Reflection on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel reminds me of a story I heard some years ago. During WW II when jobs were scarce, a telegraph operator job came open and many people showed up to apply for it. They waited all day for someone to come to interview them. At about 3:30 in the afternoon, another job seeker showed up but, instead of taking a seat in the waiting room, he knocked on the door of the inner office and was admitted. Shortly after, he emerged with an office worker who informed the crowd that this late comer
had been hired and that the others could go home. People were enraged. It seems they had listened to a telegraphed message for hours which said, “As soon as you decipher this message, knock on the office door.”
Human beings have been listening for divine messages since the beginning of time, and different groups have heard different messages. In today’s Gospel, the disciples are having a difficult time because Jesus has said that he is bread come down from heaven which must be eaten. It is a message they are finding it difficult to hear. What on earth could he mean?
Some walked away. Jesus did not change or take back the message. This teaching is the very heartbeat of our Catholic faith, and I’m sure some of us have many rich memories of a lifetime of attending Mass and other Eucharistic celebrations like Forty Hours and Benediction. There have always been strict rules and protocols in place governing who can officiate and who can participate in the sharing of this Eucharistic meal.
Conversations continue to this present day among our Church leaders on issues related to the celebration of Eucharist. Many changes have come about since Vatican II, and the changes have been welcomed by many people.
Several years ago, Sister Carol Perry who is a Scripture scholar gave a retreat here at the Motherhouse, and one of her most powerful talks, for me, at least, was an in depth look at the relationship Jesus had with food. He issued and accepted invitations to dine and celebrate and was always solicitous to see that people were fed. Many of his parables and teachings relate to meals and banquets, and who can fail to be touched by his directive that the daughter of Jairus be given something to eat after he had brought her back to life. He himself proved that he was alive by eating a piece of fish.
Food is a very big deal. I can also remember how Diarmud O’Murchu emphasized that the equal and adequate distribution of food and fresh water to every living person is the first and most basic task in our work for justice and peace. Our current discussions concerning the accessing of food near local sources shows how far we are from a viable solution to the pressing problem of food, which is growing ever more serious.
Given his deep awareness of the importance of food, it is not surprising that as trouble began to close in upon him and he knew that his time was short and that his followers were far from comprehending who he was and what he was trying to teach, Jesus put in place a ritual which would put his person and his message at the very heart of an activity which we cannot omit: eating and drinking This is the meeting place. When you eat and drink, remember me. “This is my body; take and eat.” The message is clear. Our spiritual hunger is real, and our failure to attend to our need for spiritual connection and nourishment will be the cause of death. In other words, what we truly need and long for is communion-conscious, deep, vital and intimate, with God and with one another. Jesus did not condemn those who chose to walk away. He offered everyone the opportunity to walk away without any words of condemnation. Jesus left each person free to choose his or her own path to the abundant life he came to bring.
What about us? The story of the travelers to Emmaus seems to play out in our common experience each and every day. As they trudged along on that Easter Sunday afternoon, the travelers were burdened by their awareness of problems humongous and crushing for which they not only had no solution but also no clue where to begin to look for a solution. They believed that Jesus was dead and life was utterly hopeless.
But Jesus was not and is not dead. Global warming, covid, starvation, racism, economic inequality, fires, earthquakes and political upheaval are some of the problems facing the human family, and perhaps we too grow weary of working, going to meetings, discussions and the humdrum of life, and we may be tempted like the travelers to say, “What’s the use” or “I give up,” but we don’t. Like Peter, we believe there is nowhere else to go because Jesus has the words of eternal life. We continue to gather, listen, reflect, pray, eat, ponder and share at the table of the word and sacrament, and the myriad other tables to which life invites us. We are refreshed and nourished as we encounter God with and through one another and we move on to do the best we can and then we come back again tomorrow.
The opening prayer for our Community Groups this fall presents us with a picture of an enormous eye, and we are invited to look with new eyes and to see with the “eyes of the heart.” The little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, reminded us, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” And so we continue to stay tuned, to look and to listen to God, to the earth, to all people everywhere and to one another.
And we continue to try to love as Jesus did, generously and courageously in our ongoing efforts to work for justice and to act for peace. Amen.