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Ordinary Time 19 (B)
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Readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. I Kings 19, 4-8

  • Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert.  The prophet is on the run.  And  what do I know about refugees and forced exiles?  But many of my listeners have had to run from adversity.  Though they may not want to be reminded of it, that is my role today.  Let none of us forget where we have come from and who preceded us in planting the faith.
  • This is enough, O Lord!  Take my life.  Even if this has not happened to me, I will rehearse the words until they grow inside me.  Great souls, especially the greatest, have felt themselves reach the end of their powers.  I don’t think I would shout his final prayer, but rather wring them out in spurts: This is enough!  O Lord!  And then I would pause to let the echo of the prophet’s solitary surrender die away in the assembly.
  • He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree.  The prophet fell exhausted just as do immigrants who try to cross the blazing desert of Arizona.  He did not fall unnoticed.  God sees; that speck in the barren land means everything to God. 
  • Immediately an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.  Twice the angel bids him arise, not like a drill sergeant but like a loving parent or sympathetic mentor who knows how much her charge can take. 
  • He walked forty days and forty nights.  I repeat these symbolic measures with the amazement of a child.  I will also build a sense of gratitude for the food and water that the prophet sees before him.
  • I hear many action words at the end of the passage, when Elijah prepares himself to obey the divine command: he got up, ate, drank and walked to the mountain.
  • Central tension: The will of the prophet, who only wants to lie down, versus the will of his Creator who wants him to continue witnessing to the light.
  • Message for our assembly: Why do we care that Elijah gets up and continues on his journey to the mountain of God?  Do we admire him?
  • I will challenge myself: to suggest some of the emptiness in the desert place, while at the same time I repeat the encouraging command to overcome it.

 

2. Ephesians 4, verse 30 to 5, verse 2

  • The apostle wastes no time in getting to the point.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.  Few of us today use ‘grieve’ with an object, and as I read I think of a more familiar phrase, such as ‘frustrate’ or ‘sadden.’ 
  • With which you were sealed.  The unfortunate translation makes the Spirit into something less than a person.  I prefer to emphasize the pronoun ‘you’ and the decisive act of branding or confirming the believers. 
  • Do I think the Spirit can be affected by what we do?  Indeed, does God care?  If we have in mind the all-perfect God of the old catechism, then it doesn’t seem to make a difference.  In terms of church statistics, we may add up to very little and no one will miss us.  But in the biting words of the psalmist, does God not see?  Of course we make a difference!  Then let us proclaim to each other as if we do.
  • Bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and the other undesirable behaviors deserve to be treated as undesirable. 
  • Climax: Christ loved us and handed himself over for us.  This is not just for the theologians to discuss but for the church to know deeply and be encouraged.
  • The message for our assembly: Yes, God cares whether or not we accept the good news.  It is not the impassive God of the philosophers but the Holy One of Israel.
  • I will challenge myself: To celebrate this gift of Christ to us, as if my listeners and I were about to realize it for the first time.

 

Gospel. John 6, 41-51

  • The reading from last week was full of mutual challenges between Jesus and his listeners.  Today we hear the crowd hitting below the belt, in the style of an attack ad.  Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  In other words, Jesus the impostor.  And the people could not get beyond the man they saw in front of them.
  • What about our assembly?  We have the opposite tendency, yielding to Jesus any ground he wants to claim for himself.  If he wants to call himself the bread that came down from heaven, we will sing it to him like an obliging choir.  We will crown him and raise up altars to him, but will we follow him?  Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.  Will we listen?
  • Can I help in the listening?  Have I listened well myself?  John likes to repeat the same truth in different ways.  Today and during this month it is ‘bread of life.’  This has very much to do with our assembly where we break bread, but it reaches our lives outside the assembly as well.  The Father who sent me draws you.  I will not sweat the exclusive pronouns that John employs and that the authentics insist on copying.  Whoever believes has eternal life.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.  Listening to him, eating and drinking with him, believing in him make up the whole fabric of our lives.
  • The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.  Our faith is not a matter of spirit alone.  God spoke to us out of the flesh, and speaks to us in our neighbor.  In this way we become church in the world: not as refuge or remnant but as leaven, integrating and identifying with others.  And this flesh is at once alive and decaying.  Jesus left no cassettes or DVD’s or books of his sayings.  He could have disappeared without a trace.  But it is the church that has kept his memory among us alive.  When I read the words of Jesus today, I also commend the bonds of fellowship that remind us of eternal life.
  • Climax: Three times we hear I am the bread of life.
  • Message for our assembly: We shall not die but live.  It is his promise, that one may eat this bread and not die.
  • I will challenge myself: To deliver the words of Jesus forthrightly and in faith.

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