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II Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

Regular readers of this commentary know what to expect today. Every three years I begin the same way. This is the Sunday which reminds me of a unique experience.

Back in the 50s, our high school seminary had regular three-reel Sunday night movies. Because we had just one projector, we had two, ten-minute breaks, giving the projectionist time to change the reels and the rest of us time to use the rest room. One memorable Sunday we came back for the second reel, only to discover the movie people had picked the wrong reel. It was from a completely different movie! We dutifully sat through it, took our break, and returned to view the third reel of the original film. Exactly what we do on the Seventeenth Sunday of the Year, B Cycle.

We’ve been going through Mark’s gospel, until we reach his first account of the “bread miracle.” Then, for the next five Sundays, Mark’s movie is interrupted by John’s movie. Finally on the Twenty-Second Sunday we return to Mark.

All of us in the seminary gym that night immediately realized the difference between the second and third reels. Sadly, only a rare person recognizes the difference between Mark’s bread miracle and John’s. To most people they sound alike. We haven’t been trained to recognize each evangelist’s unique theology.

Briefly, Mark stresses the role of the community in the feeding; John zeros in on Jesus’ role. Mark emphasizes the peoples’ action; John focuses on the bread and wine itself.

Only our Ephesians passage brings up the community’s importance, but the faithful’s humility, gentleness and patience aren’t directly connected to any bread miracle.

Except for the man from Baal-shalishah who supplies the twenty barley loaves, only Elisha plays a role in our II Kings feeding. Except for eating the miraculous bread, no other person participates in the process.

In our gospel pericope, Jesus’ disciples help only by informing him about the boy who has the five barley loaves and two fish, and then prepare the “large crowd” for the imminent banquet. The food they share isn’t even their own.

But it’s significant for John that this “sign” takes place in the context of Passover. Notice that John, unlike the other three evangelists, doesn’t have Jesus institute the Eucharist at the Last Supper. (He institutes another “sacrament” then: the foot-washing.) His Jesus gives us the Eucharist here, at the miraculous feeding. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons John’s Jesus is in total control of the situation. He, for instance, knows what he’s going to do even before he finds out about the boy’s bread and fish.

Though it might have historically taken Jesus’ first disciples a while to understand the implications of what he said and did during the meal they shared on the night before he died, John makes it clear the “Prophet” had everything precisely worked out in advance, exactly what we would presume of someone who’s also God.

It’s this divine person who enters the deepest parts of our lives during the Lord’s Supper. We’ll see and hear the implications of that unity during the next weeks. It’s a unique experience.

But now it’s enough to understand that Jesus is the one who’s started this process. He loves us enough to share his actual body and blood with us; shares it enough that no matter how much we receive from him, there’s always “leftovers.” His giving never runs out.

Our role is simply to understand this gift in the right way. John’s not only going to make certain we will, he’ll give us the reason this gift is essential to the faith the risen Jesus wishes to share with us. We not only share his faith, we actually share him.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
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Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-25

Whenever we come across grumbling and griping during the Exodus, we know that particular passage comes from the “Yahwistic source.” That particular author had to deal with a fair amount of grumbling and griping in her own community. Somehow they felt left out of Yahweh’s salvation history. Though God had worked “signs and wonders” during the Israelites’ first centuries, now, shortly after King David’s death in the 10th century BCE, people were beginning to believe those glory days were in the past, gone forever. They couldn’t perceive any traces of Yahweh’s care and concern in their everyday lives. They simply were born too late. Nothing left to do but complain about their fate.

At this point the Yahwistic author steps in and reminds them of something they’ve overlooked: the Exodus Israelites also grumbled and griped. Though Yahweh’s signs and wonders are all around them, they aren’t “explicit” enough to remove all doubts. When the slightest problem arises – like hunger – they jump to the conclusion God’s left them, and the complaining starts.

It’s important that Scripture scholars are convinced today’s double miracle – manna and quail – can be explained by natural phenomena. The manna, by the nightly secretion of insects on trees and bushes; the quail, by native bird migrations. Anyone adept in survival techniques would have been familiar with both. What was natural for native Bedouins was miraculous for a bunch of runaway slaves. One could easily miss God’s hand in the natural around us.

Along the same line, the Pauline disciple responsible for Ephesians hammers away at the “metanoia” necessary for all Jesus’ followers. Believers and non-believers live in the same world. We basically experience the same things. The difference revolves around how we interpret those experiences. Having a different value system, we’re able to see, hear and touch things others miss. We sense things through the faith of Jesus. The risen Jesus doesn’t normally step in and change reality for our benefit, working miracles on a daily basis. He/she simply helps us see, hear and touch the miraculous that’s already there.

In a way, that’s what John’s Jesus helps us do when we encounter the Eucharist. Though Paul – in I Corinthians 11 – expects the faithful to acknowledge the fundamental difference between a group of people eating lunch at McDonald’s and a faith community sharing a Eucharistic meal, John focuses on the fundamental difference between regular table bread and wine and Eucharistic bread and wine. According to John’s Jesus, the former takes care of our bodily hunger and thirst, the latter, our spirit’s hunger and thirst. Obviously the latter is essential to living a truly fulfilled life.

When compared to the Exodus manna, no matter how miraculous, those nightly insect secretions can’t measure up. Those bread-like flakes only satisfied the Israelites for a day. The Eucharistic bread, on the other hand, will stop us from ever hungering again. This bread morphs into the “bread of life” for which we constantly hunger, even when our stomachs are full.

I presume without these John 6 passages we’d have no tabernacles in our churches. Following Paul, we’d genuflect in front of the community, not the Eucharistic bread. Yet it’s good to see how our understanding of the Eucharist has changed its emphasis through the years.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with evolution, as long as we don’t forget Scripture’s earlier emphasis, as we obviously did for centuries. The problem is, it costs us very little to acknowledge the presence of Jesus in the bread and wine. On the other hand, experiencing Jesus in the community causes us to have a constant death, especially if some of those people belong to a different race, social status or even just a different political party.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



I Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

Glad to read in today’s gospel pericope that Jesus “is the one who is from God” and “has seen the Father.” Much of what we Christians know about God comes through Jesus, who according to John is one with God.

People, like the Pauline disciple responsible for Ephesians, can also look at the risen Jesus and come up with some important divine characteristics we’re expected to imitate. He/she’s kind, compassionate, forgiving. “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling (and) malice” are verboten. If we accept the challenge to be other Christs, we have no choice but to work on developing these aspects of our own personality.

Yet there’s one aspect of God with which many of us have problems, something Elijah eventually discovered in today’s first reading. But to appreciate this characteristic, we have to know what comes immediately before our I Kings passage, and what comes immediately after it.

The actual narrative begins with Elijah executing the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel, in Israel’s far north. The prophets’ patroness, Queen Jezebel, when told about their demise, immediately puts a contract out on Elijah. Fearing for his life, he runs south, the length of the country, down to Beer-Sheba (about 130 miles) where our liturgical reading kicks in. Encountering the “angel of Yahweh,” he twice receives enough food and water to go at least another 250 miles south to Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai). His whole trip – on foot - from Mt. Carmel to Mt. Sinai is about 400 miles.

The difficulty comes when the prophet eventually reaches Mt. Sinai and Yahweh appears to him in the cool breeze to inform him he doesn’t want him there! God unbelievably expects Elijah to backtrack to Damascus – more than 40 miles north of Mt. Carmel – and carry on his ministry there.

Instead of originally leaving Mt. Carmel and walking directly to Damascus, Elijah takes an 800-mile detour. Anyone can take a wrong turn on their own. But Yahweh actually helped Elijah go to Mt. Sinai. That angel didn’t give him food and drink at Beer-Sheba on his own; Yahweh sent him. No wonder the powers that be who pick out our liturgical readings never give us this whole story at one time. If they did, most homilists wouldn’t know what to do with it.

The theology conveyed by the sacred author in this passage is more than disturbing. Besides being expected to follow a God who’s compassionate and forgiving, we’re asked to follow a God who, at times, actually helps us travel in the wrong direction in life. Once we hear this whole pericope, nothing could be clearer.

Applying Elijah’s misdirection to our own lives will take us far beyond geography. How about all the wrong psychological directions we’ve taken in our lifetime? The wrong relationships we’ve formed? Most of the time we didn’t think we’d gone astray. We presumed we were where God wanted us to be.

It’s important to note the gospel Jesus begins his ministry by demanding his followers go through a “metanoia” in their lives; that they change their basic value systems, that they change their directions. Considering their repentance is an outward sign they’ve become other Christs, is it possible the historical Jesus also had to change the direction of his life?

Doesn’t it bother you that Jesus waited for at least 30 years to begin his public ministry? As God, why didn’t he start the ball rolling in Bethlehem? What took him so long? If he hadn’t somehow changed over the years, why were his fellow townsfolk so surprised by his behavior in Mark 6 or his family think he was crazy in Mark 3?

No wonder metanoia is the heart of Christianity. Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything he hasn’t done.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

It’s important to understand that different biblical authors not only disagree with one another, sometimes they actually debate the contradictory characteristics of their various theologies. This is certainly the case with Scripture’s well-known “wisdom debate.” On one side we often have the author of Proverbs; on the other, the author of Job.

Biblical wisdom is usually defined as the knack of surfacing the predictability of God’s actions. In other words, if I, or God, do such and such we can count on God following up with a logical specific action. He/she always maintains the same patterns. We can put our money on it. Our task is simply to surface which actions cause these predictable divine actions. For instance, if I find out what Yahweh’s laws are, and faithfully work at carrying them out, Yahweh will always give me everything I need, especially a long, meaningful life. On the other hand, should I ignore those specific rules and regulations, I (and/or my descendants) are certain to live miserably and die young.

But on the other side of the picture are books like Job. No matter how well this just man adheres to God’s laws, he always gets the dirty end of the stick. Everything goes against him. He and his family are constantly punished. There’s no predictability in God’s actions. Even when Yahweh eventually appears to him, his questions are never answered. God just haughtily says, “I’m divine and you’re not. You’ll never understand why I do what I do. So stop worrying about it.”

Obviously today’s three readings come down on the Proverbs side of the debate. The sacred author paints a symbolic picture of wisdom as a terrific banquet, providing food and drink that takes care of our thirst and hunger for a lifetime. John puts some of the same wisdom elements in the mouth of his Jesus when he speaks about the Eucharist. But he significantly takes the effects of that food and drink beyond this life into eternity. Even the Pauline disciple responsible for Ephesians seems to assure his readers if they revolve their lives around doing the will of the Christ things are guaranteed to go well with them for the rest of their lives. Most of us build our lives on these assurances.

But in spite of this confidence, lots of believing people still bought Rabbi Kushner’s bestselling 1981 book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. No matter how much they trusted in their Proverbs theology, they also kept hearing Job’s complaints. Their faith wasn’t simply a matter of black and white.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the earliest biblical Eucharistic theology wasn’t John’s but Paul’s. The Apostle didn’t hammer away at Jesus’ presence in the sacramental bread and wine; he constantly stressed his/her presence in those around us. Such an emphasis is much more “touchy” than just surfacing the risen Jesus in a piece of bread and a sip of wine. I presume there are people comprising Paul’s Body of Christ with whom we don’t agree, or individuals who’ve hurt us. The second half of I Corinthians 11 revolves around those unexpected situations and unpredictable people. Considering our biblical authors wrote because of problems in their communities, Paul had a field day.

It’s rather simple and easy to go to church and receive the body and blood of Christ. Except for believing in “transubstantiation,” there are few problems. It’s another thing to actually be church and experience the body and blood of Christ all around us. No wonder Paul’s theology eventually fell by the way.

Perhaps one of our life’s task should be to keep debating with those who follow John’s Eucharistic theology. It’s the biblical thing to do.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

For many of us, our faith has consisted in very few choices. Brought up Catholic, we’ve simply stayed in that configuration of beliefs our whole life. We’ve never experienced a compelling reason to change anything. Yet the authors of today’s Joshua and John readings presume there are times when we’re forced to choose between at least two alternative ways of living that faith.

The author of Joshua presents his readers with the basic choice of the Hebrew Scriptures: do we follow “pagan gods,” or imitate Joshua and his family, opting to make Yahweh our personal God, and relinquish allegiance to any other gods or goddesses? We who grew up after the sixth century BCE have only one God to worry about. But those, like Joshua, who lived before Deutero-Isaiah’s ministry, had hundreds of divine beings from which to choose. For them, biblical faith was much more complicated than just being a “believer” or an atheist.

John’s Christian community is also faced with a choice. The late Raymond Brown’s The Community of the Beloved Disciple meticulously outlines the alternatives. They spring from the distinction between “low and high Christology.” The former looks at the biblical Jesus from his human characteristics, the latter, his divine. If one decides to preach on Jesus’ humanity, one normally goes to Mark, Matthew and Luke, low Christology evangelists. Those who preach on his divinity usually turn to John, a high Christology proponent.

John’s chapter 6 clearly paints a divine, high Christology picture of Jesus. One with God, he offers an everlasting food and drink that guarantees eternal life. His message actually is “Spirit and life.” No wonder some “old time” Christians found all this new stuff hard to accept. They simply could “no longer accompany” that kind of Jesus.

Looking at our biblical writings historically, we frequently find ourselves in the middle of an evolving faith, a constantly moving experience. We not only must know what was said, but when, or in what order it was said. Lots of decisions were involved in forming the Scriptures we have today. The historical Jesus, for instance, decided at one point to reject this-life-only theology of most of his theological predecessors and accept the novel eternal-life theology of his fellow Pharisees. The Sadducees he encountered during his ministry refused to make that jump. They argued that believing in a heaven simply created too many complications, exemplified by multiple marriages.

That’s where our Ephesians pericope comes in. Whether we like it or not, it forces us to make a decision. Do we follow this Pauline disciple’s marriage theology, or go beyond it? We’ve already done this with Paul’s theology on slavery. (“Slaves be obedient to your masters.”) No one today would tolerate slavery just because of the Apostle’s limited reflection on the subject. In the same way, should modern women be “subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord” just because the author of Ephesians said to do so 2,000 years ago? We could employ other biblical quotes to challenge that statement. E.g., our Genesis 1 author contends both men and women are made in the image and likeness of Yahweh; a theology in which there appears to be no marital subordination.

As I mentioned above, Sadducees wanted to live a “simple” life. That’s one of the reasons they rejected belief in an afterlife. Do some Christians reject marital equality today just because they also long to live a simple life? Choices can bring complications. Yet in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures we surface a God who has given us free will. Perhaps the more we use that will, the more we actually become like the God we’re trying to imitate, a very complicated being.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The Vatican II reforms opened my eyes to people’s confusion over what are God laws, and what are human laws. Having been brought up in a church which prided itself on never changing, a lot of people – surprisingly more middle age than old - had huge problems when the Council bishops started modifying some of our teachings and regulations. Many of us thought whatever we did and believed came directly from God.

One of the main jobs of reformers – like Jesus of Nazareth – is to remind us what exactly in our faith is from God and what is from humans. It’s natural and easy to mix the two.

Before we start casting stones at the Pharisees and scribes in today’s gospel pericope, I remind you of a late-1960s national survey of Catholics. The questioners asked just one question: “Is it more important to give up meat on Friday or to love your neighbor?” Surprisingly, a majority answered, “Give up meat on Friday.” We obviously learned our catechisms well. But we made little distinction between God’s law and church law. In this case, a changeable human regulation trumped God’s most basic command.

The Deuteronomy author provides us with the best reason for keeping God’s laws: life. Though this particular writer knows nothing of an afterlife, he or she is certain that keepers of Yahweh’s statutes and decrees will have a better quality of life right here and now than those who disregard those regulations. That’s why we should never grumble about having to follow religious laws. We should be grateful for the life we experience by keeping them.

Cutting through the red tape that befuddles many of the faithful about which laws to keep and which to ignore, the author of James tells his community to just zero in on “. . . caring for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Above all, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only . . . .” Yet, as innocent as it sounds, “keeping oneself unstained” can become complicated.

It would appear the risen, not the historical Jesus speaks in today’s gospel pericope. Were it the historical Jesus, Paul’s frequent conflicts with “Judaizers” wouldn’t make sense. He’d win every argument against his conservative, law-abiding Christians by just quoting this passage.

The triggering device for this specific teaching of Jesus springs from non-Jews becoming Christians. As long as everyone who accepts the faith of Jesus is a Jew, this question never arises. As Jews, all early first Christian century Jews followed the 713 laws of Moses.

The first Gentile convert creates a problem. Does he or she have to adhere to those Mosaic regulations, especially the dietary rules? Paul’s letters are where the question is hashed out, not the gospels. By the time Mark writes – the early 70s – the issue is fairly well settled. His Jesus can proclaim, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person.” Yet the question that prompted this passage still remains: what does God actually want us to do; and what are simply human regulations?

Perhaps the best way to settle this question is to return to Deuteronomy. What laws bring life?

During the 50th anniversary year of Humanae Vitae, this is still the criterion. But our definition of life is always evolving. We no longer limit it to just physical life. The deeper we delve into life, the more complicated is our definition. Of course, I presume we experience a much more meaningful life when we employ our God-given consciences to solve birth control questions than when we just methodically follow human regulations. Proof that God’s laws aren’t always simple to surface or easy to carry out.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222