Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reflections for the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Complain, Complain, Complain

The Israelites certainly like to complain. Just listen to them in today's first reading. God has already provided them with a miraculous food: manna, the bread from Heaven. It is like nothing they have ever seen before, and it makes a nourishing meal. There is plenty for everyone every day, and it's supply never runs out. 

But what do the Israelites do? They complain about it. We're tired of manna! Look at all the wonderful variety of food we had in Egypt! We're famished out here! We want meat! 

Poor Moses. He listens to this day in and day out as the people whine and cry at the entrances to their tents. Finally, he goes to God, rather upset by the whole thing and does a little complaining of his own. Why do You treat me so badly, Lord? These people are such a burden! Just kill me already so I don't have to go through this any more. 

It's a good thing God is a point. He certainly doesn't kill Moses. He doesn't wipe out His complaining people. Instead, He provides meat in the form of quails. Ever the good Father, however, He also teaches His children that there are consequences when they sin and that their complaining and lack of gratitude are definitely sins. While the people were still eating their much-desired meat, a plague strikes them, killing the guilty. This might seem extreme to us, but the Israelites could be extremely thick-headed, and sometimes God needs to make His point dramatically. 

This reading invites us to examine our consciences. How often do we complain? We should all take a day or two and count up the number of complaints we make. It might be a bit of a surprise. Do we recognize God's gifts, and are we thankful for them? Or do they slide past us as we place our hearts' desires on something else? Are we willing to accept what God so generously gives us, or do we always want more? 

Tuesday – Calming the Storm

The wind and waves were strong tonight. We were having some trouble keeping the boat under control, and we were pretty busy bailing water. We were by ourselves because Jesus had gone up the mountain to pray. He did that a lot. He needed to spend some quiet time alone with His Father. We always wondered what He talked to God about. Or maybe He didn't talk at all. Maybe quiet communion was enough. 

Anyway, as night began to drift into morning, we caught sight of something that startled us to no end. It was Jesus! I nearly fell out of the boat when I saw Him walking toward us on the surface of the water. My fellow disciples were shrieking in fear and hollering that they were seeing a ghost. I don't think I could have made a noise at that moment if my life depended on it. 

With a hint of a smile, Jesus looked at all of us, quaking and cowering as we were, and said, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

I'm not sure what made me do what I did next. Perhaps it was the Spirit of God. With a voice not much more than a squeak, I replied, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” I never expected His answer: “Come.” 

My legs wobbled horribly as I climbed out of the boat, and my knees were knocking together. It's amazing I could walk at all, but I found myself walking on the surface of the water toward Jesus.

Then it hit me. I was walking on the water. The waves suddenly seemed so huge and so threatening, and the wind was tugging at my garments. I was terrified. I started to sink, and my fear grew stronger. The waves were starting to devour me. There was nothing I could do but call out “Lord, save me!” 

He did. He caught me and guided me back into the boat. His eyes were gentle and loving as He chided me...just a little bit: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

My companions and I marveled at Jesus. We knew there was more to Him than meets the eye. We knew, although we didn't yet fully understand, that this Man was the Son of God.

Wednesday – Testing

Jesus seems kind of harsh in today's Gospel. A Canaanite woman approaches Him on behalf of her daughter who is plagued by a demon. Jesus ignores her. She persists, calling out after Him continually and pleading for His help. The disciples start getting a little annoyed at the woman, and they ask Jesus to send her away.

Notice that Jesus does not do so. Instead, He allows her to approach Him and kneel before Him. He tells her that He has been sent to the lost sheep of Israel. She begs for His help. He replies, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” 

The woman doesn't give up even then. She has a ready reply: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” 

Jesus probably smiles at that. He also relents. He knows that this woman has great faith, and in an instant, He heals her daughter. 

So why did Jesus put this Canaanite woman off for so long? Why did He make her beg? Think back to times in your own life when God has not answered your prayers right away. You kept asking and asking, and He seemed to put you off. So you drew closer to Him. You prayed more. You knelt in homage. You learned how to respond to Him. 

Jesus was testing this Canaanite woman. He was seeing if she would persevere in the face of His seeming rejection. He wanted to know how she would respond to Him. He probably intended to heal her daughter from the very first moment she asked, but He knew that she needed to grow in the process. Jesus tests us also. He wants us to grow through our prayers and to become more intimate with Him. Remember; prayer is more about getting Someone than something.

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