Friday, August 14, 2009

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

1 Kings 19:4-8
Ephesians 4:30 - 5:2
John 6:41-51

Walking through the airport the other day, my eye was caught by a photograph on the front page of the Washington Post. The image depicted a woman lying down – the expression upon her face was a study in desolation. Her gaze stopped me in my tracks and I was compelled to read the story – I wanted to understand what could cause such a look of despair. The headline was, “For Many Americans, Nowhere to Go but Down.” This is what I learned:

Scott Nichols sinks into the couch, foot jiggling, his gaze traveling from his wife to the television to the darkness outside, broken now and then by the distant glow of passing headlights.

Then, the 39-year-old husband and father of two thinks of the words he doesn't want to say, what for him, is the option he has hoped to avoid since being laid off nine months earlier.

They already took free food from a church pantry, cardboard boxes filled with Corn Flakes and bologna and saltines, his wife, Kelly, walking in, head down, while he stayed in the car, ashen. They pawned his wedding ring, sold part of her Silver Eagle coin collection and had help from the Salvation Army paying their electric bill.

Now another cliff approaches: the loss of the home they rent.

"Looks like we'll have to go to your mom's," Scott Nichols says to his wife, Kelly.

Moving to her mother's would mean returning to the rundown industrial town where they grew up, a place that makes him feel dirty, inside and out. They would sleep in her basement jammed with forgotten furniture, a few steps from a pair of cat litter boxes and below three narrow windows blocked by insulation.

I could not help thinking what must be going through Scott and Kelly’s hearts and minds, and how close it must be to the sentiments expressed by Elijah when he exclaimed: “This is enough, O LORD!”

The original audience for today’s First Reading was in exile. Most had been evicted by the Babylonians, and those that remained were surrounded by pagan worship. Remember that for the Jewish People, The granting of the Promised Land was central to their understanding of God’s commitment to the people of Israel. The community was struggling to answer the question, “What went wrong?” The editor of the Book of Kings was attempting to answer that very question. Therefore, we read a history that attempts to understand – if not fully explain – why God’s Chosen people had lost the land given to them by God. The editor clearly lays that blame at the infidelity of the People to the Covenant. The pagan worship that infiltrated their land caused them to turn away from worship of the one True God.

The current economic crisis has created massive job loss, and today, many people face an exile of sorts – one of foreclosure and eviction – brought about by the economic crisis that has swept across this country. The economic successes of the past several decades created an ill-placed confidence, an “irrational exuberance.” When many in our country began to presume what tomorrow would bring, instead of simply giving thanks for the bounty of the present day, their subsequent actions came awfully close to desiring to become like gods. Instead of only spending their earnings, many made purchases – financed with debt - based upon what they hoped to earn in the future.

Therefore, an idolatry of a different sorts infiltrated society; this time the calf was made of plastic, rather than gold. Decisions were made economically and politically in order to feed the ‘plastic calf’. Inevitably, when the bubble burst, and the collapse took place, everyone felt the blow. People who saved their entire lives in order to prepare for a comfortable retirement saw their savings evaporate. College graduates – who had invested years of their lives studying, were unable to find employment. Middle class families – like the Nichols family – sit at kitchen tables and struggle to explain why they must leave the only home their children have ever known to live in a basement. Each in their own way, the refrain repeats: “This is enough, O LORD.”

But there is hope. If Scripture has anything to say, it is that God is with us, and will continue to nourish us as we journey through this period of exile. By turning to a more thankful way of life – one that appreciates “Our daily bread” – the Covenant is restored and we step back from the presumption to “be like gods” (Genesis 3:5). A credit card purchase of the newest game for the Wii does not happen. Instead, the old dusty board games are pulled out of a closet and placed on the kitchen table. An exotic trip to a Caribbean beach – financed with a draw on a home equity line is replaced with a tent pitched in the backyard, under a starry sky. Simplicity descends – one that protects that which is truly valuable and discards that which is unnecessary. God has – and always will – provide what is truly needed along the path of life. The challenge we each face is to “[g]et up and eat, else the journey will be too long” (v. 7).

That does not mean that it won’t be painful, or even a bit scary along the way. And that’s OK. Fear is a natural reaction to a difficult challenge. Thomas Aquinas once observed that “fear is the beginning of courage.” But God tells us to move beyond the threshold of fear and live life with courage – courage, after all, I was once told, "is the virtue of living beyond our comfort." I have not done an exact count, but the phrase “Do not be afraid!” appears in scripture over 200 times. It is clearly a message God wanted us to get!

“The fear of any failure is rooted in the fear of death.” It is mixed up with emotions of abandonment and isolation.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that he is the Bread of Life. We are a resurrection people. Through the power of the paschal mystery, Death – in any form – has no power over us. “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you” “Get up and eat” “the living bread that came down from heaven.” “Get up and eat.” and “make disciples of all nations.”

If we live the paschal mystery, if we allow the valleys and depressions of our lives to become opportunities to hope in God and demonstrate God’s love, we then are beacons of hope for the world. We allow courage to be our reaction to fear, confident that nothing can ultimately separate us from life. There is nothing that is truly “life threatening!” The only thing that threatens our lives is our choice not to believe and live that Truth.

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