Sunday Homily for August 2, 2009
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (18A)
By Fr. John Foley, SJ
There is a poem by Reiner Maria Rilke, the German poet, which seems to tell a lot about Sunday’s readings. If you will indulge me, I will quote it here. It is called “Autumn.”
The leaves are falling, falling
as if from afar,
as if from some
distant, wilting garden in the sky.
They fall with gestures of denial.
And in the nights
the heavy earth falls
out of all the stars,
into the loneliness.
We all fall.
This hand, here, falls.
And look around:
it is in everything.
And yet, there is one
who takes all this falling
and holds it,
in his hands.*
What a wonderful poem, though dark. It features the leaves of Autumn as they fall from trees, trees which reside somewheere far up in the lonely heavens. They fall along with the careening earth, with everything human, everything that exists.
We should take the falling seriously because there is really no answer to the failures of our lives, the dropping away of opportunities, the falling economy, the multiple disappointments, and the soft progress toward death—not unless there are supporting hands that do not remove the falling but make it safe by means of holding it with love.
The First Reading shows one of the times the "bottom fell out" for a whole people. It depicts a moment from the Israeli's forty-year journey out of Egypt. This “Exodus” was terribly difficult, and it depended entirely on trust in God. Understandably, the people began to grumble and criticize Moses and his brother Aaron, their leaders. They actually said that they would rather have been killed in the land of Egypt—which at least had flesh-pots to eat from—than to wander, starving, through the desert.
Yet, God was holding them gently all the while. To show it, he sent them a huge flock of quail for meat, so many that the camp was covered by them; and in the morning he sent “bread from heaven,” falling down from the skies and lying like hoarfrost (frozen dew) on the ground. “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat,” Moses tells them.
Food falls from the sky to hold the falling of the people.
Then in the Gospel we see the disparaging demands of a crowd around Jesus. They require a sign, they say, so that they can believe in him. “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’" These people are caught in the flux, falling, falling. Moses gave manna to the people, but what equal evidence can Jesus give to convince them to trust him?
Jesus is smart about this. He says, “It was not at all Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” A crucial distinction. Of course it was God who had sent the manna, and it is God who sends Jesus down from heaven, new bread from heaven, God’s way of entering into the falling, and by doing so, holding it in his loving hands. Jesus had given them the manna sign they asked for, and it was himself..
There is so much failure in our lives, and so much that falls apart, even though we pretend otherwise. In order not to starve, we must accept the real food God sends us, the Bread of life and the Cup of Salvation. Jesus, Lord.
Be gently held as you receive Communion this Sunday.