Jesus says: "I am the bread of Life"

4. Aug, 2018

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.


 

28. Jul, 2018

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.

 


 

28. Apr, 2018

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; 

 


 

22. Apr, 2018

Lectio Divina: 

 Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jesus the Good Shepherd

“So that all may have life and have

 it to the full!”

John 10, 11-18

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 Gospel of the fourth Sunday after Easter presents to us the parable of the Good Shepherd. This is why, sometimes, it is called the Sunday of the Good Shepherd. In some parishes the feast of the Parish priest is celebrated on this day, the shepherd of the flock. In today’s Gospel, Jesus presented himself as the Good Shepherd, who has come “so that they may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10,10). At that time, the shepherd was the image of the leader. Jesus says that many presented themselves as shepherds but in fact they were “thieves and brigands”. The same thing happens today. There are persons who present themselves as leaders, but in reality, instead of rendering service, they only seek their own interests. Some of them have such a meek way of speaking, and make such an intelligent type of propaganda that they succeed in deceiving people. Have you ever had the experience of being deceived? Which are the criteria to evaluate a leadership whether at community level or at the level of the country? How is and how should a good shepherd be? Keeping these questions in mind, let us try to meditate on the text of today’s Gospel. During the reading let us try to be attentive to the images which Jesus uses to present himself to the people as a true and good Shepherd.

 

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

Jn 10, 11: Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep
Jn 10, 12-13: Jesus defines the attitude of the mercenary
Jn 10, 14-15: Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep
Jn 10, 16: Jesus defines the goal to be attained: only one flock and one shepherd 
Jn 10, 17-18: Jesus and the Father.

c) Text:

 

11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

 

12 The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and runs away, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; 13 he runs away because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. 16 And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and I must lead these too. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock, one shepherd. 17 The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father.

 

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) What has struck you most in the text of the Good Shepherd? Why?
b) Which are the images which Jesus applies to himself, how does he apply them and what do they signify?
c) How many times does Jesus use the term life in this text and what does he affirm about life?
d) What does the text say about the sheep that we are? Which are the qualities and the tasks of the sheep? 
e) Shepherd (Pastor) - Pastoral. Do our pastoral works continue the mission of Jesus-Shepherd?

5. For those who desire to deepen more into the text

 

a) Context:

i) The discourse of Jesus on the Good Shepherd (Jn 10, 1-18) is like a brick inserted into a wall which already exits. With this brick the wall is stronger and more beautiful. Immediately before, in Jn 9, 40-41, the Gospel spoke about the healing of the man born blind (Jn 9, 1-38) and of the discussion of Jesus with the Pharisees on blindness (Jn 9, 39-41). Immediately after in Jn 10, 19-21, John gives the conclusion of Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees on blindness. The Pharisees presented themselves before the people as leaders and believed that they could discern and teach the things of God. In reality, they were blind (Jn 9, 40-41) and they despised the opinion of the people represented by the man born blind who had been cured by Jesus (Jn 9, 34). The discourse on the Good Shepherd has been inserted here for the purpose of offering some criteria to know how to discern who is the leader, the shepherd who deserves to be trusted. The parable fulfils a word which Jesus had just said to the Pharisees: “It is for judgment that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight may become blind.” (Jn 9, 39).

 

ii) The discourse of Jesus on the “Good Shepherd” presents three comparisons, linked among themselves by the image of the sheep, which offer criteria to discern who is the true shepherd:


First comparison (Jn 10, 1-5): “Enter through the gate”. Jesus distinguishes between the shepherd of the sheep and the one who climbs some other way to rob them. That which reveals who is the shepherd is the fact that he enters through the gate. The thief climbs some other way.


Second comparison: (Jn 10, 6-10): “I am the gate”. To enter through the gate means to act like Jesus, whose greatest concern is the life in abundance of the sheep. What the shepherd reveals is the defence of the life of the sheep.


Third comparison: (Jn 10, 11-18)): “I am the Good Shepherd”. Jesus is not simply a shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd. That which reveals who is the Good Shepherd is (1) the reciprocal knowledge between the sheep and the shepherd and (2) to give his life for the sheep.

 

iii) In what way can the parable of the Good Shepherd take away the blindness and open the eyes of persons? At that time, the image of the shepherd was the symbol of the leader. But not because of the simple fact that someone who took care of the sheep can be defined as shepherd. The mercenaries also count and the Pharisees were also leaders. But were they also shepherds? As we shall see, according to the parable, in order to discern who is shepherd and who is a mercenary, it is necessary to pay attention to two things: (a) To the attitude of the sheep before the shepherd guiding them, to see if they recognize his voice. (b) To the attitude of the shepherd before the sheep to see if his interest is the life of the sheep and if he is capable to give his life for them (Jn 10, 11-18).

 

iv) The text of the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday after Easter (Jn 10, 11-18) is the last part of the discourse on the Good Shepherd (Jn 10, 1-18). This is why we wish to comment on the whole text. We observe closely the diverse images which Jesus uses to present himself to us as the true and Good Shepherd.

 

b) Commentary on the text:

i) Jn 10, 1-5: First image: the shepherd “enters through the gate”
Jesus begins the discourse with the comparison of the gate: “He who does not enter through the gate, but climbs somewhere else, is a thief, a bandit! Instead, the one who enters through the gate, is the shepherd of the sheep!” To understand this comparison, it is well to remember what follows. At that time, the shepherds took care of the flocks during the day. When night arrived, they took the sheep into a large communitarian place, which was well protected against thieves and wolves. All the shepherds from the same region took their flocks there. There was a guardian who took care of them during the night. On the following day, early in the morning, the shepherd would go, knocked on the gate and the guardian would open. The sheep recognized the voice of their shepherd, got up and got out following him to the pastures. The sheep of the other shepherds heard the voice, but did not move because for them it was an unknown voice. The sheep recognizes the voice of its shepherd. From time to time, there was the danger of bandits. To rob the sheep, the thieves presented themselves to the guardian by the other door, but entered by another side or destroyed the wall, made of stones one on top of the other.

 

ii) Jn 10, 6-10: Second image: He explains what it means “to enter through the gate”: Jesus is the gate.


The Pharisees who were listening to Jesus, (cf. Jn 9, 40-41), did not understand the comparison. Then, Jesus explained: “I am the gate of the sheepfold. All those who have come before me, are thieves and bandits”. About whom is Jesus speaking using these hard words? Probably, he is referring to the religious leaders who drew people behind them, but who did not respond to the hopes of the people. They deceived the people, leaving them worse than before. They were not interested in the good of the people, but rather in their own interests and in their own portfolio. Jesus explains that the fundamental criterion to discern who is the shepherd and who is the bandit is the concern for the life of the sheep. He asks the people not to follow the one who presents himself as a shepherd, but does not desire the life of the people. It is here that Jesus pronounced that phrase which we sing even now: “I have come so that they may have life, and life to the full!” This is the first criterion.

 

iii) Jn 10, 11-16: Third image: he explains what it means “I have come so that they have life, and life to the full” (The text for this fourth Sunday after Easter begins here).

* Jn 10, 11: Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.
Jesus changes the comparison. First, he was the gate of the sheep. Now he says that he is the shepherd of the sheep. And not just any shepherd, but rather: “I am the Good Shepherd!” The image of the good shepherd comes from the Old Testament. Everybody knew what a shepherd was and how he lived and worked. In saying that he is a Good Shepherd, Jesus presents himself as the one who comes to fulfil the promises of the prophets and the hopes of the people. He insists on two points: (a) the defence of the life of the sheep; the good shepherd gives his life (Jn 10, 11.15.17.18): (b) in the reciprocal understanding between the shepherd and the sheep; the shepherd knows his sheep and they know the shepherd (Jn 10, 4.14.16).

 

* Jn 10, 12-13: Jesus defines the attitude of the mercenary who is not a shepherd.
The mercenary who is not a shepherd”. Looking from outside, the differences between the mercenary and the shepherd are not perceived. Both of them are busy with the sheep. Today there are many persons who take care of other persons in hospitals, in the communities, in the old peoples’ homes, in schools, in public services, in the parishes. Some do this out of love, others, hardly for a salary, in order to survive. These persons are not interested in the other persons. Their attitude is that of a functionary, of a worker earning a salary, of a mercenary. In a moment of danger, they are not interested, because “the sheep are not theirs”, the children are not theirs, the pupils are not theirs, their neighbours are not theirs, the faithful are not theirs, the sick are not theirs, the members of the community are not theirs. 
Now, instead of judging the behaviour of others, let us place ourselves before our own conscience and let us ask ourselves: “In my relationship with others, am I a mercenary or a shepherd?” Look, Jesus does not condemn you because the worker has a right to his salary (Lk 10, 7), but he asks you to take another step forward and to become a shepherd.

  

* Jn 10, 14-15: Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep.
Two things characterize the Good Shepherd: a) he knows the sheep and is known by them. in the language of Jesus, "to know" is not a question of knowing the name or the face of the person, but to be in relationship with a person as a friend, and with affection. b) to give the life for the sheep. That means to be ready to sacrifice oneself out of love. The sheep feel and perceive when a person defends and protects them. This is valid for all of us: for the Parish priests and for those who have some responsibility towards other persons. In order to know if a Parish Priest is a good shepherd it is not sufficient to be named Parish Priest and to obey the norms of Canon Law. It is necessary to be recognized as a good shepherd by the sheep. Sometimes this is forgotten in the present day politics of the Church. Jesus says that not only does the shepherd know the sheep, but also the sheep know the shepherd. They have criteria for this. Because if they do not recognize him, even if he is named according to Canon Law, he is not a shepherd according to the Heart of Jesus. Not only the sheep have to obey the one who guides them. Also the one who guides has to be very attentive to the reaction of the sheep to know if he is acting like a shepherd or like a mercenary.

* Jn 10, 16: Jesus defines the goal to be attained; only one flock, only one shepherd.
Jesus opens the horizon and says that he has other sheep that are not of this fold. They have not as yet heard the voice of Jesus, but when they will hear it, they will become aware that he is the shepherd and they will follow him. Who will do this, and when will this happen? We are the ones, imitating in everything the behaviour of Jesus, the Good Shepherd!

 

* Jn 10, 17-18: Jesus and the Father.
In these two last verses Jesus opens himself and makes us understand something which is in the deepest part of his heart: his relationship with the Father. Here the truth of everything he says in another moment is perceived: “I shall no longer call you servants, but I have called you friends because all that I have heard from the Father I have made it known to you” (Jn 15, 15). Jesus is for us an open book.

 

c) Extending the information:

The image of the Shepherd in the Old Testament which is realized in Jesus

i) In Palestine, the survival of the people depended on the cattle breeding: goats and sheep. The image of the shepherd who guides his sheep to the pasture was known by everyone, just like today we know the image of the bus driver. It was normal to use the image of the shepherd to indicate the function of the one who governed and guided the people. The prophets criticized the kings because they were shepherds who were not concerned about their flocks and did not guide them to the pastures (Jr 2,8; 10,21; 23, 1-2). This criticism of the bad shepherds increased and reached its summit when the people were deported into exile because of the fault of the king (Ezk 34, 1-10; Zc 11, 4-17).

 

ii) In the face of the frustration which they had to suffer because of the way the bad shepherds acted, the desire arose to have God as the shepherd. a desire which is very well expressed in the Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want (Ps 23, 1-6; Gn 48, 15). The prophets hope that in the future, God himself will come to guide his fold, like a shepherd (Is 40, 11; Ezk 34, 11-16). And they hope that this time the people will know how to recognize the voice of their shepherd: “Today listen to his voice!” (Ps 95, 7). They hope that God will come as a Judge who will pronounce judgment among the sheep of the fold (Ezk 34,17). The desire and the hope arise that one day, God will arouse good shepherds and that the Messiah will be a Good Shepherd for the People of God (Jr 3, 15; 23, 4).

iii) Jesus fulfils this hope and presents himself as the Good Shepherd, different from the bandits who, before him, had robed the people. He also presents himself as the Judge of the people who, at the end, will issue the sentence as the shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats (Mt 25, 31-46). In Jesus the prophecy of Zechariah is fulfilled, which says that the good shepherd will be persecuted by the evil shepherds, annoyed by his denunciation: “Strike the shepherd, scatter the sheep!” (Zc 13, 7).

iv) At the end of the Gospel of John, the image is extended and Jesus at the end is everything at the same time: gate (Jn 10, 7, shepherd (Jn 10, 11) lamb and sheep (Jn 1, 36)!

 

A key for the Gospel of John

Everyone perceives the difference that exists between the Gospel of John and the other three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Someone defines it as follows: The other three make a photo, John makes and X-Ray. That is, John helps his readers to discover the most profound dimension which exits in what Jesus says and does. He reveals the hidden things that only the X-Rays of faith succeed to discover and reveal. John teaches to read the other Gospels with the gaze of faith and to discover the most profound significance. Jesus himself had already said that he would have sent the gift of his Spirit in order that we could understand all the fullness of his own word (Jn 14, 24-25; 16, 12-13). The ancient Fathers of the Church said: the Gospel of John is “spiritual” and “symbolical”.

 

Some examples: (a) Jesus cures the man born blind (Jn 9, 6-7). For John this miracle has a more profound significance. It reveals that Jesus is the light of the World who makes us understand and contemplate better the things of God in life (Jn 9, 39). (b) Jesus rises Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11, 43-44) not only to help Lazarus and to console his two sisters, Martha and Mary, but also to reveal that he is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11, 25-26). (c) Jesus changes 600 liters of water into wine at the wedding at Cana (Jn 2, 1-13). And he does this not only to safeguard the joy of the feast, but also and above all, to reveal that the new Law of the Gospel is like wine compared to the water of the former Law. And he does it with such great abundance (600 liters), precisely to signify that it will not be lacking for anyone, up until today! (d) Jesus multiplies the bread and feeds the hungry (Jn 6, 11) not only to satisfy the hunger of those poor people who were with him in the desert, but also to reveal that he himself is the bread of life which nourishes all throughout life (Jn 6, 34-58). (e) Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman about water (Jn 4, 7.10), but he wanted that she would succeed to discover the water of the gift of God which she already had within her (Jn 4, 14-14). In one word, it is the Spirit of Jesus that gives life (Jn 6, 63). The flesh or only the letter are not enough and can even kill the sense and the life (2 Co 3, 6).

 

6. Prayer: 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 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.

 


 

10. Feb, 2018

Lectio Divina: 

 Sunday, February 11, 2018

Jesus heals a leper. Reintroducing the

marginalized into human society.

Mark 1:40-45

 

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 Gospel of this sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time tells us how Jesus receives a leper. In those days, lepers were the most excluded people of society, avoided by all. Lepers could not take part in anything. In olden days, the lack of effective medicines, the fear of contagion and the necessity of defending the life of society led people to isolate and exclude lepers. Besides, among the people of God whose defense of the gift of life was one of the most sacred duties, they thought that the exclusion of lepers was a divine duty because it was the only way to defend the community from deadly contagion. Thus, in Israel, the leper felt impure and excluded not only by society, but even by God (cf. Lev 14:1-32). Gradually, however, as better remedies came to light and, above all,  thanks to the deep experience communicated to us by Jesus concerning God our Father, lepers began to be accepted and reintegrated as brothers and sisters in human society.

 

In spite of two thousand years of Christianity, the exclusion and marginalization of some categories of people goes on even today, whether in society or in the Church. For instance, those suffering from AIDS, migrants, homosexuals, divorced persons, etc. Today, in your society and in the Church, what are the categories of excluded and avoided people? With these questions in mind, let us read and meditate on the Gospel for this Sunday.

b) A division of the text as a help to our reading:

Mark 1:40: The state of abandonment and exclusion of a leper

Mark 1:41-42: Jesus welcomes and heals the leper

Mark 1:43-44: Reintroducing those excluded into fraternal society

Mark 1:45: The leper proclaims the good Jesus did to him, and Jesus becomes an excluded person

 

c) Text:

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged Him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out His hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning  him sternly, He dismissed him at once. He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them." The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to Him from everywhere.

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) What did you like best and what touched you most in this text? Why?

b) How does this text express the exclusion of lepers?

c) How does Jesus welcome, heal and reinstate the leper? Try to observe each detail carefully.

d) How can we, today, imitate Jesus’ attitude towards those excluded?

5. FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO GO DEEPER INTO THE THEME

A) The context of then and of today:

Whether in the 70’s, when Mark was writing, or today in our times, it was and still is very important to hold to some criteria or models to know how to live and proclaim the Good News of God and how to carry out our mission as Christians. In verses 16 to 45 of the first chapter of Mark, in gathering together eight episodes, describes how Jesus proclaimed the Good News. Each episode contains the criterion for the community of His time, so that people then could examine their own mission. This Sunday’s text makes concrete the eighth criterion: reinstating those excluded. Here is the overall scheme to clarify what follows:

TEXT

ACTIVITIES OF JESUS

AIM OF THE GOOD NEWS

Mark 1:16-20

Jesus calls His first disciples

forming community

Mark 1:21-22

The people are amazed at His teaching

creating a critical conscience

Mark 1:23-28

Jesus drives out an evil spirit

fighting against the power of evil

Mark 1:29-31

The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law

restoring life through service

Mark 1:32-34

The healing of the sick and those possessed by devils

welcoming the marginalized

Mark 1:35

Jesus gets up to pray while it is still dark

staying united with the Father

Mark 1:36-39

Jesus goes on proclaiming the Good News

not allowing results to stop us

Mark 1:40-45

Jesus heals a leper

reinstating those excluded

 

b) A commentary on the text:

Mark 1:40: The state of abandonment and exclusion of a leper

A leper approaches Jesus. He was an excluded man, impure! He was to be sent away from human society. Anyone who came close to him would also be impure. But the leper had much courage. He broke the rules of religion so as to approach Jesus. He says, “If You are willing, You can cleanse me!” In other words, “There is no need for You to touch me! If You are just willing that is enough to heal me!” This sentence reveals two evils: 1) the evil of the diseasecalled leprosy that made him impure; 2) the evil of solitude to which he was condemned by society and religion. It also reveals the great faith people had in the power of Jesus.

 

Mark 1:41-42: By receiving and healing the leper,

Jesus reveals a new face of God

Deeply compassionate, Jesus heals both evils. Firstly, to heal the evil of solitude, He touches the leper. It is as though He says to him, "For Me you are not an outcast. I welcome you as a brother!" Secondly, He heals the disease called leprosy, saying, “I am willing. Be cleansed!” In order to come into contact with Jesus, the leper had broken the rules of the law. For Jesus to be able to help this excluded one and thus reveal a new face of God, He breaks the laws of His religion and touches the leper. In those days, anyone who touched a leper became impure in the sight of the religious authorities and before the law of that time.

 

Mark 1:43-44: Reinstating those excluded into fraternal life

Not only does Jesus heal, but He wills that the healed person be able to live with others. Reinstating a person to society. In those days, for a leper to be received within the community, he or she had to have a declaration of healing from a priest. Thus it was written in the law concerning the purification of a leper (Lev 14:1-32). This still happens today. The sick person leaves the hospital with a letter signed by the doctor of a particular section. Jesus obliges the leper to get the document from the competent authority so that he may be reinstated into normal society. He is thus obliging the authorities to confirm that the man has been healed.

 

Mark 1:45: The leper proclaims the good that Jesus worked for him and Jesus becomes excluded.

Jesus had forbidden the leper from speaking of his healing. But the leper did speak. The leper started freely proclaiming the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but stayed away in desert places. Why did Jesus stay away in desert places? Jesus had touched the leper. Thus, according to opinion in those days, now He was impure and had to live away from all. He could not enter any city. But Mark implies that people did not much care about official rules, because people from all around kept coming to Him! A complete turn around!

 

The double news that Mark conveys to the communities of his time and to all of us is this: 1) that proclaiming the Good News means witnessing to the concrete experience that one has of Jesus. What does the leper proclaim? He proclaims to others the good that Jesus did to him. That’s all! And it is precisely this witness that drives others to accept the Good News that Jesus proclaims. Anyone who has no experience of Jesus will have little to proclaim to others. 2) To take the Good News to others one need not fear breaking religious rules that are contrary to God’s plan and that render communication, dialogue and a life of love difficult, even if such an attitude may create difficulties for people as it did for Jesus!

 

c) Further information:

The eight criteria for evaluating the mission of the Community

A double slavery marked the situation of people at the time of Jesus: the slavery of the official religion, upheld by the religious authorities of the time, and the slavery of Herod’s politics, upheld by the Roman Empire and supported by the whole organized system of exploitation and repression. Because of all this, many of the people were excluded by religion and by society: the very contrary of the fraternity that God dreamt of for all! And it is precisely in this context that Jesus begins to carry out His mission of proclaiming the Good News of God.

This Sunday’s Gospel is part of a broader literary unit (Mk 1:16-45). Apart from the description of the preparation of the Good News (Mk 1:1-13) and of the proclamation (Mk 1:14-15), Mark brings together eight activities of Jesus to describe His mission of proclamation of the Good News and to describe how the mission of the community should be (Mk 1:16-45). This is the same mission that Jesus received from the Father (Jn 20:21). Mark puts together these episodes, which were passed on orally in the communities, and links them together like old bricks in a new wall. These eight episodes are eight criteria that serve the community to revise and check whether they are carrying out their mission well. Let us see:

 

i) Mk 1:16-20: Creating community.

The first thing that Jesus does is to call people to follow Him. A fundamental task of mission is to gather people around Jesus in order to create community.

ii) Mk 1:21-22: Creating a critical conscience.

The first thing that people see is the difference between the teaching of Jesus and that of the . Part of mission is to create a critical conscience in people, even in the face of the official religion.

iii) Mk 1:23-28: Fighting the power of evil.

Jesus’ first miracle is the driving out of an impure spirit. Part of mission is fighting the power of evil that destroys life and alienates people from themselves.

iv) Mk 1:29-31: Restoring life through service.

Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and she gets up and begins to serve. Part of mission is the care of the sick, so that they may be able to get up and once more serve others.

v) Mk 1:32-34: Welcoming the marginalized

After the Sabbath, people bring to Jesus the sick and the possessed that He may heal them, and, by laying His hands, He heals them all. Part of mission is to welcome the marginalized.

vi) Mk 1:35: Staying united with the Father through prayer.

After a day of labor that extends far into the night, Jesus gets up quickly so that He may pray in a desert place. Part of mission is staying united with the source of the Good News, that is, the Father, through prayer.

vii) Mk 1:36-39: Keeping up an awareness of mission.

The disciples were happy with the results and wanted Jesus to return. But He carried on with His journey. Part of mission is not to be content with results, but to keep alive an awareness of mission.

viii) Mk 1:40-45: Reinstating the marginalized into human society.

Jesus heals a leper and asks him to present himself to a priest so that he may be declared healed and may be able to live among people. Part of mission is reinstating the excluded to human society.

 

These eight points, so well chosen by Mark, indicate the purpose of Jesus’ mission: “I came that all may have life, and may have it abundantly!” (Jn 10:10). These same eight points may serve to evaluate our own community. Thus we can see how Mark built up his Gospel - a beautiful structure that keeps in mind two things at once: (1) it informs people of what Jesus did and taught; (2) and it forms the community and people in the mission of proclaimers of the Good News of God.

6. PRAYING A PSALM: PSALM 125 (124)

Anyone who trusts in the Lord will not waver!

Whoever trusts in Yahweh is like Mount Zion:

unshakable, it stands for ever.

 

Jerusalem! The mountains encircle her:

so Yahweh encircles His people,

henceforth and forever.

 

The scepter of the wicked will not come to rest

over the heritage of the upright;

or the upright might set their own hands to evil.

 

Do good, Yahweh,

to those who are good, to the sincere at heart.

But the crooked, the twisted, turn them away,

Yahweh, with evil-doers. Peace to Israel!

7. FINAL PRAYER

Lord Jesus, we thank You 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.