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AUGUST 5, 2012: EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
John 6:24-35

If you can't identify with a particular sacred author's theology, I'd advise you to read on. There's a good chance you'll eventually encounter another writer who espouses a contradictory point of view, one which better mirrors your own experience.

The 8th century prophet Hosea, for instance, encouraged his Israelite community to regard their ancestors' 40 year wilderness trek to the Promised Land as a honeymoon experience; a time when Yahweh and Yahweh's people were intimately getting to know one another, an event of love and devotion.

On the other hand, the 10th century Yahwistic author who penned today's Exodus pericope is well-known for looking at that same experience as a testing period; a time when those recently freed slaves met obstacle after obstacle during their wanderings. And they usually failed the test. Instead of accepting those set-backs as God-sent opportunities to deepen their faith in Yahweh's care and concern, they constantly grumbled and complained against Moses, Aaron and Yahweh. In today's reading, they're willing to exchange their newfound freedom for a hot meal back in Egypt!

Yahweh temporarily solves their problem by sending them manna from heaven; probably not as exceptional an event as it once seemed. Many Scripture scholars today presume the "original" manna was simply the overnight secretion of insects on rocks and vegetation in the Sinai wilderness. Though not very appetizing, desert Bedouins long ago discovered it would keep them alive in a pinch.

If these scholars are correct, Moses' statement that the manna "... is the bread that Yahweh has given you to eat" is a theological interpretation of a natural, daily occurrence. People without faith in Yahweh would certainly have regarded manna from a completely different perspective.

John's Jesus continues the interpretation process in today's gospel pericope, comparing his feeding to Moses' feeding. And, as usual for John, Jesus is always "one up" on anything in the Hebrew Scriptures. "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." Eating Jesus' body and drinking his blood is certainly more satisfying and longer lasting than the food and drink Yahweh provided in the wilderness. Jesus offers his followers food "that endures for eternal life."

Yet, no matter how we interpret the Israelites' Sinai experience or our Christian Eucharist, the Pauline disciple responsible for Ephesians hits on an essential point for all who are committed to carry on the risen Jesus' ministry: each of us must "learn Christ." We must gradually acquire a new value system - the frame of mind which the gospel Jesus so frequently demonstrates in his words and actions.

The sacred author presumes no one comes into this world equipped with the mind of Jesus. "You must put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth."

Though our biblical writers certainly provide us with different theological interpretations of events, all Christian authors constantly zero in on Jesus' "righteousness:" his constant love and concern for others. And they faithfully remind us that those who imitate Jesus' righteousness are "holy:" they're distinct from people around them.

Our Christian sacred authors don't necessarily expect their readers to be Scripture scholars, experts in recognizing and knowing each one's theological idiosyncrasies. But they certainly expect us to recognize and imitate Jesus' frame of mind, no matter how long it takes.