August 2 2015 18th Sunday of the Year (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day:True and false life orientations.

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15). I will train down bread for you from the heavens. This reading narrates two marvels the Lord worked for his people Israel on their journey from Egypt to the land of promise. Freedom from the bondage of Egypt was for them a cause of great rejoicing. But they were now in the “wilderness”, not sand-desert but steppe with low rainfall and sparse vegetation. The period in the wilderness was a time for testing Israel, to see whether they would be faithful to the Lord who freed them from Egypt and was about to reveal himself more fully to them. The passage notes that they began to “complain”, that is to grumble in an ill-tempered fashion. They grumble about the lack of proper food, unlike their time in Egypt. God works two miracles for them, one of quails in the evening, the other of manna in the morning. Quails are a well-known migratory bird. The manna is a secretion in small amounts of sweet substance from the tamarisk tree in May and June which may be eaten. The miracle involved for Israel is in the amount and the fact that they had access to it all the year round. The miracles were proof of God’s care for his complaining people in their journey through the tests of the wilderness. Jesus’ discourse on himself as the bread of life has this narrative as its backdrop, with his followers again “complaining” (John 6: 41, 43,52,61) and Jesus presenting himself as the gift of true bread from heaven.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 77[78]). The Lord gave them bread from heaven.

Second Reading (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24). Put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, This reading is the opening portion of a lengthy section (Ephesians 4:17-5:20) of an exhortation encouraging believers in Christ to live a life in keeping with their calling. Paul, or a later writer in his spirit, contrasts the Christian calling with the surrounding pagan view of life (or lack of view) and some pagan practices. He is exhorting his readers not to allow themselves to be absorbed by the pagan environment, but to know that they have a message for it. Pagan values and practices are not the way they “learned Christ” (a more literal rendering than “learn from Christ”) – a curious way of putting things but deep in meaning. Christ is the model of Christian life. To “learn Christ” is to learn who the living Christ really is, to be as Christ. At their baptismal instruction they had been taught the truths concerning Christ and Christian living, but the person of the living Christ is the model and source of their Christian life. Their old pagan self and desires the writer of this letter considers illusory, incompatible with the Christian view of the human person and Christian life. The Christian way, symbolized by baptism in water, is regarded as a new self, a new inner person in Christ’s image, one to be lived in holiness. It is an inner renewal in its power and motivation.

What these words meant, and were intended to mean, for the original readers in the non-Christian pagan environment can be reapplied to living the Christian life in our own day, sometimes in an environment hostile to Christ and the Christian view of the here and hereafter.

Gospel (John 6:24-35). He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst. This reading carries on the message of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The opening verse is not quite clear, what place, or side of the lake, or the Sea of Galilee, is intended. In any event Capernaum now becomes centre stage for Jesus’ discourse. Although not adverted to in this text of John’s Gospel, Capernaum was noted as the place where Jesus had worked most of his miracles, and would be judged for its unbelief (see Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:15). In answer to a question as to when he came to Capernaum, Jesus replied that that their interest in him was not due to signs he worked, that is miracles indicating a higher truth, but because they ate their fill of the loaves. Their interest was in the material, not in the spiritual significance of the miracle. Jesus then explains the interpretation of the biblical tradition of the manna in the new situation, that is his own mission from the Father. In this text there is a play on the term “work”: not to work for anything passing but for food for eternal life. Jesus also identifies himself as the Son of Man, sealed as genuine by the God the Father. The play on the word “work” still continues: His audience ask what work is the work that God wants. Jesus’ reply is that the “work of God” (rather than “working for God”) is belief in Jesus sent by God, The work of God in question is not a human working, but the working of God through the divine gift of faith in Jesus as source of true life. The manna was a gift of God, not of Moses. The true bread of God is the bread, or the one (Jesus, the Son of Man) who has come down from heaven, and he gives life to the world. The substance of the discourse, then, is that Jesus has come down from heaven to give orientation to humans, through his teaching, his person, the Eucharist, and to give all that is required to give orientation in life and the strength to live in keeping with God the Father’s plan.

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day. True and false life orientations.

In any question on the Bible in dialogue with questions of the day it is good to have dialogue with what the Bible has to say on such issues, and to consider what principles Christian dialogue is to be governed by. We have excellent examples of this in Christ’s discourse on himself as the true bread of life (John chapter 6) and the Pauline exhortation to believers on how to comport themselves in non-Christian surroundings (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24). Jesus is in dialogue with his Jewish tradition and the Pauline exhortation in Ephesians with Greek culture. Both have in common that the Christian message (whether on the lips of Christ or in the letter to the Ephesians) has to do with an orientation of the entire person, orientation centred on Christ and all that belief in him implies. Christian belief gives, so to speak, a new default system; it gives clarity and conviction with regard to how one’s Christian life is to be spent. Of its nature, then, it passes judgment on certain values of the society and culture in which one lives.

It does this without rejecting any particular culture, but only those parts of it that are incompatible with belief in Christ, his mission and his message. Jesus was not anti-Jewish. He inherited and lived the culture and tradition of his people, but came to transform it as the messenger sent by God his Father. Paul was not against Greek culture, nor did he exhort his churches to reject its riches. Towards the end of his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 4:8-9) he wrote as follows: “Finally, beloved,* whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” And yet Paul and the other New Testament biblical writers make it quite clear that conversion and baptism mean a clear break with one’s former life, if this is at variance with belief in Christ. Paul’s letters, and others under his inspiration, spell out some of these unacceptable practices, some of them having to do with sexual mores, texts often omitted in the passages read as liturgical readings. There are many others not of this nature, mainly at variance with Christ’s teaching as found, for instance, in the Sermon on the Mount.

These texts, of course, represent the early Church’s reaction to first-century Greek and Roman society. And yet their teaching is equally valid today. At the very centre of Christian belief and Christian life stands Christ. In the words of the Epistle to the Ephesians Christians “learn Christ” as their model, and the consequence of belief in him as made clear in Christian tradition. This gives the Christian orientation in any dialogue with another, or contrasting orientation with regard to how one’s life is to be lived.

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