remember, the Israelites had been slaves: what God is doing is leading them to freedom. If they face hardships it is in the process of getting free and leaving the old ways behind. The desert will be arduous for them: life tests us in many ways. During difficult times we learn where our heart and affections lie; the testing happens as we struggle to leave behind what is false and commit ourselves to what will bring growth. We die in many ways along the way, as a new people are brought to birth.

Like the Israelites, the church faces trials from hostile forces both outside and within. I saw a list a few years ago of all the countries where Christians are persecuted, the list was large – over 20 countries. I am sure there are at least as many countries on that list today, probably more. But there are internal struggles as well in the community. The church, in its attempts to live as a witness to Christ in the world, finds itself adopting the values of the countries in which it is located. We begin to identify Christianity with the political and economic way of life of our nation. We are tempted to think being a good citizen and always supporting our national interests are the same as being a good Christian. In addition, the trials our church has faced these past few years, because of the clergy sex scandals, have also weakened our pilgrim community from within. One result of the scandals is to distract us from the pressing needs in our world that we should be addressing with our energies, finances and programs. The scandals have stirred up "grumblings" from all sides; words of pain, anger, accusations, rejection, etc. In this new, most arduous desert experience, we once again need the food that only God can provide God's people in the desert – the "daily bread" of healing, renewal and recommittment. We are on a long journey, the trials come in various forms and as a people, we easily lose our way.

We notice and feel hope because God sees the hungers of the Exodus community and sends them food. But it is not the food to which they have been accustomed, nor the kind of food they might have chosen for themselves. They ask, "What is this?" The reading encourages us to believe that God is feeding us during this present difficult journey, but it is not the way we expected to be fed. Indeed, we might not even recognize the food we are being given. In difficult times, we find strength to get through each day in the form of people who are there to support us and give us guidance for important decisions. This kind of help comes in such ordinary packages that we fail to see the hand of God in it. So, in the community, food may come in the form of prophetic voices who, though irritating at times, call us back to be the church – the sacrament of Christ in the world.

Exodus reminds us that there is enough bread for "each day." The people must gather a "daily portion." If they try to gather more than that (except when they are preparing for the next day’s Sabbath) the food will rot. Each day God will be there to get us though. We are being taught in the desert to trust that daily nurturing. We have learned and confess that what we really need, that which will mean our survival as a person of faith and as a community of God’s people, can only be supplied by God. We celebrate the gift of "daily bread" in this Eucharist. Of course, even as we ask for daily bread for our community of believers, we believe that God has already heard us. What is the "daily bread" we need to continue to be a strong witnessing community? What will enable us to know that God is caring for us and will hold us together as a people witnessing to God’s presence in the world? We will ask for that bread; but don’t be surprised if the "manna" we get comes in surprising packaging.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/080518.cfm

QUOTABLE


Thou mastering me
  • God! Giver of breath and bread;
  • World’s strand, sway of the sea;
  • Lord of the living and dead;....
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland"

 

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

. . .put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

--Ephesians 4: 24

Righteousness and truth--what did these terms mean to the people living during the early Christian era?

Righteousness, to the ancient Jews, consists in doing what is just and right in all relationships and the fulfillment of all legal and moral obligations: "Thus says the Lord: Do what is right and just. Rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor. Do not wrong or oppress the resident alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place" (Jeremiah 22:3). The prophets conceive of the ideal society in terms of righteousness as we see in Isaiah 28:17--"I will make of right a measuring line, of justice a level."

In the Collegeville Pastoral Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Liturgical, 1996), truth is associated with the biblical notion of justice, which touched on the level of relationship with one’s neighbor. "These are the things you should do: Speak the truth to one another; let there be honesty and peace in the judgments at your gates, and let none of you plot evil against other in his heart, nor love a false oath. For all these things I hate, says the Lord" (Zechariah 8:16-17). In the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2470: The disciple of Christ consents to "live in the truth," that is, in the simplicity of a life in conformity with the Lord’s example, abiding in his truth.

As we see, justice is a key component of both righteousness and truth in the Bible. In his book, A Moral Creed for All Christians (Fortress 2005, 41), Daniel C. Maguire tells a story of meeting a charming old rabbi on a train. He writes, "We had a lively conversation about all the goods and evils of the world and I sensed in him a strong moral passion for justice, a passion seasoned with a very gentle spirit. As we parted, I said, ‘Sir, you have in your heart the true tsedaqah’ [Hebrew word for justice]. And he winced I wondered about that wince for a long time. But the more I studied tsedaqah the better I knew that what I said to him was, ‘Sir you have beating in your chest the very heart of God.’ And his humble wince said, ‘Too much, too much.’"

The very heart of God--righteous, truth-filled, and just--it is these attributes the new self in Christ is called to emulate.

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral

Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

So the people said to Jesus,

"Sir, give us this bread always."

He said to them, "I am the bread of lie,

whoever comes to me will never hunger,

and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

Reflection:

While Jesus addresses people’s physical hungers, he also challenges us not to search for physical food alone – for we will be hungry again. He encourages us to come to him for the food that lasts. Why not try to name the hunger we feel at this moment in our lives and then hold out our empty hands and ask Jesus to feed us. He sees our hungers and will not deny us the daily bread we need.

So we ask ourselves:

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:  http://www.pfadp.org/

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"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

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4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626