by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente Missionaries.
Madrid, August 08, 2021. | XIX Sunday in Ordinary Time
1st Book of Kings 19: 4-8; Letter to the Ephesians 4: 30-32.5,1-2; Saint John 6: 41-51.
Next Sunday, when we celebrate the Assumption of Mary into heaven, we will read in the Gospel the moving declaration of her cousin Elizabeth: Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. And the following Sunday, August 25, we will hear Peter’s inspired statement: You have the words of eternal life.
Today we hear Jesus say something that to his contemporaries and to ourselves may seem strange or simply allegorical: I am the bread of life. If we do not reflect carefully on these words of Jesus, we Christians today may think that he is “only” speaking to us about the Eucharist.
In fact, today’s Gospel text presents us with the subtle and profound power of words. Not a well-crafted speech or a vibrant lesson, not an offensive insult or grandiloquent words. It is about something more subtle, about the two extremes of that energy that the word has and that certainly change our lives, sometimes not very consciously: murmuring… and welcoming the Word of God.
We all agree that words can inspire or destroy, but today is an appropriate day to be more aware that this is something that happens all the time, something that presents us with a real dilemma: to respond to God with murmuring or to express our welcoming. This was already an ancient sentiment of the Jewish people, who assimilated the word of God to the bread that gives life. For example, the prophet Jeremiah exclaims: I devoured your words when they came they were my happiness and I felt full of joy (Jer 15:16).
In Revelation 10:9 the apostle John asks an angel for the book the angel is holding, and the angel tells John to eat it.
One of our most common human faults against charity is gossip. We know that the average individual speaks about 18,000 words a day. A lot of those words are not really very important, as we all know, so it is not surprising that we all fall into gossip at one time or another. In Matthew 12:34 we see Jesus speaking to those who have wrongfully used words: You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Gossip, or defamation, is careless talk against people and about people in their absence. One of the problems with murmuring faults is that the fact that the victim is absent, favors our unawareness and insensitivity to the evil we do.When we gossip, we destroy the good name of another person. We can also also distinguish two kinds of defamation. Detraction or slander is the unjust or unfair revelation of another person’s real but hidden or secret faults. If I tell to my friends about the past secrets of a friend of mine too, that is slander. The other kind is calumny which is the untruthful imputing of some faults to another which he did not actually commit.
Experts say that there are four kinds of gossip. The first is angry gossip. Suppressed anger is one of the most common causes of malicious gossip. People cannot admit to themselves that they are angry nor can they express their anger directly and still keep their dignity so they let their anger out in malicious gossip.
The second biggest cause gossip is envy. When we have feelings of discontent and ill-will because of other people’s advantages or fame, we are showing signs of envy. Envious people often resort to envious gossip with the clear intention of damaging the other person’s name or reputation.
Such envious people are not really happy. Their very act of gossiping only serves to increase their feelings of self-hatred. Actually, they want to be like them but they are not free.
The third is entertaining Gossip. Some people feel they have to gossip in order to be entertaining. They try to give impression that they have access to private information. They gossip only to be admired and according to experts, their gossip is really just a kind of compensation for low self-esteem.
The last one is insecure gossip that tries to impress us with its importance by approaching us with a juicy tidbit. Usually these people have few real friends. They regard all others as potential enemies. Gossips who act in this way are basically insecure. They have an obsession to be liked. This is the only way they have of feeling safe.
If backbiting or murmuring is one of our defects, perhaps our Dominant Defect, the ascetic solution is not repressing our negative comments, but using the words to highlight the good in others. Jesus spoke of the defects and sins of the Pharisees and religious leaders, but so that his followers would not fall into the same fault. However, we see him many times praising the faith, virtue and generosity of people, such as the centurion, the Canaanite mother of a sick girl (Mt 15), Mary of Bethany, the widow who gave alms….
But the most important thing about the word, where it reveals its true power, is in what we call the word of God. For us Christians, the word of God was not made book, as is the case with the Torah for the Jews or the Koran for the Muslims, but flesh in Nazareth.
God gives everyone a chance to know him, They shall all be taught by God Jesus says today. It refers to the oracle of the prophet Jeremiah, who announced: The time is coming I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. And they will not have to teach each other, saying: Know the Lord, because they will all know me, from the greatest to the lowliest (Jer 31:34).
Like the prophets, and like the Muslims, the Christian is also hungry for the wisdom of God. He finds it in a book, the Bible, but he finds it in an immediate and permanent way in Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the bread of life. This is one of the teachings of the Second Reading, once Paul has had the experience of being guided by Jesus in an unexpected and profound way. In our hearts resounds what should be the behavior of a Christian: benevolent, mild, and most importantly, inspired by feelings of compassion, which is the first of the characteristics of God (Ex 34:6).
God’s word guides you and me in a similar way as it did Elijah in today’s First Reading when we do not even find comfort in faith, in the brothers and sisters of the community.
There is no need to “listen” with our head ears, because God has engraved in us his will and, especially on occasions where we find ourselves humanly desperate, tired, disappointed and persecuted, he shows us clearly the way, without sparing us suffering and pain. So it happened to Elijah.
Returning to the dilemma we mentioned earlier, we really only have two possibilities: either to murmur against God, to curse him in some way, or to imitate Elijah, in the midst of his weakness, his doubts and his fear. He put all his little strengths at the service of God and his neighbor.
What was the result? God sided with Elijah and the people were able to recognize that he was a man touched by God. In a very different way, of course, this happens exactly to us. But in any case, being faithful to his word gives us life…and makes us capable of giving life to others. I would like to insist: this happens even if at that moment we are attacked or destroyed, as happened to the prophets. The sign of being touched by God is to give everything… and to do it without reserve. That is the difference, regardless of our successes or failures, our expertise or our ignorance.
Let us note that the First Reading refers to Elijah’s sufferings originated mainly by the idol worship promoted by King Ahab, driven by his cunning wife Jezebel, daughter of the king of Tyre. Idols represent things, beings, or good or bad actions that replace God, that take his place in our heart. It is not good that we automatically think that idolatry is a thing of the past or belonging to some retrograde culture. The idols that you and I create make our love for God not exclusive and, therefore, his face cannot be visible in our actions.
Consider an example from a TV series where two young actors remind us what it means to love by giving everything and giving clear and convincing signs of it. The only way to become, with Jesus, the bread of life. This is literal.
A young woman, completely desolate and deeply depressed, finds herself on the roof of a building, ready to jump into the void to take her own life. At that moment, a young man who is her best friend arrives on the street and rushes up the ten-story stairs to the rooftop. Don’t come near me, or I’ll jump, the young woman shouts at him. The young man tries to convince her that nothing would ever work out that way, that she would fill the hearts of her parents, her sister and himself with sadness. The girl answers sobbing: No; I am tired of making everyone unhappy, of bringing sadness into their lives. The young man, having no more arguments, replies: You are right, I too see that life has no meaning, that nothing ends well and our dreams are useless. I’m desperate too. I’m going to jump with you!
The young woman is surprised and, approaching the void, the young man continues his speech: If you want, let’s jump together, if not, I’ll do it alone. The young woman then embraces him and they both remain on the edge of the parapet. They begin to cry and descend to the ground in each other’s arms, leaving the girl free from her suicidal confusion.
When a person is aware that someone gives his life for him/her, he/she is pushed to do the same, his/her true ecstasy is awakened with a force far superior to any personal interest. In Jesus, the Father’s love is made visible, and is, for each child, an invitation to follow in his footsteps. This is what Jesus does with his word in us, when he puts in our hearts the certainty that we are heirs of his mission.