13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
On the morning that I received a call to tell me that my father had just died, I went to my boss and said that I had to drop everything and go. The only thing on my mind was to go and see my father and say goodbye to him, and be with my brother and sisters to arrange his funeral. If anyone had come up to me at that time and said ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead, follow me’, well I can’t repeat what I would have said to them! However, this is what Jesus said to one of the men in today’s Gospel.
This statement has always puzzled me, but we have to understand the context in which it was said to appreciate the ‘radical’ nature of the statement. In Judaism, the responsibility for burying the dead was one that took precedence over all other duties required by the Jewish Law. The Jewish texts exempted from the customary practices of Jewish ritual, those who needed to bury their dead, and Jesus says ignore it! Proclaim the kingdom of God! That’s because the response to the challenge from Jesus must be total and transcend all other duties. To another potential follower, who wanted to return home to say goodbye to his family first, Jesus had an equally sharp response. These men wanted to follow Jesus, but not just yet. Jesus was testing their commitment. In today’s language, He may well have been interpreted as saying, ‘Put up or Shut up!’
Jesus wanted people to follow Him, but in a totally committed way, half-hearted discipleship just wouldn’t do. Once we understand the context of Jesus’ words, we can see them in a different light. We don’t actually know how those men responded in the end, but you could say that Jesus made His position very clear to them, and left them in no doubt about the commitment He was looking for.
This Gospel is about Jesus beginning His own ‘longest journey’. It’s a trip made on foot, but it’s also a journey ‘inwards’ as He moves without hesitation to complete the destiny marked out for Him by the Father. By using these hard sayings, Jesus isn’t trying to frighten us off. These are real challenges and at certain moments in our lives we are surely called to rise to them. There are times in our lives when two paths open up before us and we know that Jesus wants us to take the ‘less travelled road’ the hardest road.
So, let us all be willing to rise to the challenge and not resist it. We must all walk the road of our lives each day. Jesus’ words must lead us to examine our own faith and be willing to be honest with ourselves as to how far we are willing to put that faith to the test. We must be ready for that day when Jesus, on that same road, comes walking by and addresses us with those simple, but deeply challenging words...“Follow Me!”
During the Eucharistic Prayer, we recite a ‘Mystery of Faith’ and quite often we will say, “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.” We are celebrating the Lord’s life and looking forward to the second coming, that’s the essence of today’s Solemnity. The first two verses of one of my favourite hymns, for me, sum up the importance and the warmth of today’s Solemnity:
‘This is my body, broken for you,
bringing you wholeness, making you free.
Take it and eat it, and when you do,
do it in love for me.’
‘This is my blood, poured out for you,
bringing forgiveness, making you free.
Take it and drink it, and when you do,
do it in love for me.’
Beautiful isn’t it? Admit it, it’s in your head now and you’ll be singing it to yourself all day. Well if it makes you think about today’s Gospel, that’s no bad thing is it?
Today’s Gospel is the story of the feeding of the multitude, the five thousand. What Jesus did that day was truly amazing for many different reasons. There are elements of trust, obedience, caring and sharing, love, humanity and self giving. The disciples showed obedience and trust towards Jesus when he said to them, “Get them to sit down in parties of about fifty” which they did. The elements of caring and sharing are shown when Jesus tells the disciples “Give them something to eat yourselves.” With these words he is showing the disciples that, to them, this may just be a large crowd of people, but that doesn’t stop Him caring about their needs and being willing to share what they have with them. This is a sign of his love towards his followers, and a sign of humanity in terms of being concerned for their welfare. Jesus knew that the crowd would be hungry and they wouldn’t have the means to provide for themselves, so He provided for them, and this was a very self giving way of doing that.
Why was the crowd there in the first place? The first sentence of the Gospel explains this; ‘Jesus made the crowds welcome and talked to them about the kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing.’ So we can see the reason the crowd gathered was to hear Jesus, and for some, to be healed by him. Whether they realised it or not, they were being fed by Jesus even then. They were being fed by the word of God. He was nourishing their hearts and souls and minds. We experience this when we come to mass. We are fed at the table of the word in our liturgy, as well as the table of the Eucharist, with the Body and Blood of Christ.
Many years ago whilst on holiday in Rome, I was fortunate to attend a papal audience with the late Pope John Paul II in the auditorium which holds about twelve thousand. His Holiness preached in many different languages to the crowd gathered there. In doing so, he showed great caring, love, humanity and self giving to us all. He fed us with the word of God, and nourished our hearts and souls and minds. It was a very moving and uplifting experience, so I suppose I could say that I have been part of a feeding of the multitude.
When we read this Gospel, maybe we should consider the fact that Jesus ‘fed’ the multitude before he actually ‘fed’ them.
If you were to ask someone for their understanding, their interpretation of ‘The Trinity’ be careful who you ask. If it’s a Manchester United fan, you might get the obvious answer: Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law and George Best. After all, there is a statue of them outside Old Trafford know as ‘The Trinity’. Well that may well be their idea of ‘The Trinity’ but it’s not ‘The Most Holy Trinity’. So how do you explain ‘The Most Holy Trinity’ to someone? Trying to explain it to a non Christian (and even to some Christians) is not the easiest thing to do.
Many years ago, we had one of our nephews staying with us for a few days. After mass on the Sunday, he said that he didn’t understand how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit can be three persons but one God. For a moment I thought, how are we going to explain this to him, then Selena said “Ah, that’s where your faith comes in. It helps you believe and accept something which is a mystery and can’t easily be explained.” I thought, that’s a good answer...smarty!
There are many other ways we can think of The Most Holy Trinity such as: God The Father created us out of love, God The Son taught us how to live by loving one another, God The Holy Spirit is the means by which we are kept ‘topped up’ with God’s love. Or, think of it this way: God is our creator, our redeemer and our sanctifier; God The Father created us, God The Son redeemed us and God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us...three persons...one God.
Others have tried to explain this mystery of faith using various symbols such as, an equilateral triangle, or two interwoven triangles, or three overlapping circles or three jars of water each reflecting equally the light of the moon. If you’re still struggling to understand The Most Holy Trinity, try thinking of a shamrock. What is it? Is it three leaves bound together? Or is it one leaf, consisting of three equal parts?
Jesus did try to explain to His disciples about the Spirit which would come to them after He had gone. He knew it was a lot for them to understand fully, and that’s why He said to them, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.” They may not have fully understood what Jesus meant; but as we saw last week when we celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost, the Spirit would soon come upon them and enlighten them. Our faith helps us to believe in the mystery of The Most Holy Trinity, and when we make the sign of the cross, we are witnessing that faith.
I recently came across a short prayer which helps me to sum up an act of faith and belief in The Most Holy Trinity: Lord Jesus, I begin and end each day with the sign of the cross. Help me to live my day in union with you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.