Friday, April 16, 2010

The Disciples Filled Twelve Wicker Baskets With What Was Left Over.

Friday of the Second Week of Easter
Reading 1
Acts 5:34-42
A Pharisee in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel,
a teacher of the law, respected by all the people,
stood up, ordered the Apostles
to be put outside for a short time,
and said to the Sanhedrin,
“Fellow children of Israel,
be careful what you are about to do to these men.
Some time ago, Theudas appeared,
claiming to be someone important,
and about four hundred men joined him,
but he was killed,
and all those who were loyal to him
were disbanded and came to nothing.
After him came Judas the Galilean
at the time of the census.
He also drew people after him,
but he too perished
and all who were loyal to him were scattered.
So now I tell you,
have nothing to do with these men,
and let them go.
For if this endeavor or this activity
is of human origin, it will destroy itself.
But if it comes from God,
you will not be able to destroy them;
you may even find yourselves
fighting against God.”
They were persuaded by him.
After recalling the Apostles,
 they had them flogged, ordered them
to stop speaking in the name of Jesus,
and dismissed them.
So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin,
rejoicing that they had been found worthy
to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.
And all day long,
both at the temple and in their homes,
they did not stop teaching
and proclaiming the Christ, Jesus.
At the end of yesterday’s reading we saw that the members of the Sanhedrin were so infuriated by the boldness of Peter and his companions that they wanted to put them to death.

It was at this point that Gamaliel, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, stood up and ordered that the accused disciples be put out of the chamber for a short time. Gamaliel was a teacher of Paul and belonged to the school of Hillel; he may have actually been a grandson of Hillel. He was a leading exponent of a more liberal and humane interpretation of the Law and obviously respected by the council members. What he was urging here was in line with the teaching of the Pharisees.

As soon as the apostles had left the chamber, he addressed the assembly. He warned his fellow council members not to be too hasty in their judgements. He gave two examples of leaders - Theudas and Judas the Galilean - who started rebellious movements and in both cases attracted quite a large following of supporters.

The Jewish historian Josephus mentions the revolts of Theudas and of Judas the Galilean. They must have taken place about the time Jesus was born. Judas apparently led a revolt against paying tribute to Caesar - a contentious issue, as we know from the Gospel. Although his revolt was crushed it is possible that it lived on in the party called the Zealots. (One of the apostles, Simon, is described as a Zealot - Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15.)

However, in both cases the leaders died or were killed and then their movements fell apart and their followers scattered.

Gamaliel suggested that, on the basis of these experiences, this ‘Jesus’ movement should be left alone. Their leader had also died and what was happening now might be just a flash in the pan. “My advice is that you have nothing to do with these men. Let them alone. If their purpose or activity is human in its origins it will destroy itself. If, on the other hand, it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them without fighting God himself.”

This kind of phenomenon occurs constantly and is frequently seen in our Church and, like Gamaliel, we should have confidence in the principle that, in the long run, the truth will always prevail. We sometimes get very concerned about new ideas or new movements that surface in our Christian communities but the same principle applies.

In current debates about married priests, women priests, problems about marriage and sexuality we should be confident that in the long run the truth and justice here too will win out, whatever decisions are made.

The Sanhedrin was persuaded by Gamaliel’s argument but they still had to express their anger and - quite unjustifiably - had the apostles flogged. This would have been according to Jewish law, which meant 40 lashes minus 1 (the Romans, who scourged Jesus, had no such limitations). It reminds one of what happened to their Master. Although declared innocent by Pilate, he was still subjected to the scourging. The council then repeated their orders for the apostles to stop preaching.

Far from being cowed or depressed, Peter and his companions left the court “full of joy that they had been judged worthy of ill-treatment for the sake of the Name”.

They were experiencing the blessedness that Jesus had spoken of in the Sermon on the Mount: “Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are you when people abuse you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven [that is, before God]” (Matt 5:10-12).

Since that time many have been happy and proud to suffer for the sake of the Gospel and its message. In recent times one thinks of the civil rights activists in the U.S., beaten and subjected to attacks from savage dogs, joyfully singing “We shall overcome” as they were carted away to jail in police vans.
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Psalm 27
One thing I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
One thing I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord.
One thing I ask of the LORD
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on
the loveliness of the LORD
and contemplate his temple.
One thing I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD
One thing I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord.
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John 6:1-15
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs
he was performing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there he sat down with his disciples.
The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes and saw
that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food
would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”
One of his disciples,
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here
who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets
with fragments from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.
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.
Today we begin the great chapter 6 of John with its strong Eucharistic overtones. We are bypassing chapters 4 (the Samaritan Woman) and chapter 5, which we read earlier.
The stage is set by the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, a story we find in all four gospels but which, in John, has some characteristics of its own.
As Jesus crosses over the Sea of Tiberias large crowds follow him along the shore. This lake was more commonly known as the Sea of Galilee. Its Roman name came from the new town of Tiberias, named after the emperor and founded about AD 20, in Jesus’ lifetime.
The crowd’s motive in pursuing Jesus was because of the “signs he was performing for the sick”. The implication is that they were not following Jesus for his own sake or because of his teaching. They were not really disciples but, to some extent, people looking for something just for themselves. It is possible for us to come to Jesus in that frame of mind too, our prayers full of “Give me this and that” but with little real commitment to the mission of the Kingdom.
Jesus goes up the mountain and sits down with his disciples. There are echoes here of Moses on Mt Sinai; Jesus is the new Moses and his disciples are the nucleus of God’s new people. It is also close to the Passover, a time soon to be linked with the new Passover in the death and resurrection of Jesus and with the Eucharist, which is the new Passover meal. The whole of the chapter is linked to this.
Seeing the vast crowds approaching, Jesus teasingly asks Philip, always presented as being somewhat simple and naive, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” As Philip came from Bethsaida (1:44), which was nearby, it was logical to ask him as a ‘local boy’. If Philip had any insight into who Jesus really was, he might have given a different answer. As it was he sees no solution: “Not even with 200 days’ wages could we buy loaves enough to give each of them a mouthful.”
Then Andrew, Peter’s brother and sometimes seen as a companion of Philip (cf. John 1), mentions a small boy who has five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish. Barley bread was the food of the poor. Obviously, that would not go very far. In fact, it is all that Jesus needs.
The late Monsignor Ronald Knox in one of his books makes much of this small boy who was picked out of the crowd and was being asked to give up his precious lunch. Yet he plays a crucial role. It was his tiny contribution which made it possible for the whole crowd to be filled and satisfied. It is typical of Jesus to make use of someone, a very insignificant person, in the doing of his work. This is something which happens all the time. How many times have I been chosen to be an instrument of God’s work? How many times have I failed to recognise some person I regarded as being of no importance who was in fact bringing me something from God? How often have I not recognised God’s presence in what needed to be done?
Jesus now gets all the people - 5,000 men not counting women and children - to sit down on the grass. “In meadows of green grass the Lord lets me lie… [He] prepares a table for me” (Psalm 23).
Then, in a ritual reminiscent of the Eucharist, Jesus “took the loaves of bread, gave thanks, and passed them around those reclining there”.
All had enough and more than enough to satisfy their hunger and the disciples are instructed to gather up all that is left over and filled 12 baskets. The Jews regarded bread as a gift of God and it was required that any scraps that fell to the ground should be picked up. These were collected in small wicker baskets which were carried as part of one’s daily attire. Twelve represents a number of completeness and abundance - an indication of just how much there was from the original five loaves that the little boy offered.
He made the offering but the Lord gave the increase. Such is always the case. The 12 baskets may also represent the Twelve, the ones who actually did the distributing of the Lord’s largesse, still the role of the Church today.
The crowd became excited at the sign they had witnessed. “This is undoubtedly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John the Baptist - John 1:21 - was also asked if he was the ‘prophet’.) As we will see in the rest of the chapter, the sign was pointing to Jesus and the food for eternal life which he will give. But the people were thinking of the ‘Prophet’ mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15 who would be like Moses. Through Moses, God had provided food (manna) and water (from the rock) for the people in the desert. The Prophet they were expecting would do more or less the same.
Jesus, realising that they wanted to make him their leader, fled to the mountains alone. This is an example of one of those temptations experienced by Jesus when fasting in the desert. “The devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘I will give you all these,’ he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9).
Jesus had come to win over the people to himself as Messiah and Lord and here was a glorious opportunity when the people were, literally, eating out of his hand. But Jesus knew that this was not the way he was to become king nor was he to be the kind of king that these people wanted him to be. So he fled. The time for establishing his own kind of kingship would come later on.
We, too, sometimes can be tempted to take steps which seem, at first sight, to bring people to Christ but, on reflection, they may be short-sighted and lead to results which are far from the Gospel vision. They tend to lead people to ourselves rather than to God.

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