Faith has a way of saying great things in the simplest of ways. Sometimes a few words say it all, like the simple words the publican in the gospel utters, not raising his head. “Be merciful to me, a sinner!” Sometimes signs like bread and wine point far beyond themselves to an infinitely generous God.
Today’s Feast of the Sacred Heart offers the sign of the human heart as a way of expressing divine love that cannot be measured. How is it possible to sum up all the words and works of Jesus Christ? He burned with love for us.
The feast of the Sacred Heart is always celebrated on Friday, the day Jesus showed us the depth of his love. The day he faced rejection, he gave himself to us. The day he died, he gave us life. John’s gospel sums up this mystery by pointing to an important but easily overlooked moment of that fearful day– a soldier pierced the heart of Jesus on the cross and blood and water poured out. “Immediately blood and water poured out.”
Look at these signs with eyes of faith, John’s gospel says. They are powerful signs of God’s love for us and for our world. A pierced heart says it all.
Monday Acts 6,8-15; John 6,22-29
Tuesday Acts 7,58-8,1; John 6,30=35
Wednesday Acts 8,1-8; John 6,35-40
Thursday Acts 8,26-40; John 6,44-51
Friday Acts 9,1-20; John 6,52-59
Saturday Acts 9,31-42; John 6,60-69
The Mass readings this week continue from the Acts of the Apostles with the story of the Greek-speaking deacon Stephen. His fiery preaching against temple worship and “stiff-necked” Jewish opposition to Jesus results in his death and a persecution that drives Hellenist Christians out of Jerusalem. (Monday and Tuesday) But Stephen’s death, like the death of Jesus, brings new life. The church grows. “The death of Christians is the seed of Christianity.” (Tertullian )
Philip the Deacon, one of those displaced, preaches to the Samaritans north of Jerusalem. Then, led by the Spirit, he converts the Ethiopian eunuch returning home after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (Wednesday and Thursday} Following Philip’s activity, Paul, the persecutor, is converted by Jesus himself. (Friday)
Before Paul’s ministry begins, Peter leaves Jerusalem to bless the new Christian communities near the coast; at Joppa he’s told by God to meet the Roman centurion in Caesarea Maritima. The mission to the gentile world begins with that meeting. (Saturday)
Stephen, Philip, Peter and Paul serve God’s mysterious plan. It’s not human planning. The Holy Spirit is at work.
The gospel readings this week are from St.John’s gospel– segments of Jesus’ long discourse on the Bread of Life to the crowd at Capernaum after the miracle of the loaves. (John 6) In the Eucharist we meet the Risen Christ. He not only feeds us personally, but a growing church is fed.
Those listening to Jesus teaching in the temple area claim that they’re “descendants of Abraham.”(John 8,31-42) As they look at the splendid buildings of the temple, its well-ordered worship, the structures of ancient tradition they know so well, they probably ask: “Why listen to this man? We have everything God promised to Abraham; they’re automatically ours”.
But God’s promises are not automatic, Jesus says. “If you were the children of Abraham you would be doing the works of Abraham.” The great patriarch, a nomad, found the truth as it was revealed from place to place. He discovered the works of God in time.
John’s gospel was written well after the temple and Jerusalem itself had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. At that time were “descendants of Abraham”– Jews and Jewish-Christians– longing for the restoration and comfort of those ancient structures now gone? Does this gospel remind them that Abraham, “our father in faith,” ventured onto paths unknown. One greater than Abraham leads all of us now.
In fast moving times like ours, this gospel offers the same lesson. We’re called to have Abraham’s faith, a mystic faith that seeks for light within? Two centuries ago, St. Paul of the Cross faced changing times by strongly urging those who sought his advice to center themselves in the unchanging One we meet “in spirit and truth.” God within is our teacher.
“Jesus will teach you. I don’t want you to indulge in vain imagery over this. Leave yourself free to take flight and rest in the Supreme Good, all consumed by fire, absorbed, beside itself and in admiration of the divine perfections, especially at the Infinite Goodness which made itself so small within our humanity.” (Letter 18)
O God, you are my God,
For you I long.
My body pines for you,
Like a dry, weary land without water. (Ps 63)
All four gospels say that Jesus fed a great crowd near the Sea of Galilee by multiplying a few loaves of bread and some fish. It’s an important miracle.
John’s account (John 6), read at Mass on weekdays from the Friday of the 2nd week of Easter until Saturday of the 3rd week of Easter, indicates the miracle takes place during the feast of Passover. Like the Passover feast, the miracle and the teaching that follows occur over a number of days.
The Passover feast commemorated the Manna God sent from heaven to sustain the Jews on their journey to the promised land. Jesus claims to be the “true bread,” the “living bread” that comes down from heaven.
Jesus is a commanding presence during the miracle and the days that follow in John’s account. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” he asks Philip as crowds come to him. He then directs the crowd to sit down, feeds them with the bread and fish, and says what should be done with the fragments left over. Unlike the other gospel accounts that give the disciples a active role in the miracle John’s account gives them a small role. Philip and the other disciples are tested during the miracle and the teaching that follows it.
As they embark on the Sea of Galilee to return to Capernaum after the miracle, a sudden storm occurs and Jesus’ rebukes the wind and the sea, the forces of nature, so that the disciples reach the other shore. He has divine power.
The crowds to whom Jesus speaks at Capernaum after the miracle are also tested as well as his disciples. They want to make him king after a plentiful meal and only look for a steady hand out instead of “the true bread come down from heaven.” Their faith is limited and imperfect after the miracle. They miss the meaning of the sign.
The disciples also are tested; some walk with him no more.
The miracle of the loaves and the fish remind us that Jesus is Lord and we are people of limited faith. We only see so far. The Risen Lord leads us to the other shore. He is the Bread of Life. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life,” Peter says to Jesus at the end of John’s account. And so do we.
To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:
This Sunday at Mass we read from the Gospel of Luke about the visit of Jesus to Martha and Mary.
It’ s hard for us to keep the gospels separate and let each evangelist tell the story he wants to tell, and so when we hear about Martha and Mary in Luke’s gospel, we can’t help but think about the Martha and Mary in John’s gospel, who live in Bethany, whose brother Lazarus dies and whom Jesus will raise from the dead.
In John’s gospel Martha seems to shine, as she runs to meet Jesus and expresses her faith when her brother dies:
“’Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’
“Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,kand everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”*lShe said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’” (John 11, 21-27)
You can’t ask for a stronger expression of faith than that, can you?
But Luke presents the two women differently in his gospel. So let’s hear his story. This is the only mention Luke makes of Martha and Mary in his gospel. It’s all he tells us about them. He doesn’t say they live in Bethany or that they have a brother named Lazarus who died and was raised.
No, this story is part of Luke’s journey narrative of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Luke wants to tell us that Jesus the prophet is making his way to Jerusalem and when he enters your house you should listen to him. That’s what Mary does, she listens to him. Martha is too concerned with taking care of things and she misses what he says.
I suppose we can say that like Martha we can get so caught up with what we’re doing that we miss what Jesus the prophet wants to say to us. We might be doing very good things, but we all need to listen more. We might be the best people, but even the best people may not listen enough.
Still, I find it hard not to praise Martha as we listen to Luke’s gospel. St. Augustine obviously had a soft spot for her. He says that Martha cared for the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. “She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.
“Martha, if I may say so, you will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarrelling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”
“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”