The in and out
of life.

He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

A few weeks ago, Jesus upset His listeners when He offered them His body and blood. To them, He was violating one of the most basic precepts of Kosher law.

Today, the Pharisees and some scribes confront Jesus. This was at a more basic level; Jesus disciples were violating traditional rules about hand washing. They confronted Jesus about this.

These Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem: They were an official delegation coming to evaluate the ministry of Jesus. A prior delegation had already condemned Jesus so this one already made up their minds. They just had to see it to confirm their opinion. Their minds and hearts were not open to God.

As to the washings we do not mean getting rid of the yuck factor. The Pharisees rather meant elaborate ceremonial washings. The Pharisees had raised a small ‘t’ tradition to the level of God’s direct commands. In fact, by the time of Jesus, this oral law was being honored as at least equal to, if not more important than, God’s Law. Jesus was trying to refocus Israel. Open your hearts and your whole selves to my Father. See in Me the goodness and generosity of your Heavenly Father.

It is easy for us to enter into the same kinds of error; to find salvation in outward practice, and in doing so to lose our way. We need refocusing too.

We can easily lose our focus and place trivial traditions in the way of our relationship with God. These can even become roadblocks that discourage others from coming to God. We can think that we are close to the Lord by what we say and practice – having the image of being religious or spiritual, but actually be far from God. We should regularly ask ourselves some serious questions: I attend church, read the Bible, pray, pitch in, minister, sing, even talk to others about Jesus but is my heart close to God? Is my entire being about being in Jesus?

If our entire being is one in God then all we do is about being part of His life. We worship in church, not to be exceptional or even to follow God’s law, but because we need to be with Him and offer Him the worship He deserves. We read the Bible, pray, pitch in, minister, sing, and talk to others about Jesus because our hearts are His. We are truly and fully in love with God. Lord, refocus us so that all coming from us is Yours!

We are almost
there.

He said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Two hands reaching for each other. A couple in love. Children in the back seat of the car, wondering ‘are we there yet.’ An action movie where the hero rescues others at the very last second. These are all examples of reaching for achievement.

As we have seen over these weeks, Jesus has been approaching this dramatic last moment. He is completing His teaching on the great gift He gives us, His very body and blood, His soul to live within us forever. Jesus is the mountain climber approaching the summit. He is about to cross the goal line. What happened?

It is often said that life is full of disappointments. It is hard to find fulfillment, acceptance, and victory, to reach our goals and end up a winner. We bet on the horse that doesn’t win. We put our eggs in the wrong basket. We weren’t at the dock when our ship came in.

All of the people hearing Jesus were at the dock (literally since they were in the seaside town of Capernaum). They were in the right place at the right time. The summit was in reach. Their team was about to win. Their hands were about to touch hand of God. And they walked away from Him.

They… were… almost… there… and they walked away both in body and soul. While a few stayed, even among those one had lost faith, Judas. This giver of God’s body and blood, of God’s soul, wasn’t what he wanted. He continued to live in his disappointments and that disappointment would later turn to anger and betrayal. Judas… was… almost… there… and lost his faith.

We are faced with the same challenge the crowd in Capernaum faced. Jesus offers us words that are Spirit and life. We continually have Him within our reach and can come to Him to receive His body and blood, His soul to live within us forever. We are almost there. Like Joshua before the people of Israel, we must declare whom we will serve – the gods of the times or the Lord.

We… are… almost… there… If we chose the Lord we have real life, true regeneration, purpose, fulfillment, acceptance, and victory. Let us grasp His hand and find in Him real life.

Let us seek
His wisdom.

Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table. She has sent out her maidens; she calls from the heights out over the city: “Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”

Jesus was really putting it all out there: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The people listening to Him went from confusion to serious concern: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

How indeed! To keep properly Kosher, that is to observe Kashrut, the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods can and cannot be eaten and how those foods must be prepared and eaten, these people could not possibly consume human flesh nor drink blood. Not consuming blood is strictly prohibited in the Torah (see Leviticus 7:26-27 and 17:10-14). The Torah states that one must not eat blood because the life of the animal (literally, the soul) is contained in the blood.

Therein is the wisdom of what Jesus is saying to us, the key to His love for us. His earthly mission and His everlasting desire are to give Himself for and to us. He gives us His soul – His lifeblood.

Some of us may have donated blood at work, church, or in our community. What a wonderful gift to give. We can draw a comparison between our gifts of life giving blood to what Jesus has done for us in His flesh and blood. We can perceive the great wisdom of His gift.

While our gift can only help a few people and as a rule only those who have compatible blood types, Jesus gave His blood for each of us. Jesus’ blood reaches people of every blood type – of every race, rank, class, tribe, and tongue. Our giving of blood is a donation while Jesus’ gift was a complete sacrificial self-giving. When we give blood we do so in sterile conditions under medical supervision. Jesus’ gift was drawn-out, tortuous, and painful. Our donated blood is very expensive for those who may receive it. Jesus’ blood is free to all who claim Him by faith. If our blood is not used, it expires in a little over a month. Jesus’ blood is as effective today as it was when it was given at the cross. One pint of our blood can save up to three lives. One drop of the Jesus’ blood has saved the world (John 3:16).

By giving us the gift of His flesh and blood He fully gives Himself to us. The wisdom therein is that through His gift we have His soul in us and inherit eternal life. Ever seek His wisdom.

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I’m not going to
let go of you!

Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death saying: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal – a real high point in which he, acting a God’s prophet, had seen God’s total victory. Now he had run off, afraid of Jezebel’s revenge. It is odd, isn’t it – Elijah sees the strength of God’s hand and then looses trust that God could possibly protect him.

If we have ever been part of some great victory, be it personal or part of a team, it is unlikely that our next act would be to run off in fear and pray for death. Well that’s exactly what Elijah did. Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death.

The power of God comes to the fore again. He steps in and sends a message to Elijah – get up and eat. He sent Elijah bread and water. Even though Elijah gave up again, God sent more bread and His messenger: the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”

God had plans for Elijah despite Elijah’s lack of faith and his fear. God was not going to let go of him.

The same message is apparent in Jesus’ discourse with the Jews. They murmured about Jesus. They thought they had Him defined: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother?” Yet He would not give up. Having fed them, having taught them about the value of the Bread that came down from Heaven, He was still trying to lead them to the ultimate truth: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever…”

That is what the Bread of Life is all about. It is Jesus’ everlasting expression of His abiding presence, the fact that He remains with us, feeds us, and cares for us. Despite our weaknesses and failing, He will never give up on us or leave us. Our journey is fed by the Bread that came down from Heaven; Bread that brings us eternal life.

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The slow, long
slide.

I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

We have reached the mid-point of summer vacation – at least for our youth. As they and their brave parent rush down rollercoasters and waterslides, we have to wonder if they wish it might slow down – slow down so it might last longer.

Two opposing forces become more and more evident in our gospel messages. This gets to the message St. Paul is trying to convey in his letter telling the people to put away the futility of your minds; remember how you learned Christ. Put away the old self, your former way of life, and put on the new self, created in God’s way.

The people came searching for Jesus because they were fed and had seen a great miracle. They had wanted to proclaim Him King of Israel right there in the wilderness. Now they wanted more bread and circuses – show us another miracle. They were thinking in purely human terms and from worldly desires. They were caught up in the futility of their minds.

Jesus does not change His message – but now makes it much more evident. The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom focused on fulfilling whatever the world may wish – but rather a kingdom where God and His faithful live in joyful union – focused on fulfilling the entirety of His potential that is already in us. We are renewed in Him, made new, to live in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Over the next few weeks we see the slow, long slide toward the cross. The people caught up in the futile desires of their minds – power, success, and greed become more and more aware that Jesus has come to call them to a completely new and greatly different life. It is a life that eschews the former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires. It is a life that offers the ultimate in rewards – eternal life with God in perpetual bliss and joy.

The people trapped in the futile desires of their minds wished that their “summer” would last forever. Jesus would feed, entertain, heal – give them all that the moment desired. Jesus offers the better alternative, the more perfect gift when He says: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Lord, I choose this bread! It lasts forever and will not slide away!

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Provisions,
not just supplies.

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.

Dictionaries tell us that provision means items of goods or supplies, especially food, obtained for future use. It can also mean money set aside for a future event.

I grew up in Buffalo. Along William Street were the former meat packing plants that supplied food for much of the nation. I remember riding along in the car as we passed the various “provision” companies that remained: Elk Provisions, Camellia (Cichocki) Provisions – I get hungry just thinking about these places. Locally we may have passed Pede Brothers Italian Food or Orlev Provision Company.

Now we are ready to run out and get some great Polish or Italian food. If we visit these provision houses we are well aware of the requirement going in – we have to pay for the things we need.

Today’s gospel message reminds us that God’s provision is quite different.

The Church calls God’s provision grace. In First Communion and Confirmation class we discuss God’s grace in detail. Our children and youth learn that grace is God’s help given to us through the merits of Jesus Christ for our salvation. Grace is free to us – it is both a request and an offering of God’s love held out for us to freely accept and use. We can accept or reject this gift. If we chose to accept it, we fulfill God’s request and He gives us more and more grace to help us toward perfection.

That is all kind of theological. In its essence grace is God’s provision, His providing for us as our true Heavenly Father and Brother. God loves us so much that He wants to be in every part of our lives. He wants to be with us and in us so that He may provide for us in all areas of life. Scripture draws beautiful pictures of this provision. God caring for the lilies of the field and birds of the air – yet how much more important we are than they.

Our Father is there with grace at hand – all for us whether we are in a really good place or in a bad stage of life where we just don’t know where to turn. He is there with provision in hand if we are well off or in over our heads financially or emotionally or spiritually. He is there providing in the midst of noise, quiet, or loneliness.

We are called to acknowledge and recognize God’s provision even though we might not know exactly how that provision may come. His grace, His provision is more than temporary supplies that come and go and can even spoil. His love will never spoil or destroy – only save.

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The challenge.
The reaction.

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.

The Apostles had gone out as directed by Jesus. In faithfulness to Him they preached the gospel and healed the sick. They had returned to Jesus to report all that they had done. They filled Jesus in. Certainly they were both excited and exhausted. As a good spiritual leader would do to this very day, Jesus invites them to come away to a quiet place where they can pray and rest. Here’s where Jesus experiences the full brunt of His humanity. He could not get away. People kept coming in need of His teaching and healing. They were hungry for God’s word, something the leaders of the day could not provide. Jesus and His Apostles were so engaged that they couldn’t even eat.

Finally, there was opportunity – they could get to their boat and could head off to a quiet, deserted, peaceful place. Those moments of prayer and rest were at hand. The best laid plans… they arrive and waiting for them is an even larger throng of people.

We know Jesus’ reaction: His heart was moved with pity for them… and He began to teach them many things. We might wonder if the Apostles reacted in the same way? We know what it is like; can place ourselves in the situation. They were expecting alone time with Jesus – rest and prayer. We can easily understand their frustration, they might even have been angry.

Jesus’ actions are our first challenge. How do we react when confronted by the unexpected, when our personal wants, desires, and expectations are frustrated, when God’s way counters against what we want? Do we follow Him?

This is a very pertinent question in today’s world. We are called to act as Jesus would act. His actions and words, God’s way of life naturally fits with proper human desires. Seeing a mass of people in need we naturally want to help – at least deep inside. Yet selfishness gets in the way. Our battle is to overcome personal selfishness, having things our way, and in the process conforming ourselves to His way.

It comes down to how we react to challenge. Our Facebook friends tell us – this is the way the world should be. Our colleagues at work say – don’t bother. Politicians demonize anyone who disagrees. Our gut check is Jesus’ way as given us by Scripture, Church teaching, and Tradition. Acting in accord with Him we meet the challenge.

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You have reached me.
Leave a message.

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

Are we answering machines or messengers as Christians?

As loyal followers of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we start our week off the right way. We spend time in church to give God the praise and worship He desires and so deserves from us. We hear the word proclaimed and preached. We receive the Lord’s forgiveness through His Church, our community. We are fed, nourished with the Bread of Life and drink from the Cup of Salvation.

If we are answering machines we take in all that is given. We can even repeat much of it back, if someone pushes the play button. We do the same thing over and over and loyally sit through and retain these messages.

Messengers are different. They deliver. They not only deliver, but also are personally changed by the process. Think of a messenger or courier.

  • The delivering of the message places demands on them. There is urgency to their work. The message cannot wait, cannot be late. The message must be securely delivered – true to its source.
  • The messenger’s task is physical. They have to get where they are going. They are strengthened by the process.
  • Messengers may be specialists in delivering certain types of content.
  • The messenger’s delivery of the message is distinctive. The messenger’s experience of the message adds to the delivery, in certain ways becomes part of the message.

Social corruption and the oppression of the poor and helpless and worship of pagan deities were prevalent in Israel and Amos was called to be a messenger. The head priest Amaziah, who should have been the messenger became less than even an answering machine.

Our task is to determine whether we will act mechanically as God’s answering machines – faithful of course – or whether we will be His messengers.

As Jesus sent His apostles, so He sends us. He sends us with power and authority. Let us take up the urgency of the mission and deliver Jesus’ message – in opposition to the changing wants and desires of the world. Let us grow in strength by the delivery of His message. As we are given gifts, let us use our specialized talents to deliver His message. Let us convey God’s message witnessing to the joy, hope, and comfort it has given us.

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And You are
Who?

When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Do we mimic Jesus’ encounter with the people from His native region by failing to recollect His reality and how very important and essential He is to us?

Of course, very few people would say they hate Jesus. Where they fail is in seeing the reality of Jesus. Like the people of His native village, the world wants Jesus to be who they want Him to be. They neither expect nor want God to walk among them, to enter into their lives, or to challenge them to go His way.

The gospel shows us that the people of Jesus’ native place expected a carpenter. They pigeonholed Jesus. When He upset their apple cart and challenged them to see differently, they were offended rather than changed.

What do we expect to find when we meet Jesus? Was He only a man, a philosopher who said nice and helpful things that we can choose to accept or ignore? Is He the god of our own making who exists merely to confirm and accept whatever we wish confirmed and accepted? Is He the god of magic blessings and cures? Is He a ‘plumber,’ on call in case of emergency? Do we keep Him safely on a refrigerator magnet, the bookshelf, or the Rolodex just in case? Is He the god of unchallenging love?

Jesus upset the expectations of those in His native place and He should upset our expectations.

The most challenging aspect of being a Christian is whether we will pigeonhole Jesus or if we will accept Him in the fullness of His godhead. If He is a mere shadow of what He truly is then He is not God. He had worked as a carpenter – and that is all His community members saw – that one side. As a result of their expectations they took offense and limited Him.

Jesus proclaimed marvelous words and a life affirming philosophy – but He is not just a philosopher. He healed and is there in a pinch, but He is more than an on-call fixer. He is never a god of our making. His message of love and way of love is always a challenge. It is a challenge to complacency and to our expectations.

Will we limit Him in our lives? Will we fail to recognize Him and how important He is? Will He be more important than anything to us? Will he offend us or will we be set free by His reality? Accepting Him and taking up His challenges sets us free. It makes us amazing in Jesus’ eyes.

Just before deadline - time, stress, rush, faith.

I hope You’re running
on time.

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

There’ a little poem that goes:

God has perfect timing;
Never early, never late.
It takes a little
Patience and faith,
But it’s worth the wait.

Our readings and gospel point to God’s perfect timing. In our Epistle from Second Corinthians, Paul appeals for charity toward the Church in Jerusalem.

The Christians at Jerusalem referred to themselves as “the poor.” They were completely dependent on God’s provision. Several factors may account for their poverty: After conversion to Christianity they would have been ostracized socially and economically; Persistent food shortages in Palestine culminated in the famine of A.D. 46; As the mother-church of Christendom, the Jerusalem church was obliged to support a large number of teachers and provided hospitality for Christian visitors; and Christians in Palestine were subject to a crippling Jewish and Roman taxation.

Yet, in the midst of all these factors, the Church faithful in Jerusalem acted in complete faith. They sold everything they had and gave to each other. They trusted in God’s timing, God’s provision. Their patience and faith were rewarded because Paul was out there raising funds. The Churches of Macedonia, Galatia, Asia, and Achaia contributed and sent delegations to bring their offerings.

The first woman we meet in the Gospel was afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years and suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors. Talk about patience. Yet despite all those trials and all that time, she approached Jesus with simple faith and was healed. Indeed, Jesus confirms: “Daughter, your faith has saved you.

The great culmination of this teaching on patience and trust comes when a father, Jairus, is presented with news that his daughter had died. He could have broken down, given up immediately – ‘Thanks Jesus, but You were too late.’ Rather, he listened to Jesus: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.

Jesus’ timing is perfect. We know the rest, He arrives at the home and raises Jairus’ daughter.

Remember that Jarius was ‘running late.’ His daughter was at the point-of-death. We must remember this when we’ve almost missed our proverbial flight/train/boat. Is it too late? Has God abandoned me and let all trouble fall upon me? No, He is faithful and always on-time.