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Ordinary Time 18 (A)
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Readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A


 

1. Isaiah 55, 1-3

  • I hear an announcement of free food.  It would fit easily into a 30 second spot.  Come to the waterCome, receive grain and eat. 
  • Four times the prophet says: Come!  We hear this invitation over and over in our secular media, as each speaker tries to lift us off the couch and out to the mall.  So what is so different about this passage?
  • I will use the same kind of excited pitch to remind my listeners that they should pay attention to me.  But why should I speak? And why should they listen?
  • I hear the prophet alleging that the food we look for is not bread and that it fails to satisfy.  Heed me, says the Lord.  It sounds very much like the invitations in Proverbs, Wisdom and Sirach, or Chicken Soup for the Soul.  It’s a clever way to bring Israel and ourselves closer to God’s word, God’s commandments.
  • Climax: In the last sentence I realize that the free food and drink symbolize another greater reality: the everlasting covenant.  Hint: where in every mass do these words appear?
  • Message for our assembly: The goods that are offered to us freely are more valuable than those on which we spend our money.  Usually in a free offer we get just what we pay for, here we get far more than we can imagine.
  • I will challenge myself: Can I get my listeners to reflect on this free gift that is so valuable, that makes all our hunger for wealth and prosperity a dead letter, a completely wasted effort?  John Foley’s hymn is almost an anthem for the poor among us; what would it take for “all who have something” to perk up and listen?

 

2. Romans 8, 35 and 37-39

  • In my opinion these words are the most endearing that Paul ever wrote about the love of God for us.  The apostle puts God’s love to the test by naming the greatest threats to it that he can imagine.  And as I repeat them I’m puzzled why this passage is hardly proclaimed at all in wedding ceremonies. 
  • We begin with a challenge What will separate us from the love of Christ?  The question is meant to be rhetorical, and that is how I intend to read it. 
  • I hear a litany of present dangers for Christians.  The apostle made his own list, and he almost challenges us to draw up our own.  By the way I recite them I can show that these are indeed serious dangers, but they do not have the final say.
  • As I pass through the list of anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword, I squeeze from each one the character that can make it sound threatening to my assembly.  Each leads to a new question, and we are supposed to affirm No to each, as we might answer a questionnaire on our first visit to a medical clinic.  Perhaps in this affluent group of believers I will put more attention on the first and last words.  I don’t hear any specific order or progression in them, though most people have their own interpretation of the sword.
  • Then I hear a second list, longer, more generic and meant to include any danger we can imagine.  This time we affirm together that none of these designations of the material and spiritual universe will stand between us and God.  And it does not depend on whether I accept the cosmology of the first century Middle East or another one that is now in fashion (nor any other creature).
  • Climax: The answer the apostle makes to his initial question.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Enduring love is the theme of the reading, believe it or not.  Count the number of times we hear it.
  • The message for our assembly: We conquer - overwhelmingly.  This passage still helps to inspire the campaigners for peace and justice: We shall overcome.  That last word, overwhelmingly, is not an afterthought but a definition, like the climax of a movie in which an evil empire is obliterated.  It is the word I will emphasize in my reading.
  • I will challenge myself: To breathe life into these dangers that surround us, that assault us via the media every moment, and to affirm my mature act of faith that none of them has a final say over us.  The more real I make them, the more definitive Christ’s victory becomes for us.

 

Gospel. Matthew 14, 13-21

  • I hear two strong themes in this story of the great meal in the wilderness.  First is the feeling of Jesus for those who search him out.  The crowds followed them on foot.  When he saw the vast crowd his heart was moved with pity for them. 
  • I want to contrast Jesus with so many of our leaders today who separate themselves from others with barricades, office doors, desks, upstairs windows, altar rails, decks of microphones.  It deserves to be shouted from the ambo.  He healed their sick. 
  • The second theme is that of service.  Jesus gets his disciples involved, throwing the question back to them, inviting them to help him give the answer.  There is no need for them to go away.  Give them some food yourselves.
  • And how they get involved!  They gave the food to the crowds and picked up the fragments left over. 
  • Once again we hear echoes of our liturgy.  God is present: Jesus looked up to heaven and said the blessing.  The whole meal is full of hands-on action.  Jesus took the loaves and the fish, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples. 
  • The story of the multiplication of loaves and fishes is meant to parallel the memory of the feeding of Israel with manna and quail in the desert.  I can help the homilist make the connection by the way I say words such as deserted place, all ate and were satisfied, picked up the fragments.  By the way, that final act of collecting contrasts with the prohibition God gave to Moses.  And the bread comes to the people through Jesus and his disciples.
  • Climax: They all ate and were satisfied.  It is not a miracle for Matthew, but a work of mercy.  In that spirit, and with a modern bureaucratic mentality, I will proudly recite the statistics of the twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and the five thousand men who ate.  This is a story of abundance and of life. 
  • Message for our assembly: Nothing is impossible for us, if we go before each other as servants.
  • I will challenge myself: To tell the story of a Jesus who is there among the people, not refusing them even in his moment of personal anguish at the death of John (recall the second reading today) but attending to their basic needs.

Word to Communion: Jesus gives us himself now and every time we approach him.  Of course we act with reverence, confidence and faith.  Something more is necessary.  Do we shrug our shoulders at news of wars and blindness, or do we believe everything is possible?

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