To serve and not to rule.

Lectio Divina: 

 Sunday, August 19, 2018

Jesus, the bread of life
John 6:51-58

Let us invoke the presence of God

 

Shaddai, God of the mountain,
You who make of our fragile life
the rock of your dwelling place, 
lead our mind 
to strike the rock of the desert, 
so that water may gush to quench our thirst. 
May the poverty of our feelings
cover us as with a mantle in the darkness of the night 
and may it open our heart to hear the echo of silence 
until the dawn, wrapping us with the light of the new morning, 
may bring us, with the spent embers of the fire of the

shepherds of the Absolute who have kept vigil for us

close to the divine Master, the flavour of the holy memory.

 

  1. LECTIO

 

a) The text:

51 I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.' 52 Then the Jews started arguing among themselves, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' 53 Jesus replied to them: In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. 57 As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me. 58 This is the bread which has come down from heaven; it is not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.

b) A moment of silence:

Let us allow the voice of the Word to resonate within us. 


2. MEDITATIO

 

a) Some questions:

- I am the bread of life… Jesus, flesh and blood, bread and wine. These words work a change on the altar, as Augustine says: «If you take away the words, all you have is bread and wine; add the words and it becomes something else. This something else is the body and blood of Christ. Take the words away, all you have is bread and wine; add the words and they become sacrament». How important is the word of God for me? If the word is pronounced over my flesh can it make me become bread for the world?

 

b) Let us enter into the text:

 

v. 51. ”I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world”.John’s Gospel does not recount the institution of the Eucharist, but rather the meaning it assumes in the life of the Christian community. The symbolism of the washing of the feet and the new commandment (Jn 13:1-35) point to the bread broken and the wine poured. The theological content is the same as that in the synoptic Gospels. John’s ritual tradition can, however, be found in the “eucharistic discourse” that follows the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves (Jn 6:26-65). This text brings to light the deep meaning of Christ’s existence given for the world, a gift that is the source of life and that leads to a deep communion in the new commandment of membership. The reference to the ancient miracle of the manna explains the paschal symbolism where the idea of death is taken up and overcome by life: «Your fathers ate manna in the desert and they are dead; but this is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a person may eat it and not die» (Jn 6:49-50). The bread of heaven (cfr Es 16; Jn 6:31-32) figuratively or in reality is not meant so much for the individual as for the community of believers, even though everyone is called to partake personally of the food given for all. Anyone who eats the living bread will not die: the food of the revelation is the place where life never ends. From the bread, John goes on to use another expression to point to the body: sarx. In the Bible this word denotes a human person in his or her fragile and weak reality before God, and in John it denotes the human reality of the divine Word made man (Jn 1:14a): the bread is identified with the very flesh of Jesus. Here it is not a question of metaphorical bread, that is of the revelation of Christ in the world, but of the eucharistic bread. While revelation, that is the bread of life identified with the person of Jesus (Jn 6:35), is the gift of the Father (the verb to give is used in the present, v. 32), the eucharistic bread, that is the body of Jesus will be offered by him through his death on the cross prefigured in the consecration of the bread and wine at the supper: «and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world» (Jn 6:51).

v. 52. Then the Jews started arguing among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’. Here begins the drama of a way of thinking that stops at the threshold of the visible and material and dares not cross the veil of the mystery. This is the scandal of those who believe without believing… of those who pretend to know but do not know. Flesh to eat: the celebration of the Passover, the perennial rite that will go on from generation to generation, a feast for the Lord and a memorial (cfr Es 12:14), whose meaning is Christ. Jesus’ invitation to do what he has done “in memory” of him, is paralleled in the words of Moses when he prescribes the paschal anamnesis: “This day must be commemorated by you, and you must keep it as a feast ” (Ex 12,14). Now, we know that for the Jews the celebration of the Passover was not just a remembrance of a past event, but also its ritualisation, in the sense that God was ready to offer again to his people the salvation needed in new and different circumstances. Thus the past intruded into the present, leavening by its saving power. In the same way the eucharistic sacrifice “will be able” to give to the centuries “flesh to eat”.

 

vv. 53. Jesus said: “In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”. 

 

John, like the synoptic Gospels, uses various expressions when speaking of Christ’s giving of himself in death, not wishing thus to convey a separation of parts, but the totality of the person given: the spiritualised corporeity of the risen Christ, fully permeated by the Holy Spirit in the Paschal event, will become source of life for all believers, especially through the Eucharist, that unites closely each on of them with the glorified Christ seated at the right hand of the Father, and making each one partake of his own divine life. John does not mention bread and wine, but directly what is signified by them: flesh to eat because Christ is presence that nourishes and blood to drink – a sacrilegious act for the Jews – because Christ is the sacrificed lamb. The sacramental liturgical character is here evident: Jesus insists on the reality of the flesh and of the blood referring to his death, because in the act of sacrificing the sacrificial victims the flesh became separated from the blood.

 

54. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. 

 

The Passover celebrated by Jesus, the Jew, and by the early Christians acquires a new soul: that of the resurrection of Christ, the final exodus of perfect and full freedom (Jn 19: 31-37), which in the Eucharist finds the new memorial, symbol of the Bread of life that sustains during the journey in the desert, sacrifice and presence that sustains the people of God, the Church, that, having crossed the waters of regeneration, will not tire of making memory, as he said, (Lk 22:19; 1Cor 11:24) until the eternal Passover.Attracted and penetrated by the presence of the Word made flesh, Christians will live their Pesach throughout history, the passage from the slavery of sin to the freedom of children of God. In conforming themselves to Christ, they will be able to proclaim the wonderful works of his admirable light, offering the eucharist of his corporeity: living sacrifice, holy and pleasing in a spiritual cult (Rom 12:1) that befits the people of his victory, a chosen race, a royal priesthood (cfr 1Pt 2:9).

 

vv. 55-56. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. This promise of the life of Christ influences greatly the life of believers: «Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person» (Jn 6:56). The communion of life that Jesus has with the Father is offered to all who eat the sacrificed body of Christ. This is not to be understood as the magic concession of a sacramental food that automatically confers eternal life to those who eat it. This giving of the flesh and blood needs explanation to make it intelligible and to provide the necessary understanding of God’s action, it needs faith on the part of those who take part in the eucharistic banquet, and it needs first God’s action, that of his Spirit, without which there can be no listening or faith.

 

v. 57. As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me. The stress is not placed on the cult as the peak and foundation of love, but on the unity of the body of Christ living and working within the community. There is no liturgy without life. «A Eucharist without fraternal love is equal to self condemnation, because the body of Christ, that is the community, is despised». Indeed, in the eucharistic liturgy the past, present and future of the history of salvation find an efficient symbol for the Christian community, which expresses but never substitutes for the experience of faith that must always be present in history. Through the inseparable Supper and Cross, the people of God have come into the ancient promises, the true land across the sea, across the desert, across the river, a land of the milk and honey, of freedom capable of obedience. All the great ancient plans find in this hour (cfr Jn 17:1) their fulfilment; from the promise made to Abraham (Gn 17:1-8) to the Passover of the Exodus (Ex 12:1-51). This is a decisive moment that gathers the whole past of the people (cfr DV 4) and the first most noble Eucharist ever celebrated of the new covenant is offered to the Father: the fruitful fulfilment of all expectations on the altar of the cross.

 

v. 58. “This is the bread which has come down from heaven; it is not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever”. When Jesus pronounces the words: «This is my body», and, «This is my blood», he establishes a real and objective relationship between those material elements and the mystery of his death, which finds its crowning glory in the resurrection. These are creative words of a new situation with common elements in human experience, words that will always and truly realise the mysterious presence of the living Christ. The elements chosen were meant to be and are symbol and instrument at the same time. The element of bread, which because of its relationship to life has by itself an eschatological significance (cfr Lk 14:15), is easily seen as an indispensable food and a universal means of sharing. The element of wine, because of its natural symbolism, connotes the fullness of life and the expansion of the joy of a person (cfr Ps 103:15). In the existential Semite view, the effectiveness of the system of signs is taken for granted. It makes distinctions that make it possible to comprehend mysteries by faith where the senses fail. By referring and going back to the desert and the manna, this different “Pasch”, the material object and the sign come together, but concupiscence, which is from the flesh, transforms the sign into matter, while the desire, which is from the spirit, transforms the matter into sign» (P. Beauchamp, L’uno e l’altro testamento, Paideia Ed., Brescia 1985, p. 54). In fact, the manna from heaven comes from God in an invisible form and thus lacks identity. This lack of evidence is seen clearly in the etymology of the word “manna”: «What is it?» (Ex 16:15). This says what it is, a name given to almost nothing, a sign and not a thing, a signed sign. It is proven in the moment it disappears, because one is tempted to remedy that which disappears, to make provision of manna so as not to run short. This is the price of what disappears to the senses. The alternation is the time of the desert. The manna is bread that obeys the laws of him who gives it. The law, that the manna signifies, is to expect everything from him: what is required is belief. Because of its lack of substance, manna creates the desire for more solid support; but in the place called “sepulchres of greed” the thing, deprived of sign, brings death (Nm 11:34). In the desert that which urges people to go ahead with confidence is this seeing the manna either as a sign or as a thing in itself and thus either believe or die.

 

c) Let us meditate:

Jesus fulfils the true Pesach of human history: «Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end. While they were at supper…» (Jn 13;,1). To pass over: the new Pasch is precisely this passing over of Christ from this world to the Father through the blood of his sacrifice. The Eucharist is the memorial, bread of the desert and saving presence, covenant of fidelity and communion written in the person of the Word. The history of salvation that for Israel is made up of events, names and places, leads to a reflection of faith over an experience of life that makes the name of Yahweh not just one name among many but the only Name. Everything begins from an encounter, a dialogical event between God and humanity that translates into a covenant of alliance, old and new. The sea of rushes is the last frontier of slavery and beyond it lies the spacious territory of freedom. In this watery sepulchre the old body of Israel is laid to rest and the new and free Israel rises. This is where Israel’s identity is born. Every time that this passage through the waters of birth is evoked more than just as a historical event to be remembered, the eschatological event will arise, capable of a divine fullness that becomes present, sacramental sign of God’s faithful initiative today for the new generations, in expectation of the final liberation that the Lord will provide. It is the gasp of a people that on the eve of the Pesach finds its deep identity individually and as a people, the eve when the son of the living God gives himself wholly in the form of food and drink.

 

3. ORATIO

Psalm 116

What return can I make to Yahweh 
for his generosity to me?
I shall take up the cup of salvation 
and call on the name of Yahweh.

I shall fulfil my vows to Yahweh, 
witnessed by all his people.
Costly in Yahweh's sight 
is the death of his faithful.

I beg you, Yahweh! 
I am your servant, 
I am your servant 
and my mother was your servant; 
you have undone my fetters.
I shall offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving 
and call on the name of Yahweh.

I shall fulfil my vows to Yahweh, 
witnessed by all his people,
in the courts of the house of Yahweh, 
in your very heart, Jerusalem.

 

4. CONTEMPLATIO

 

When we think of you, Lord, we do not recall events that took place and were fulfilled long ago, but we come into contact with your reality ever present and alive, we see your constant passage among us. You intervene in our life to restore our likeness to you, so that we may not be disfigured by the stones of the law, but may find our fullest expression in your face as Father, revealed in the face of a man, Jesus, the promise of fidelity and love even unto death. It is not necessary at all to go out of ordinary existence so as to meet you because the care you take of your creatures unfolds over our human affairs like a scroll in the proximity of an experience. You, Creator of heaven and earth, indeed do hide in the folds of history and, even though at first obscurely and implicitly, you allow us to meet you in your transcendence, which is never absent from ordinary events. When our reflection on life brings us to an acknowledgement of your liberating presence, this meeting can only be celebrated, sung, expressed by sacred symbols, relived festively in great joy. Thus we do not come to you alone, but as a people of the covenant. The wonder of your presence is always purely gratuitous: in the members of the Church, where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus (Mt 18:20), in the pages of Sacred Scripture, in evangelical preaching, in the poor and suffering (Mt 25:40), in the sacramental actions of ordained ministers. But it is in the eucharistic sacrifice that your presence becomes real; in the Body and Blood there is the whole of the humanity and divinity of the risen Lord, present substantially.

 

Lectio Divina:

 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

 

Jesus the bread of life.

 

1. Opening prayer

 

Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection. 


Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen. 
 
2. Reading
 
a) A key to the reading: 
 

The Discourse of the Bread of Life is not a text to be discussed and dissected, but rather it should be meditated and pondered. This is why, even if it is not fully understood, we should not be concerned. This text of the Bread of Life demands a whole life to meditate on it and deepen it. Such a text, people have to read it, meditate it, pray it, think about it, read it again, repeat it and ponder it, as one does with a good sweet in the mouth. We turn it and turn it in the mouth until it is finished. The one, who reads the Fourth Gospel superficially, may have the impression that John always repeats the same thing. Reading it more attentively, one becomes aware that it is not a question of repetition. The author of the fourth Gospel has his own way of repeating the same theme, but always at a higher and more profound level. It seems to be like a winding staircase. By turning one reaches the same place, but always at a higher level or a more profound one.


 
b) A division of chapter six:
 

It is good to keep in mind the division of the chapter in order to understand better its significance:
John 6,1-15: the great multiplication of the loaves
John 6,16-21: the crossing of the lake, and Jesus who walks on the water
John 6,22-71: the dialogue of Jesus with the people, with the Jews and with the disciples
1st dialogue: 6, 22-27 with the people: the people seek Jesus and find him in Capernaum
2nd dialogue: 6, 28-34 with the people: faith as the work of God and the manna of the desert
3rd dialogue: 6, 35-40 with the people: the true bread is to do God’s will.
4th dialogue: 6, 41-51 with the Jews: the complaining of the Jews
5th dialogue: 6, 52-58 with the Jews: Jesus and the Jews.
6th dialogue: 6, 59-66 with the disciples: reaction of the disciples
7th dialogue: 6, 67-71 with the disciples: confession of Peter


c) The text: John 6,24-35

 

When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, 'Rabbi, when did you come here?'


Jesus answered: In all truth I tell you, you are looking for me not because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat. Do not work for food that goes bad, but work for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of man will give you, for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.


Then they said to him, 'What must we do if we are to carry out God's work?' Jesus gave them this answer, 'This is carrying out God's work: you must believe in the one he has sent.'


So they said, 'What sign will you yourself do, the sight of which will make us believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers ate manna in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'


Jesus answered them: In all truth I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven, the true bread; for the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.


'Sir,' they said, 'give us that bread always.' Jesus answered them: I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever hunger; no one who believes in me will ever thirst.
 
3. A moment of prayerful silence 
 

so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
 
4. Some questions 
 

to help us in our personal reflection.
a) The people were hungry, they eat the bread and they look for more bread. They seek the miracle and do not seek the sign of God who was hidden in that. What do I seek more in my life: the miracle or the sign?
b) Hungry for bread, hungry for God. Which of these two predominates in me?
c) Jesus says: “I am the bread of life”. He takes away hunger and thirst. Which of these experiences do I have in my life?
d) Keep silence within you for a moment and ask yourself: “To believe in Jesus: What does this mean for me concretely in my daily life?”
 
5. For those who wish to deepen more into the theme
 
a) Context:
 

In today’s Gospel we begin the Discourse on the Bread of Life (Jn 6, 22-71). After the multiplication of the loaves, the people follow Jesus. They had seen the miracle; they had eaten and were satiated and wanted more! They were not concerned about looking for the sign or the call of God that was contained in all of this. When the people found Jesus in the Synagogue of Capernaum, he had a long conversation with them, called the Discourse of the Bread of Life. It is not really a Discourse, but it treats of a series of seven brief dialogues which explain the meaning of the multiplication of the bread, symbol of the new Exodus and of the Eucharistic Supper.


The conversation of Jesus with the people, with the Jews and with the disciples is a beautiful dialogue, but a demanding one. Jesus tries to open the eyes of the people in a way that they will learn to read the events and discover in them the turning point that life should take. Because it is not enough to follow behind miraculous signs which multiply the bread for the body. Man does not live by bread alone. The struggle for life without mysticism does not reach the roots. The people, while speaking with Jesus, always remain more annoyed or upset by his words. But Jesus does not give in, neither does he change the exigencies. The discourse seems to be a funnel. In the measure in which the conversation advances, less people remain with Jesus. At the end only the twelve remain there, but Jesus cannot trust them either! Today the same thing happens. When the Gospel beings to demand commitment, many people withdraw, go away.

 

b) Commentary on the text

 

John 6, 24-27: People look for Jesus because they want more bread. The people follow Jesus. They see that he did not go into the boat with the disciples and, because of this, they do not understand what he had done to reach Capernaum. They did not even understand the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. People see what has happened, but they cannot understand all this as a sign of something more profound. They stop only on the surface; in being satisfied with the food. They look for bread and life, but only for the body. According to the people, Jesus does what Moses had done in the past: to feed all the people in the desert. According to Jesus, they wanted the past to be repeated. But Jesus asks the people to take a step more and advance. Besides working for the bread that perishes, they should work for the imperishable food. This new food will be given by the Son of Man, indicated by God himself. He brings life which lasts forever. He opens for us a new horizon on the sense of life and on God.

 

John 6, 28-29: “Which is God’s work?” The people ask: what should we do to carry out this work of God? Jesus answers that the great work of God asks us to “believe in the one sent by God”. That is, to believe in Jesus!

 

John 6, 30-33: “What sign will you yourself do, the sign which will make us believe in you?” People had asked: What should we do to carry out the work of God? Jesus responds: “The work of God is to believe in the one who has sent”, that is to believe in Jesus. This is why people formulate the new question: “Which sign do you do so that we can see and can believe? Which work do you do?” This means that they did not understand the multiplication of the loaves as a sign from God to legitimize Jesus before the people, as the one sent by God! They continue to argue: In the past our fathers ate the manna which Moses gave them! They called it “bread from Heaven” (Ws 16,20), that is, “bread of God”. Moses continues to be the great leader in whom to believe. If Jesus wants the people to believe in him, he should work a greater sign than Moses. “What work do you do?”


Jesus responds that the bread given by Moses was not the true bread from heaven. Coming from on high, yes, but it was not the bread of God, because it did not guarantee life to anyone. All of them died in the desert (Jn 6, 49). The true bread of heaven, the bread of God, is the one which conquers death and gives life! It is the one which descends from Heaven and gives life to the world. It is Jesus himself! Jesus tries to help the people to liberate themselves from the way of thinking of the past. For him, fidelity to the past does not mean to close up oneself in the ancient things and not accept renewal. Fidelity to the past means to accept the novelty which comes as the fruit of the seed which was planted in the past.

 

John 6, 34-35: “Lord, gives us always of that bread!” Jesus answers clearly: “I am the bread of life!” To eat the bread of heaven is the same as to believe in Jesus and accept to follow the road that he teaches us, that is: “My food is to do the will of the one who has sent me and to complete his work!” (Jn 4, 34). This is the true food which nourishes the person, which transforms life and gives new life. 
 
6. Prayer of Psalm 111
 

Alleluia! I give thanks to Yahweh with all my heart, 
in the meeting-place of honest people, in the assembly.
Great are the deeds of Yahweh, 
to be pondered by all who delight in them.

 

Full of splendour and majesty his work, 
his saving justice stands firm for ever.
He gives us a memorial of his great deeds; 
Yahweh is mercy and tenderness.
He gives food to those who fear him, 
he keeps his covenant ever in mind.

 

His works show his people his power 
in giving them the birthright of the nations.
The works of his hands are fidelity and justice, 
all his precepts are trustworthy,
established for ever and ever, 
accomplished in fidelity and honesty.

 

Deliverance he sends to his people, 
his covenant he imposes for ever; 
holy and awesome his name.
The root of wisdom is fear of Yahweh; 
those who attain it are wise. 
His praise will continue for ever.
 
7. Final Prayer 
 

Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.


 


 

Lectio Divina:

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Eating and sharing the bread of life

John 6:1-15

1. LET US INVOKE THE HOLY SPIRIT

Our Father in heaven,

You have given us Your beloved Son.

Send Your Spirit

that we may eat and savor Your gift.

Give us our daily bodily and spiritual bread.

May it provoke in us a hunger and thirst

for You, for Your Word and Your banquet,

where You will satisfy us with Your presence,

with Your love and Your shalom,

in the joy of communion with the brothers and sisters that You give us this day, that we may share with them the material and spiritual bread. Amen.

 

2. READING

 

a) The premises and key of biblical and liturgical reading:

 

* Our passage contains an unusual characteristic: it narrates the only “inflated” episode in the Gospels. In fact, all together it is told six times (once in Luke and John, twice in each of Mark and Matthew). Apart from any historical-critical evaluation of this unusual repetition, it is clear that early Christian tradition gave this episode great emphasis.

 

* Much discussion has gone on concerning the literary connections with the other Gospel stories, but really we cannot tell definitely whether there are any direct or indirect connections among the various Gospel stories. The nearest parallel to John seems to be the first text in Mark (6:30-54), but John would have had an independent source, which he reworked so that it would fit in well with the discourse that follows.

 

* As is usual in the fourth Gospel, a discourse of great theological importance is closely coupled with the “sign,” which in this case is a miracle. Here, the discourse that follows covers almost the whole of the sixth chapter: it is the discourse on the “bread of life" (6:26-59), the great source of theological reflection on the sacrament of the Eucharist.

 

* Throughout the text there are several references to actions, words and ideas characteristic of the Christian liturgy. Thus there seems to be a close relationship between this passage and the liturgical tradition of Eucharistic celebration, especially in view of the fact that the Gospel of John makes no reference to the institution of the Eucharist

 

* In this year’s liturgical cycle, which is based on the Gospel of Mark, a series of Sunday Gospels taken from John are inserted at this point. The insertion takes place precisely where one would have expected the readings on the multiplication of the loaves. The choice of the first reading is a classical example of mutual illumination between the Testaments: we have the multiplication of loaves by the prophet Elisha (2Kings 4:42-44). The parallel between the miracles throws light also on the prophetic aspect of the person of Jesus. Again, the second reading (Eph 4:1-6) emphasizes an aspect of the Eucharistic life of the Church: the communion built around Christ and nourished by the one Eucharistic bread.

 

* The main themes of this passage are those that concern the symbolism of the bread and of sharing the meal. It also has an eschatological dimension. Other important motifs present in the text are those of faith in Jesus and in His way of interpreting messianism, here expressed through the Old Testament figure of Moses.

 

b) The text:

 

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.

 

c) A subdivision of the text for a better understanding:

 1-4: Temporal, geographic and liturgical introduction.

 5-10: The preparatory dialogue between Jesus and the disciples.

 11-13: The meal “multiplied” and over-abundant.

 14-15: The reactions of the people and of Jesus.

 

3. A MOMENT OF INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR SILENCE

to allow the Word of God to impregnate our hearts and minds.

 

* It is spring, and Easter is close. The air is still fresh, and this makes it easier to follow and listen to the now famous, though controversial, rabbi of Nazareth.

 

* As I read and reread, I hear a voice, but still saying rather “strange” things”: how is it possible to feed this great crowd of people?

 

* A few loaves and fewer fish…but we must not lose them, while we agree to share them. Look, they increase as we distribute them!

 

* At the end, we collect everything: it is very tiring, but bread is always precious, everywhere and at all times, especially this bread.

 

* I resume my journey with Him, without stopping, with a light and happy heart because of the great things that I have seen today, but also with a few more questions. I go on looking at Him and listening to Him, I let my heart echo His actions, the expressions of His face, His voice and His words.

 

4. THE WORD GIVEN TO US

 

* The “Book of Signs” of the fourth Gospel: Our passage comes from a part of the Gospel known as the “book of signs” (from 1:19 to 12:50), where we find descriptions of, and comments on, seven great “signs” of self-revelation (semeion, a symbolic miracle or action) worked by Jesus in this Gospel. Discourses and “signs” are closely correlated: theological discourses explain the “signs,” and in the “signs” we find a concrete presentation of the contents of the discourses in a progressive deepening of the divine revelation and the consequent growing hostility towards Jesus.

 

Chapter 6 of John: In an attempt to clarify the chronology and geographical details of chapter 6, some propose that we change the places of chapters 5 and 6. This, however, would not resolve all the problems. It is better, then, to keep and respect what tradition has passed on to us, keeping in mind the historical-editorial problems involved, so as not to “unduly stress something which does not seem to have had great importance for the Evangelist" (Raymond Brown).

 

Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias: The lake is identified as having two names; the first is the traditional one, the second is adopted by John in the New Testament (also in 21:1), perhaps because it had appeared recently in the life of Jesus and was, therefore, in common use after His death and widespread especially among the Greeks.

 

And a multitude followed Him, because they saw the signs which He did on those who were diseased: Before this (2:23-25), we come across a similar situation of many believers in Jesus who had seen the “signs” He had worked. In both situations, Jesus shows clearly that He disapproves of the motivation (2:24-25; 6:5, 26).

 

The “signs” on those who were diseased, namely the healings that Jesus worked in Galilee, are told by John, except for the healing of the son of the regional official (4:46-54). However, with these words, this Evangelist lets it be understood that he had not told all the events and that he had chosen a few among many that he could have communicated to the readers (cf.  21:25).

 

* Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with His disciples: There is no way of knowing which mountain.

 

The scene of Jesus, like Moses, sitting surrounded by His disciples, is a recurring theme also found in the other Gospels (cf. Mk 4:1; Mt 5:1; Lk 4:20). The action of sitting in order to teach was normal for rabbis, but John – contrary to Mk 5:34 – does not mention that Jesus taught on this occasion.

 

Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand: The fourth Gospel makes three references to the celebration of the Passover by Jesus during His public life. This was the second (the first: 2:13; the third: 11:55) and we are told the religious and theological circumstances of everything said and done in chapter 6: the “bread given” by God like the manna, the going up the mountain by Jesus, like Moses, the crossing of the water as during the exodus (in the following episode: 6:16-21), the discourse on the theme of the bread that comes from God. Concerning the relationship between the manna given to Israel in the desert and the multiplication of the loaves, there are also several parallels recalling Numbers 11 (vv. 1, 7-9, 13, 22).

 

Some  of Jesus’ actions (for instance, the breaking of the bread), as well as the many theological themes touched upon in the following discourse, are clear references to the liturgical actions of the seder at Passover and to the liturgical readings in the synagogue for the feast.

 

The Passover is a springtime feast, and in fact, John notes that “there was much grass in the place” (6:10; cf. Mt 14:19; Mk 6:39).

 

* Seeing that a multitude was coming to Him: At the beginning of the narrative, it seemed that the people had been following Him before, whereas here John seems to say that the crowd was arriving. Perhaps this is a reference to one of John’s favorite themes and one greatly emphasized in this chapter: the coming to Jesus, an expression synonymous with complete adhesion to the faith (3:21; 5:40; 6:35, 37, 45; 7:37 and elsewhere).

 

* Jesus said to Philip… Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother: These are two of the Twelve who in this Gospel seem to have a special role (cf. 1:44 and 12:21-22), whereas in the other Gospels they remain in the shadows. It seems that they were particularly venerated in Asia Minor, where the Gospel of John was written.

 

“How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” The question addressed to Philip may possibly be justified because he came from that geographical region.

 

If we interpret this question in the light of similar questions in the whole Gospel (1:48; 2:9; 4:11; 7:27-28; 8:14; 9:29-30; 19:9), we discover its Christological importance: asking from where the gift comes is also to seek to understand the origin of the giver, in this case, Jesus. Thus the question leads to seeking the divine origin of Jesus.

 

This He said to test Him, for He himself knew what He would do: The “testing”  of the reaction of the disciple is indicated by a verb (peirazein) which usually has a negative meaning, of temptation, checking or deceitThe role of this sentence, however, is to protect the reader against any doubt that Jesus’ question may be interpreted as ignorance. This is an example of the issues encountered in translation, and the nuances that can be lost. 

 

“Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little”: The amount is equivalent to a laborer’s salary for two hundred days of work (cf. Mt 20:13; 22:2).

 

Mark (6:37) puts it in such a way that we may think that such a quantity of bread would be sufficient for the present need, but John wants to emphasize the greatness of the divine intervention and the disproportion of human resources. Andrew’s words, which follow, have the same purpose: "… but what are they among so many?"

 

“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish”: Judging by the double diminutive of the Greek text (paidarion), the lad is really a small child: someone with no social standing. The same term is used in 2Kings (4:12, 14, 25; 5:20) for Elisha’s servant, Giezi.

 

Barley loaves, unlike loaves made from wheat, were particularly simple food and cheap, used by poor people. This may be an allusion to the story of Elisha multiplying the barley bread (2Kings 4:42-44). It would seem (cf. Lk 11:5) that the meal for one person was made up of three loaves. The dried fish (opsarion, again the use of a double diminutive) was the common food to go with the bread.

 

* “Make the people sit down…in number about five thousand”: In reality, according to the custom of the times, Jesus commands that they “lie down” or to “stretch out”: the meal has to be eaten in comfort, just as it is prescribed for the ritual meal of the Passover and as of obligation in banquets. All the Gospel reports of this episode only refer to the number of men present.

“Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them…so also the fish”: These actions and words of Jesus are very close to those of the Eucharistic rite, although we cannot say that the one derives from the other.

 

* "When He had given thanks" is a translation of eucharistein,which was commonly used as distinct from eulogein, to bless, the verb used by the synoptic Gospels here; the first verb is characteristic of the Greek milieu, whereas the second comes directly from the milieu of Hebrew culture. If we take into account the language in use at the time of writing of the Gospels, then we cannot say that there are any significant differences of content between the expressions, even though John’s expression is, for us who are used to the Christian liturgical language, a much more direct reminder of the Eucharistic sacrament. This is so true that the fourth Evangelist uses the same verb also in 11:41, where we find some reminders of the sacrament.

 

As presider at the ritual Passover table, Jesus personally breaks the bread and gives it directly to the people. In the same way He will do this at the Last Supper. Most probably, however, things proceeded the way the synoptic Gospels describe them: Jesus gave the broken bread to the disciples so that they might distribute it. In fact, the crowd was too large for Him to be able to do it all alone. John, then, wishes to concentrate the whole attention of his readers on the person of Jesus, true and only giver of “the bread from heaven”. Thus, the disciples join in His role at the meal, prefiguring their role in the Eucharistic celebration and in the Church.

 

Let us follow closely the sequence of events: the multiplication takes place only after the breaking and the breaking of the bread takes place only after a “small lad” courageously gives up all of his trivial resources. Those poor, small loaves are multiplied as they are broken! Jesus multiplies what we accept, a little blindly, to share with Him and with others.

As much as they wanted … they had eaten their fill: It is the abundance promised by the prophets when the time of šalom and of the festive eschatological banquet comes (cf. e.g. Isa 25:6; 30:23; 49:9; 56:7-9; Hos 11:4; Ps 37:19; 81:17; 132:15).

 

Thus, the crowd is not wrong when it says of Jesus, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world": a prophet who fulfills the divine promise of sending a prophet “equal to Moses” (Deut 18:15-18) and who ushers in the messianic era preparing a free and abundant banquet, as promised by the ancient prophets.

 

“Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost": The disciples appear on the scene with the task of not letting any of the precious bread go to waste. In fact, this too is a “bread that perishes” and cannot be compared with the true “bread from heaven” (cf. 6:24). The command to gather (synagein) the fragments recalls the prescription regarding the manna (cf. Ex 16:16 ff.).

 

So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves: We cannot tell for certain whether the number of baskets is connected with the number of disciples. What is certain is that these words want to emphasize again the great abundance of food from those small barley loaves blessed by Jesus. John seems to pay scant attention to the two fishes offered with the bread, perhaps because the discourse that follows is all about bread.

 

When the people saw the sign: The motive that John gives for the miracle just worked is not compassion for the crowd. This would have been well understood by the disciples present, who, according to Mark (6:52 and 8:14-21), did not understand the meaning of what had taken place.

The fourth Gospel then shows the “sign” significance of the miracle.

 

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself: Contrary to the other Evangelists, John gives the reason for Jesus’ sudden disappearance after the miracle. He wanted to prevent His role as Messiah from being “fouled” by any political manifestations of the crowd. Jesus once more makes clear His choice (cf. Mt 4:1-10), which He will repeat right to the end before Pilate (19:33-37).

5. A FEW QUESTIONS TO DIRECT OUR REFLECTION AND ITS PRACTICE

 

a) The bread is multiplied because someone “very small” has the courage to renounce hanging on to his security risking failure or being shamefaced. The “young lad” of the Gospel story believes in Jesus, even though Jesus had promised nothing on this occasion. Would I, would we, do the same?

b) The lad is an insignificant person, the loaves are few and the fish even fewer. In the hands of Jesus everything becomes great and beautiful. There is a huge disproportion between what we are and what God can make of us, if we place ourselves in His hands. "Nothing is impossible for God": not converting the hardest of hearts, not transforming evil into an instrument for good… God fills in every disproportion between us and Him. Do I really believe this, in the bottom of my heart, even when everything seems to contradict it?

 

c) The material bread offered by God refers us to the bread we ought to share with so many men and women who, on this same earth we live on and whose resources we waste so thoughtlessly, struggle desperately for a slice of bread. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread” do we at least think of those who have no bread and how we can help them?

 

d) Physical hunger and material bread remind us also of the “hunger for God” and the eschatological banquet. These are truths that we often put out of our thoughts because we prefer to think that they are far and distant from us. And yet, if we keep them present, they would help us to see the relative value of so many events and problems that seem to us greater than ourselves, and to live a more serene life busying ourselves only with what is essential. When, during the Eucharistic celebration we say "…as we wait in joyful hope" are we really fervently waiting for the glorious return of the One who loves us and who even now takes care of us?

 

6. LET US PRAY (PSALM 147)

Praising God in a hymn with a Passover flavor to Him who provides food and every kind of subsistence to the “little ones” of His people and to every living creature:

 

Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; 
for He is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly. 
The Lord builds up Jerusalem; 
He gathers the outcasts of Israel. 
He heals the broken-hearted, 
and binds up their wounds. 
He determines the number of the stars, 
He gives to all of them their names. 
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; 
His understanding is beyond measure. 
The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, 
He casts the wicked to the ground. 
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; 
make melody to our God upon the lyre! 
He covers the heavens with clouds, 
He prepares rain for the earth, 
He makes grass grow upon the hills. 
He gives to the beasts their food, 
and to the young ravens which cry. 
His delight is not in the strength of the horse, 
nor His pleasure in the legs of a man; 
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, 
in those who hope in His steadfast love.

 

7. CLOSING PRAYER

From its earliest days, the Church has celebrated the Eucharist as the supper of the Passover of the Lord where it echoes the event of the multiplication of the loaves. Thus, our closing prayer today is one inherited from the Christians of the first century: 

 

We thank You, Father, for life and the knowledge You have revealed to us through Jesus Your servant. Glory to You forever.

Just as the broken bread was scattered here and there over the hills and when gathered became one, so now, may Your Church be gathered in Your Kingdom from the ends of the earth;

for Yours is the glory and the power, through Jesus Christ forever.

We thank You, holy Father,

for Your holy name that you make present in our hearts,

and for the knowledge, faith and immortality

that You revealed to us through Jesus, Your servant.

To You Glory forever.

You, all powerful Lord, have created all things to the glory of Your name;

You have given humankind food and drink for comfort, so that humankind may give You thanks;

but You have given us a spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Your servant.

Above all, we thank You because You are powerful.

To You be glory forever.

Remember, Lord, Your Church,

preserve her from every evil

and make her perfect in Your love;

made holy, gather her from the four corners of the earth into Your kingdom, prepared for her.

For Yours is the power and the glory forever.

May Your grace come, and may this world pass by.

Hosanna to the house of David.

 

Lectio Divina: 

 

 Sunday, July 22, 2018

 

Jesus feels compassion for the people


The Banquet of Life – Jesus invites to sharing


Mark 6:30-34

1. OPENING PRAYER

Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.

 

Create in us silence so that we may listen to Your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.

 

2. READING

a) A key to the reading:

The text on which we will meditate on this 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time is brief. Only five verses. At first sight a few lines seem to be only a brief introduction to the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves in the desert (Mk 6:34-44). But if the Liturgy of this Sunday has underlined these five verses, it means that they contain something very important that perhaps we would not notice if they were only used as an introduction to the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.

 

In fact, these five verses reveal a characteristic of Jesus which has always struck and continues to strike us: His concern for health and the formation of the disciples, His accepting and welcoming humanity toward the poor people of Galilee, His tenderness towards people. If the Church, by means of the Sunday Liturgy, invites us to reflect on these aspects of the activity of Jesus, it is in order to encourage us to prolong this same attitude of Jesus in the relationship that we have with others. During this reading we will be very attentive to the minute details of Jesus’ attitude toward others.

 

b) A division of the text to help in the reading:

Mark 6:30: Revision of the apostolic work

Mark 6:31-32: Concern of Jesus that the disciples get some rest

Mark 6:33: People have other criteria and follow Jesus

Mark 6:34: Moved to compassion, Jesus changes His plan and receives and welcomes the people.

c) The text:

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

3. A MOMENT OF PRAYERFUL SILENCE

That the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.

4. SOME QUESTIONS

to help us in our personal reflection.

a) Which characteristic of Jesus’ attitude which has pleased you the most and which evoked greatest admiration among the people in Jesus’ time?

b) Jesus’ concern for the disciples and His concern to accept and welcome the people well: both of these are important. Which one of these predominates in Jesus’ attitude?

c) Compare Jesus’ attitude with the attitude of the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23. What strikes you the most?

d) Is the attitude of our community the same as that of Jesus?

 

5. FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO REACH MORE DEEPLY INTO THE THEME

 

a)    The context which enlightens the text:

i) Chapter six of Mark shows an enormous contrast! On the one hand, Mark speaks about the banquet of death, held by Herod with the great of Galilee, in the palace of the capital city, during which John the Baptist was killed (Mk 6:17-29). On the other hand, the banquet of life, held by Jesus for the people of Galilee, hungry in the desert, so that they would not perish along the way (Mk 6:35-44). The five verses of this Sunday’s reading (Mk 6:30-34) are placed exactly between these two banquets.

ii) These five verses underline two things:

- they offer a picture of Jesus, the formater of the disciples;

- they indicate that the Good News of Jesus is not only a question of doctrine, but above all of acceptance, of goodness, of tenderness, of availability, of revelation of the love of God.

 

b) Commentary on the text:

Mark 6:30-32: The welcoming acceptance given to the disciples

These verses indicate that Jesus formed the new leaders. He involved the disciples in the mission and He took them to a more peaceful place so as to be able to rest and do a review of their mission (cf. Lk 10:17-20). He was concerned about their nourishment and their rest, because the work of the mission was such that they did not even have the time to eat (cf. Jn 21:9-13).

Mark 6:33-34: Moved to compassion, Jesus changes His plans and receives the people

 

The people perceive that Jesus has gone to the other shore of the lake, and they follow Him. When Jesus is getting out of the boat, and sees that crowd, He sacrifices His rest and begins to teach them. Here we can see the state of abandonment in which the people were. Jesus was moved to compassion “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The one who reads this parable remembers the Psalm of the Good Shepherd (Ps 23). When Jesus becomes aware that the people have no shepherd, He begins to be their shepherd. He begins to teach. He guides the crowds in the desert of life, and the multitude could then sing, “The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want!”

 

b)    Extending the information:

● A picture of Jesus, the Formater

 

“To follow” was the term which formed part of the education system of the time. It was used to indicate the relationship between the disciple and the master. The relationship of master-disciple is different from the relationship of professor-pupil. The pupils attend classes given by the professor on a given subject. The disciples “follow” the master and live with him. And it is precisely during this “living together” of three years with Jesus that the disciples received their formation.

 

Jesus, the Master, is the axis, the centre, and the model of formation. In His attitudes  is a proof of the Kingdom.  He incarnates the love of God and reveals it (Mk 6:31; Mt 10:30-31; Lk 15:11-32). Many small gestures mirror this witness of life by which Jesus indicated His presence in the life of the disciples, preparing them for life and for the mission. This was His way of giving a human form to the experience which He Himself had with the Father:

 

- to involve them in the mission (Mk 6:7; Lk 9:1-2, 10:1);

- once, He reviews this mission with them (Lk 10:17-20);

- He corrects them when they make a mistake or when they want to be the first ones (Mk 10:13-15; Lk 9:46-48);

- He waits for the opportune moment to correct them (Mk 9:33-35);

- He helps them to discern (Mk 9:28-29);

- He challenges them when they are slow (Mk 4:13; 8:14-21);

- He prepares them for the time of conflict (Jn 16:33; Mt 10:17-25);

- He sends them out to observe and to analyze reality (Mk 8:27-29; Jn 4:35; Mt 16:1-3);

- He reflects together with them on the questions of the present moment (Lk 13:1-5);

- He places them before the needs of the multitude (Jn 6:5);   He corrects the mentality of revenge (Lk 9:54-55);

- He teaches that the needs of the multitude are over and above the ritual prescriptions (Mt 12:7,12):

- He fights against the mentality which thinks that sickness is a punishment from God (Jn 9:2-3);

- He spends time alone with them in order to be able to instruct them (Mk 4:34; 7:17; 9:30-31; 10:10; 13:3);

- He knows how to listen, even when dialogue is difficult (Jn 4:7-42);

- He helps them to accept themselves (Lk 22:32);

- He is demanding and asks them to leave everything for His sake (Mk 10:17-31);

- He is severe with hypocrisy (Lk 11:37-53);

- He asks more questions than gives responses (Mk 8:17-21);

- He is firm and does not allow Himself to be turned away from the road (Mk 8:33; Lk 9:54-55).

 

This is a picture of Jesus, the formator. The formation in the “following of Jesus” was not just the transmission of truth to be learned by heart, but rather a communication of a new experience of God and of life which radiated from Jesus for the disciples. The community which formed around Jesus was the expression of this new experience. Formation led the person to see with other eyes, to have other attitudes. It planted in them a new awareness concerning the mission and themselves. Yes, it made them place their feet side by side with those who were excluded. In some, it produced “conversion” because they accepted the Good News (Mk 1:15).

 

● How Jesus announces the Good News to the multitude

The fact that John was in prison impels Jesus to return and begin the announcement of the Good News. It was an explosive and creative beginning! Jesus goes around and through all of Galilee: the villages, the towns, the city (Mk 1:39). He visits the communities. Finally He changes residence and goes to live in Capernaum (Mk 1:21; 2:1), a city on the cross roads to several places, and this facilitated proclamation of the message . He practically never stops; He is always on the road. The disciples go with Him everywhere: in the fields, along the streets, on the mountain, in the desert, in the ship, in the synagogues, in the houses. And they go with great enthusiasm!

 

Jesus helps the people, serving them in many ways: He drives out the evil spirits (Mk 1:39), He cures the sick and those who are possessed by the devil (Mk 1:34), He purifies those who are excluded because of some impurity (Mk 1:40-45), He accepts the marginalized and interacts and eats with them (Mk 2:15). He announces, calls and convokes. He attracts, consoles and helps. This is a passion which is revealed - passion for the Father and for the poor and abandoned people of His land. There He finds people who listen to Him.  He speaks and proclaims the Good News everywhere.

 

In Jesus, everything is revelation which fascinates or captivates Him from within! He Himself is the proof, the living witness of the Kingdom. In Him one sees what happens when a person allows God to reign, allows God to guide or direct his life. In His way of living and acting together with the others, Jesus transforms nostalgia into hope! All of a sudden people understood: This was what God wanted for His people!

 

This was the beginning of the announcement of the Good News of the Kingdom which was rapidly absorbed among the villages of Galilee. In a small way, like a seed which grows until it becomes a big tree, under which people could rest (Mk 4:31-32). And people took care to spread the News.

 

The people of Galilee remained impressed with the way Jesus taught. “A new teaching! Given with authority! Different from that of the scribes!” (Mk 1:22, 27). What Jesus did most was to teach (Mk 2:13; 4:1-2; 6:34). And this was what He used to do (Mk 10:1). More than fifteen times the Gospel of Mark says that Jesus taught. But Mark hardly ever says what He taught. Perhaps he is not interested in the content? It depends on what people understand by content! To teach does not mean to teach only new truths and thus people learn them by heart. The content which Jesus has to give does not only appear in the words, but also in His gestures and in the way in which He enters into relationship with the people. The content is never separated from the person who communicates it. Jesus was a welcoming person (Mk 6:34). He loved the people. Goodness and love, which were visible in His words, formed part of the content. They constitute His temperament. Good content without goodness is like spilled milk. Mark defines the content of the teaching of Jesus as “the Good News of God” (Mk 1:14). The Good News which Jesus proclaimed comes from God and reveals something about God. In everything which God says and does, the traits of the face of God are visible. The experience which He Himself has of God, the experience of the Father, is visible. To reveal God as Father is the source, the content, and the purpose or end of the Good News of Jesus.

6. PRAY WITH PSALM 23 (22)

Yahweh is my shepherd

Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows He lets me lie. 
By tranquil streams He leads me
to restore my spirit. 
He guides me in paths of saving justice 
as befits His name.
Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death 
I should fear no danger, 
for You are at my side. 
Your staff and Your crook are there to soothe me.
You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies; 
You anoint my head with oil; 
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life. 
I make my home in the house of Yahweh 
for all time to come.

 

7. FINAL PRAYER

Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

Lectio Divina:

 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

 

The image of the true vine, that is, Jesus


The pressing invitation to remain in Him


in order to bear the fruit of love


John 15: 1-8

1. OPENING PRAYER

Lord, You are! And this is sufficient for us, to live by, to go on hoping every day, to walk in this world, not to choose the wrong road of being closed and lonely. Yes, You are forever and from all time; you are constant, O Jesus! Your being is our constant gift; it is an ever ripe fruit that feeds and strengthens us in You, in Your presence. Lord, open our heart, open our being to your being; open us to life with the mysterious power of your Word. Help us to listen, to eat and savour this food for our souls, which is indispensable for us! Send us the good fruit of your Spirit so that He may bring about in us that which we read and meditate about you.

2. READING

 

a) To place the passage in its context:

These few verses are part of the great discourse of Jesus to his disciples during that intimate moment of the last supper and they begin with verse 31, chapter 13, and proceeding up to the end of chapter 17. This passage has a very tight, deep and inseparable unity, unequalled in the Gospels and sums up the whole of Jesus' revelation in his divine life and in the mystery of the Trinity. It is the text that says that which no other text in the Scriptures is capable of saying concerning Christian life, its power, its tasks, its joys and pains, its hopes and its struggle in this world in the Church. Just a few verses, but full of love, that love to the very end that Jesus chose to live for his disciples, for us, even to this day and forever. In the strength of this love, the supreme and definitive gesture of infinite tenderness, which includes all other gestures of love, the Lord bequeaths to his disciples a new presence. A new way of being. By means of the parable of the vine and its branches and the proclamation of the wonderful verb remain, repeated several times, Jesus initiates his new story with each one of us called indwelling. He is no longer with us, because he is going back to the Father, yet he remains within us.

 

b) To assist us in the reading of the passage:

vv. 1-3: Jesus reveals himself as the true vine, which brings forth good fruit, excellent wine for his Father, who is the vinedresser and who reveals to us, his disciples, the braches, that we must remain united to the vine so as not to die and so as to bear fruit. The pruning, which the Father accomplishes on the branches by means of the Word, is a purification, a joy, a chant.

 

vv. 4-6: Jesus passes on to his disciples the secret of being able to continue to live in an intimate relationship with him; that is by remaining. As He lives in them and remains in them and is no longer external to them or with them, so also they must remain in Him, inside Him. This is the only way to be completely consoled, to be able to hold on to this life and bear good fruit, that is, love.

 

v. 7: Once more, Jesus bequeaths the gift of prayer in the heart of his disciples, that most precious and unique pearl, and he tells us that by remaining in Him, we can learn true prayer, the prayer that seeks insistently the gift of the Holy Spirit and knows that it will be granted.

 

v. 8: Once more, Jesus calls us to Himself, asks us to follow him, to be always his disciples. The remaining brings forth mission, the gift of life for the Father and for the neighbour; if we really remain in Jesus, then we shall also really remain in the midst of our brothers and sisters, as gift and as service. This is the glory of the Father.

 

c) The text:

1-3: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word that I have spoken to you.

 

4-6: Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.

 

7: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.

8: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.

 

3. A MOMENT OF SILENT PRAYER

As a branch, I now remain united to the vine, my Lord, and I abandon myself to Him, I allow myself to be overtaken by the sap of his silent and deep voice, which is like living water. Thus I remain in silence and stay close.

 

4. A FEW QUESTIONS

to help me remain, to discover the beauty of the vine, Jesus; to lead me to the Father, to allow Him to take over and labour in me, certain of His good labour as loving vinedresser; and to urge me to enter into the life blood of the Spirit to meet him as the only necessary thing that I must seek untiringly.

 

a) "I am": it is beautiful that the passage begins with these words, which are like a song of joy, of the victory of the Lord, that He loves to sing all the time in the life of each one of us. "I am": He repeats this infinitely, every morning, every evening, at night, while we sleep, even though we are not aware of this. In fact, He really is at our disposal; He is turned towards the Father, towards us, for us. I meditate these words and not only listen to them but allow them to penetrate me, my mind, my innermost memory, my heart, all my feelings and I ruminate on and absorb his Being into my being. In this Word, I now understand that I am not, unless I am in Him and that I cannot become anything unless I remain in Jesus' being. I try to enter into the depths of my being, overcoming fear, crossing the darkness that I find there and I gather those parts of my being, of myself, that are most lifeless. I take them delicately and bring them to Jesus and I hand them over to his "I am".

 

b) The vine recalls to mind wine, that precious and good fruit, and also recalls to mind the covenant that nothing and no one will ever be able to break. Am I willing to remain in that embrace, in that continuous yes of my life thus woven into his? Together with the Psalmist, shall I too raise the chalice of the covenant, calling on the name of the Lord and saying to him, yes, I too love you?

 

c) Jesus calls his Father the vinedresser, a very beautiful term that carries all the force of the love dedicated to working the land. It expresses a bending over the earth, a drawing close of body and being, a prolonged contact, a vital exchange. This is precisely the Father's attitude towards us! However, St. Paul says: "The farmer who has done the hard work should have the first share of the harvest" (2 Tim 2: 6) and St. James reminds us "See how patient a farmer is as he waits for his land to produce precious crops" (Jas 5: 7). Will I, the land, disappoint the patience of the Father who cultivates me every day, turns me over, gets rid of the stones, nourishes me with good fertiliser and builds a hedge all round me to protect me? To whom do I give the fruits of my existence, of my heart, of my mind, of my soul? For whom do I exist, for whom do I decide and choose to live every day, every morning, when I wake up?

 

d) I follow the text carefully and underline two verbs, which occur frequently: "to bear fruit" and "to remain". I understand that these two realities are a symbol of life itself and are woven together, each depending on the other. Only by remaining is it possible to bear fruit and, really, the only true fruit that we as disciples can bear in this world is precisely to remain. Where do I remain every day, all day? With whom do I remain? Jesus always makes the connection of this verb with that wonderful and enormous particle: "in me". Do I console myself with these two words "in me", that is am I inside, do I live in the depth, do I dig in search of the Lord as one digs for a well (cfr. Gn 26: 18) or for treasure (Pr 2: 4), or else am I outside, always lost among the ways of this world, as far as possible from intimacy, from a relationship from contact with the Lord?

e) Twice Jesus reminds us of the reality of his Word and reveals to us that it is his Word that makes us pure and it is his Word that leads us to true prayer. The Word is proclaimed and given as a permanent presence within us. It also has the ability to remain, to make its dwelling place in our heart. However, I must ask myself, what ears do I have to listen to this proclamation of salvation and goodness, which the Lord addresses to me through his Words? Do I allow room to listen in depth to that which the Scripture speaks to me all the time, in the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms and the apostolic Writings? Do I allow the Word of the Lord to find me and overtake me in prayer, or do I prefer to trust in other words, lighter, more human and more like my words? Am I afraid of the voice of the Lord who speaks to me urgently and all the time?

5. A KEY TO THE READING

As a branch, I seek to be ever more one with my Vine, that is, the Lord Jesus. Here and now, I drink of his Word the good sap, seeking to penetrate ever deeper so as to absorb the hidden nourishment that transmits to me real life. I pay attention to the words, the verbs, the expressions Jesus uses and which recall other passages of divine Scripture and, thus, I let myself be purified.

 

The meeting with Jesus, the "I am"

 

This passage is one of the texts where this strong expression appears, an expression that the Lord addresses to us in order to reveal himself. It is wonderful to walk through the Scriptures in search of other texts similar to this one, where the Lord speaks of himself to us directly, of his deepest essence. When the Lord says and repeats infinitely in a thousand ways, with a thousand nuances "I am". He does not do so in order to annihilate or humiliate us, but only to stress forcefully his overflowing love for us, which desires to make us partake of and live that same life that belongs to Him. When He says "I am", He is also saying "You are" to each one of us, to each son and daughter who is born into this world. It is a fruitful and uninterrupted transmission of being, of essence and I do not wish to let this be in vain. I wish to welcome it and welcome it inside me. So, I follow the luminous trace of the "I am" and I try to stop at each step. "I am your shield" (Gen 15: 1), "I am the God of Abraham your father" (Gen 24: 26), "I am the Lord who led you and still leads you out of the land of Egypt" (cfr. Es 6: 6) and from the hands of every Pharaoh who will threaten your life, "I am He who heals you" (Es 15: 26). I allow myself to be enlightened by the force of these words, which fulfil the miracle they speak of; they fulfil this miracle to this day, and for me, in this lectio. Then I go on reading in the book of Leviticus where at least 50 times this affirmation of salvation is found: "I am the Lord", and I believe these words and hold on to them with my whole being, my whole heart and say: "Yes, indeed the Lord is my Lord, He and no other!" I note that the Scriptures probe ever deeper. As the journey continues, gradually, the Scriptures penetrate me and lead me to an ever more intense relationship with the Lord. In fact, the book of Numbers says: "I am the Lord and I live among the people of Israel" (Num 35: 34). "I am" is in the present, He who does not draw apart, does not turn his back to leave; it is He who cares for us from close by, from the inside, as only He can do; I read Isaiah and I receive life: 41: 10; 43: 3; 45: 6 etc.

 

The holy Gospel is an explosion of being, of presence, of salvation; I run through it letting John lead me: 6: 48; 8: 12; 10: 9. 11; 11: 15; 14: 6; 18: 37. Jesus is the bread, the light, the gate, the shepherd, the resurrection, the way, the truth, the life, the king; and all for me, for us, and so I want to welcome him, know him and love him, and I want to learn, through these words, to say to him: "Lord you are!" It is this "You" that gives meaning to my I that makes of my life a relationship, a communion. I know for certain that only here can I find full joy and live forever.

 

The vineyard, the true vine and its good fruit

God's vineyard is Israel, a beloved vineyard, a chosen vineyard, a vineyard planted on a fertile hill, in a place where the earth has been cleared afresh, hoed, freed of stones, a protected vineyard, worked, loved, large and one that God himself has planted (cfr. Is 5: 1ff; Ger 2: 21). So loved is this vineyard that the beloved has never ceased to sing the canticle of love for her; strong notes yet sweet at the same time, notes that bear true life, that go across the ancient covenant and come to the new covenant in even clearer notes. At first it was the Father who sang, now it is Jesus, but in both it is the Spirit who is heard, as the Song of Songs says: "The voice of the dove is still heard… and the vineyards spread fragrance" (Sgs 2: 12ff). It is the Lord Jesus who draws us, who takes us from the old to the new, from love to love, towards an ever stronger communion, even to identification: "I am the vine, but you too are in me". Hence it is clear: the vineyard is Israel, is Jesus, is us. Always the same, always new, always chosen and beloved, loved, cared for, protected, visited: visited by rain and visited by the Word, sent by the prophets day by day, visited by the sending of the Son, Love, who expects love, that is, the fruit. "He waited for the grapes to ripen, but every grape was sour" (Is 5: 2); in love, disappointment is always round the corner.

 

I stop here at this reality, I look inside me, I try to discover the places where I am closed, dry, dead; why has the rain not come? I repeat this word that echoes often through the pages of the Bible: "The Lord waits…" (see Is 30: 18; Lk 13: 6-9). He wants the fruits of conversion (cfr. Mt 3: 8), as he tells us through John, the fruits of the word that hides the listening, the welcoming and the self-control, as the synoptics say (cfr. Mt 13: 23; Mk 4: 20 e Lk 8: 15), the fruits of the Spirit, as Paul explains (cfr. Gal 5: 22). He wants us "to bear fruit in every good work" (Col 1: 10), but above all, it seems to me, the Lord waits and desires "the fruit of the womb" (cfr. Lk 1: 42), that is Jesus, in whom we are truly blessed. In fact, Jesus is the seed that, dying, bears much fruit within us, in our life (Jn 12: 24) and defeats every solitude, every closure, opening us wide to our brothers and sisters. This is the real fruit of conversion, planted in the earth of our bosom; this is to become his disciples and, finally, this is the true glory of the Father.

 

Pruning, a joyful purification

In this passage of the Gospel, the Lord shows me another way of following Him, together with Him. It is the way of purification, of renewal, of resurrection and new life. It is hidden in the term "pruning", but I can better discover it, throw light on it thanks to the Word itself, which is the only master, the only sure guide. The Greek text uses the term "purify" to point to this action of the vinedresser in his vineyard. Certainly, it is true that he prunes, cuts with a knife sharpened by his Word (Heb 4: 12) and, sometimes, wounds us, but it is even truer that it is his love that penetrates ever deeper in us and thus purifies, washes, refines. Yes, the Lord sits as washer to purify, to make splendid and luminous the gold in his hand (cfr. Mal 3: 3). Jesus brings a new purification, the one promised for so long by the Scriptures and waited for the Messianic times. It is no longer the purification that took place by means of cult, by means of the observance of the law or sacrifices, only a temporary purification, incomplete and figurative. Jesus brings about an intimate, total purification, one of the heart and conscience, the one sung by Ezekiel: "I shall purify you of all your idols, I shall give you a new heart…When I shall have purified you from all you iniquities, I shall bring you back to your cities and your ruins will be rebuilt…" (Ez 36: 25ff. 33). I also read Eph 5: 26 e Tt 2: 14, beautiful and rich texts, which help me better enter into the light of grace of this work of salvation, of this spiritual pruning that the Father works in me.

 

There is a verse in the Song of Songs that can help my understanding more, it says, "This is the time for singing" (Sgs 2: 12), however, it uses a verb that means also "pruning, cutting" as well as "singing". Thus pruning is the time for singing, for joy. It is my heart that sings before and in the Word, it is my soul that rejoices for my faith, because I know that through this long but magnificent pilgrimage in the Scriptures, I too will take part in Jesus' life, I too will be united with Him, the pure, the holy, the immaculate Word and that thus united to Him I shall be washed, purified with the infinite purity of His life. Not for me alone, not in order to be alone, but to bear much fruit, to grow leaves and branches that do not wither, to be a branch together with many other braches in the vine of Jesus Christ.

6. A MOMENT OF SILENT PRAYER: PSALM 1

A meditation on the joy of one who lives by the Word and, thanks to the Word, bears fruit.

Res. Your Word is my joy, Lord!

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 

Latest comments

26.03 | 17:36

Have a Blessed Holy Week!
Holy Week is the most important week in the Church year! It is a time when we celebrate in a special way the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We remember his actions, reflect on his messages, and recommit to living as his d

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01.09 | 02:56

I enjoy these prayers, and resort to them whenever I want to pray but don't know how!

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15.08 | 13:01

Thank you for your valuable comments much appreciated.

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14.08 | 13:57

My daily devotion and yearly novena.

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