Sunday, July 30, 2006

So, who are you anyway?

The lessons for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • 2 Kings 4:42-44
  • Psalm 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18
  • Ephesians 4:1-6
  • John 6:1-15
Nobody is ever that eager to go to the DMV -- online reservations and such have only reduced the wait to an hour or so for your new driver's license. The other day I heard that it was only going to get worse here in California, once we implement the new Federal rules and make everybody come in and prove who they are every few years.

But that brought up the whole idea of credentials, how you prove who you are. This is something I am rather used to -- I grew up as an Air Force brat and had a DoD ID card long before I had a driver's license. My collection these days includes a passport (you need it to get back in the country from anywhere these days, including Canada), my state prison volunteer ID, and the passcard from work that gets me through most doors at work. Each marks who I am in reference to a specific organization or situation.

The gospel reading today from John involves credentials -- in fact much of the Gospel of John could be described as Jesus presenting his credentials to the world. One can say that the other three Gospels concentrate on what Jesus does, from different points of view, and presented for different audiences. In this Gospel, however, John concentrates on who Jesus is. The other Gospels are arranged in roughly chronological order. The first half of John's Gospel, which this story is from, is a series of stories, including stories of miracles. These miracles or signs are the credentials that Jesus presents to us so we know just who He is. There are always two sides, or two purposes to a miracle -- the first is the immediate good that is done. Hungry people are fed, sight is restored to the blind, the dead raised back to life. These things are all good in themselves, God reacting to our need.

But each is also a sign, pointing back to the source of all that is good. In each miracle God does something in an immediate, visible and concrete way that He already is doing in a less noticeable way all around us. St. Augustine of Hippo pointed this out:
Governing the entire universe is a greater miracle than feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread, yet no one marvels at it. People marvel at the feeding of the five thousand not because this miracle is greater, but because it is out of the ordinary.

Who is even now providing nourishment for the whole world if not the God who creates a field of wheat from a few seeds? Christ did what God does.

Just as God multiplies a few seeds into a whole field of wheat, so Christ multiplied the five loaves in his hands. For there was power in the hands of Christ.

Those five loaves were like seeds, not because they were cast on the earth but because they were multiplied by the one who made the earth.

This miracle was presented to our senses in order to stimulate our minds; it was put before our eyes in order to engage our understanding, and so make us marvel at the God we do not see because of his works which we do see.
One thing that we can see is the nature of God's extravagance with us. Not only was everyone fed, but there were basketfulls left over. But look at what was multiplied: barley loaves and (based on the text) dried or preserved fish. Barley ripens faster, takes less water, and will grow in poorer soil than wheat. Barley was the grain of the poor in those times, and dried fish was a common but humble storable food. Jesus shows his identification with the poor and extravagant concern for their needs.

We also can see in this story that you can see this sign, but be able to understand it.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
"This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world."
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,
he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
Some commentors on this passage have presented a more naturalistic explanation, that thee real miracle was getting the people to their food with each other. But that is now how the people reacted in this passage -- Jesus is recognized as not just a nice teacher but the prophet foretold by God, the successor of Moses and Elijah. The reaction of the people is rational, but mistaken. We cannot understand who Jesus truly is without knowing of the Cross and His rising again.

The gospel writers found this an important story -- it is the only miracle recorded in all four books. Its importantce is echoed by the bishop's choice of this selection as the beginning of several weeks concentrating on the Eucharist. Jesus is presenting his credentials showing not only who He was in the first century, but who He is now, present among us today.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Quote: Pope John XXIII

Differences of opinion in the application of principles can sometimes arise even among sincere Catholics. When this happens, they should be careful not to lose their respect and esteem for each other. Instead, they should strive to find points of agreement for effective and suitable action, and not wear themselves out in interminable arguments, and, under pretext of the better or the best, omit to do the good that is possible and therefore obligatory.

Mater et Magistra (1961)