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

1. Exodus 16, 2-4 and 12-15

  • The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.  I have been to mass meetings and I can almost hear the angry voices building around me.  Let me build them now, imperceptibly until everyone has to take notice. 
  • Would that we had died!  Death is in the air, because the people speak of it twice.  You had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die!  When we have to face such a threat our adrenalin rises quickly.  We have just entered the presence of the God of peace and the eternal covenant, and so real foreboding has no place now.  What I intend is to suggest the desperation of a people who do not see the hand of God around them.  Otherwise the passage will just be more ancient history for the congregation, with its land of Egypt, fleshpots and fill of bread.  This is our story, not someone else’s, because the God we celebrate is our God. 
  • I think I will understate the tension in the scene, taking my time in the telling.  My listeners can see by my sharpened gaze and conviction that regret is in the air.  If God wanted them to die they should have stayed in Egypt and suffered at the Lord’s hand.  Why did they have to come out here?  Blame Moses!  But you
  • I have heard.  Even God takes the people’s protest as a serious matter.  I made it clear that I took it seriously, and now I will repeat that sense of crisis as I become God’s voice to Moses.
  • And I will show that God does not desert the people.  You shall eat fleshyou shall have your fill of bread.  It is almost an ironic echo of their longing for life back in Egypt: this is what you want, so this is what you will get.  This is clearly God’s will for them: That you may know that I, the Lord, am your God.
  • As I read about the quail that came up and covered the camp, then on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost.  I think about a reporter from the Middle East who has covered the same tragic events day after day, and suddenly is confronted with facts like these.  Just coincidence?  Let me pass on to the congregation a sense of wonder, and let them share among themselves the same wonder that the people felt when they asked: What is this?
  • Climax: I have heard. 
  • Message for our assembly: God is never far away from the people of the covenant and those who remember his love and faithfulness.
  • I will challenge myself: To capture the strong emotion of the people’s protest, but especially their sense of wonder at the God who delivers on promises made.

 

2. Ephesians 4, 17 and 20-24

  • You must no longer live as the Gentiles do.  A moral exhortation is coming for a young church, which like our own lives in a world that is attentive to other values.  The futility of their minds: perhaps they are trying to satisfy the gods and their own bellies at once, as so many in our own times try to do.
  • The apostle now begins the contrast.  That is not how you learned Christ. 
  • The passage I hear today presents an introduction, or dedication as it were.  The list of acceptable behaviors that follows in the letter will be reserved for next week.  For now I will be content to speak of change.  You should put away the old self of your former way of life.  Jesus inspires this change.
  • What will take the place of our former lifestyle?  Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self created in God’s way.  In my own mind I translate the apostle’s psychology this way, borrowing from Philippians: “Adopt the mind of Christ Jesus.” 
  • The passage moves back and forth between denunciation (corrupted through deceitful desires) and urging (righteousness and holiness of truth).  I need to take my time as I thread my way from one train of thought to another.
  • Central point: A radical change is needed. 
  • The message for our assembly: Does our closeness to Christ translate into a positive change in our lives?
  • I will challenge myself: To speak these unfamiliar phrases in a deliberate and encouraging way.

 

Gospel. John 6, 24-35

  • The first time through, I hear an exchange between Jesus and a crowd of people.  After I listen again it begins to sound as if each side is challenging the other, giving no ground.  Let me see if I can bring out the antagonism in my voice.
  • The people listen to Jesus, and also challenge him.  Rabbi, when did you get here?  (You ran away and disappointed us.)  What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?  What can you do?  (Now turn it on and force us to come around.)
  • Jesus knows that the crowd is shallow in its commitment.  You are looking for me because you ate the loaves.  (He might almost be speaking to us.)  He looks for stronger roots.  Work for the food that endures for eternal life.  He appeals to them to believe, not just to see.  Believe in the one God sent. 
  • The story of the Bread of Life now begins.  Our ancestors ate manna in the desert.  The evangelist compares the Exodus miracle of manna in the wilderness to the new and transcending miracle of Jesus among us. 
  • My Father gives you the true bread from heaven that gives life to the world.  The original message to the Jewish people may have lost some of its immediacy for us Gentile Christians.  When was the last time that my listeners have really felt hunger?  I want to remind them of that day and how God rescued them, and persuade them to transfer the amazement and relief they felt over their bodily satisfaction (their sight) to a discipleship with Jesus today (their faith). 
  • Climax: I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger. 
  • Message for our assembly: Seeing is only the beginning, indeed less than a beginning, for a disciple.  Blessed are we who have not seen.
  • I will challenge myself: To keep alive the tension of the crowd of that long-ago time as it challenges Jesus to produce visible signs of divinity.
 

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