Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Am The Bread Of Life: Whoever Comes To Me Will Never Hunger; Whoever Believes In Me Will Never Thirst.

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 8:1b-8
There broke out a severe persecution
of the Church in Jerusalem,
and all were scattered
throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria,
except the Apostles.
Devout men buried Stephen
and made a loud lament over him.
Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church;
entering house after house
and dragging out men and women,
he handed them over for imprisonment.

Now those who had been scattered
went about preaching the word.
Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention
to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city.
There is a saying that it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. We can see an example of it in today’s reading.

The first half of today’s reading sets the stage for what is going to follow. First, it is linked to what has just gone before, the martyrdom of Stephen, followed by widespread persecution of Christians, which, in turn will lead up to the unexpected conversion of the chief persecutor, Saul.

The martyrdom of Stephen was followed immediately by a savage persecution of the infant community. A Pharisee named Saul was among the most dedicated attackers (in the name of God, of course), dragging people from their homes and tossing them into jail. It was the beginning of a phenomenon that has been the lot of Christians in many parts of the world ever since and down to our own day. Right now there are Christians in jail for no other reason than that they openly profess faith in Christ.

While the apostles remained in Jerusalem, many of the other Christians began to scatter to the countryside of Judea (the province in which Jerusalem was situated) and the neighbouring province of Samaria, just to the north. This was to inaugurate the second stage of the Church’s expansion; the third would begin with the establishment of Christian communities in Antioch in Syria.

The persecution seems to have mainly targeted the Hellenist Christians and it was this group, scattered by persecution, which gave the church its first missionaries. And we are immediately introduced to one of them – Philip. This, in fact, was the beginning of the great missionary outreach of the Church which has not yet come to an end in our own time.

The apostles, however, remained behind in Jerusalem. First, they would have been Aramaic-speaking Jews and, by staying behind, they gave encouragement to those in prison and would be a centre of appeal to those scattered. The Church in Jerusalem now effectively went underground – and not by any means for the last time.

However, the persecution in Jerusalem, we can see now, was a blessing in disguise. “It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.” As a result of the persecution in Jerusalem, the scattered Christians were bringing their message to new areas. Eventually – often as the result of persecution – they would carry it to the very ends of the Roman world.

Among the fugitives was the deacon Philip. He was one of the Seven who, with Stephen, had been chosen for special ‘service’. He is now a full-blown evangelist, who preached the good news about the Messiah-Christ, healed the physically handicapped and drove out evil spirits. The result was that “the rejoicing in that town rose to fever pitch”.

Probably the reference is not to the town of Samaria, a Hellenistic city called at this time Sebaste, but to the whole province. And those who were being evangelised were ‘Samaritans’ in the Jewish sense of the word, that is, those related by blood and religion to but cut off from Israel’s community and deemed to be living in heresy. (See the scene between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4:9ff.)

Again and again it has been demonstrated that it is when it is persecuted, when people want to wipe it out, that the Church finds new vitality and the courage to stand up for what it believes. It is when we are taken for granted and worse, even ignored, that we are in the greatest danger. It is then that we are in real peril of being marginalised and are no longer the salt of the earth or a city on a hill. That is what is happening in many prosperous parts of the world today.

What about the world and the society we are living in?
+++     +++    +++    +++
Psalm 66
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth,
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!”
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
“Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,
sing praise to your name!”
Come and see the works of God,
his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
He has changed the sea into dry land;
through the river they passed on foot;
therefore let us rejoice in him.
He rules by his might forever.
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
John 6:35-40
Jesus said to the crowds,
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
But I told you that
although you have seen me, you do not believe.
Everything that the Father gives me
will come to me, and I will not reject
anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven
not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son
and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.”
We continue yesterday’s reading by repeating its last words where Jesus tells his listeners very clearly that he is the Bread of Life. All those who partake of this Bread will never again be either hungry or thirsty. The whole life of Jesus – his actions and words and his relationships with those around him – are a rich source on which we can draw.

In a sense, of course, we will always hunger and thirst for this full life but, by approaching and imbibing him and his spirit, our hunger and thirst are ever being satisfied while we continue to hunger and thirst for more. There will never be a time when we will want to stop eating and drinking from this Source and when we do we will stop living.

Jesus reproves his listeners for their lack of faith in him. “Though you have seen me, you still do not believe.” The question is: how much of Jesus did they really see? How deep was their perception of who he truly was and is?

That may be our problem too. Without a deep trust and total commitment to Christ and all he stands for, we may find that we do not have full access to that Bread of Life which we need so much. The search for the full Christ is one that we will never complete in this life. We only hope that we never stop searching. There will never be a day on this earth when we will be able to say: “I know Christ fully.” Not even the whole Church can make that claim.

Yet Jesus intensely wants to share that Bread, that nourishment with us. “Indeed, it is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks upon the Son and believes in him, shall have eternal life.”

Let us open our hearts today so that Jesus can fill them with his life-giving love. For he says: “I will not reject anyone who comes to me.”

Jesus has a mission. “I came down from heaven [a phrase repeated six times in this chapter] not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” And what is the will of the Father? “It is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me but that I should raise it up on the last day."

This is a summary of what this whole chapter is about. God wants everyone to be with him “on the last day”. On our part, we have to learn how to “see the Son” and “believe in him”, so that one day we can say with St Paul: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). When that happens we know that we have truly been filled with the Bread that is Christ.


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I think there is a reason that St. Francis was joyful: he did not have any possessions to own him. The average American (in spite of the economic crisis in this country) still has much more than most people on this planet and, I think, less joy. As Thoreau contended, we don't own our things, they own us -- and that makes it hard to be owned by God. My husband and I once (10 years ago) sold or gave away (to someone helping impoverished folks in the Philippines) everything we had with a few small exceptions (what we needed to live in a small trailer, where we had moved from a 13-room house). It was liberating and exhilarating. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but we never re-accumulated all that stuff, so we don't have anything to speak of to own us. It is a peaceful way to live.

Sarah in the tent said...

I was very interested to read your explanation of the baskets of bread scraps on 16th April:

'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.'

Today's reading brought this back to mind, making me wonder whether frugal housewives used to grind up that dry bread and add it to a batch of live dough.

'And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.'

Here, 'what he gave me' - the believers - seems to be treated with the same precious care as the crumbs of bread. Perhaps the 'Bread of Life' can be compared to the live batch of dough that shares its water and yeast with the dried crumbs, ultimately raising them up.

Likening believers to crumbs of bread also occurs in the Didache:

'As this broken bread was scattered over the mountains,
And was gathered together to become one, So let Your Body of Faithful be gathered together
From the ends of the earth into Your kingdom;'

This discourse promises eternal life. Later, at the Last Supper, forgiveness of sins is also promised. In his person, Jesus resolved the two major theological worries of his time, for all time.