Sunday, August 3, 2014

Someone To Love Me

(Drawing by Sr. Therese, OJN)

Six years ago I took a two-week Spanish language immersion course. Our maestra, Lydia, was a charming 20-something woman from Mexico. One day another participant, a school teacher, and I were chatting with her. I believe Lydia was either about to be engaged or was already engaged to her boyfriend, who was from the U.S. She was expressing her misgivings and anxiety about taking Michael to visit and meet her family in Mexico. She spoke of the attitudes of some in Mexico being very opposed to the U.S., much of that originating in the perceived stress which many U.S. young people put on their partners to provide things: fancy cars, money, clothes, etc. In other words, promoting the myth of the "perfect" partner in the “American dream”. Then Lydia said: "These are not of interest to me. I don't believe there is any perfection. I want someone who will love me."

Whether or not you or I concur with other nations’ perceptions of our national culture, one thing we can say for sure about today’s Scriptures is that they speak of a God who loves you and me beyond measure. Isaiah (55:1-5) begins with an attention-getting invitation: "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price..." It looks like a joyful invitation, but embedded in it is a plaintive, even a slightlysarcastic, note, made obvious by the rhetorical question: "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" In an age of rampant consumerism, to which Lydia alluded, it's a question you and I need to seriously ask ourselves. God promises rich food; an unending covenant of love; and fulfillment of the promises made to David: God's steadfast love.

The psalm for today, Psalm 145, a sort of paean to God's compassion and all-encompassing love, not just of humankind, but of all of God's creatures, says: "The Lord is gracious...full of compassion... loving to everyone...upholds all who fall...lifts loving in all his near...fulfills the desire...preserves all..." There's a clear link between God's compassion and God's justice: God's love is what sets things right. There are even ecological implications, as theologian Carol Dempsey points out: "All forms of life -- and indeed the earth itself -- suffer today because of human injustice and irresponsibility. Many voices are crying out, some audible such as those of women and young children, [think of the 15.9 million U.S. children in food insecure households, California being one of the top 10 states in that regard; or think of senior citizens dependent on Social Security, the suffering and disabled on Medicare, and the veterans who have served their country -- all threatened because of the continuing obscene game-playing and stubbornness of our Congress, the corporate elite and the Tea Party types], some not understood, such as those of the salmon trapped by dams, and some inaudible, such as that of the land as it lies stripped of nutrients, parched in some places and polluted in others. The voices that call upon God represent the magnificence of a grand biodiversity." If God treats all with love, compassion and justice, what does this say about our own responsibility: as individuals, as local communities, as churches, as a nation?

The miracle story in Matthew (14:13-21) is the only one which appears in all four Gospel narratives. That probably gives us a hint that this message was really important in the early Church's life and memory. The context of the passage is that Jesus has just heard about the execution of his cousin, John the Baptizer. The crowd hears that Jesus has gone off to a deserted place and they follow on foot. They come with deep needs: for compassion, love and healing, and they're determined to get to the Master. Jesus reacts with characteristic empathy and open-armed concern, identical with that of God's. He heals the sick; he feeds them, dismaying the disciples by delegating to them the responsibility of providing the food. The feeding is set against the backdrop of two ancient traditions: 1) the Exodus desert feeding (Exodus 16) -- "In the morning you will see the glory of the Lord..."; and 2) the feeding of 100 men, with 20 loaves and fresh ears of grain, ordered by the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44). 

The real miracle in Matthew’s Gospel isn't the multiplication of the loaves and fish, but rather the fact that Jesus himself embodies the compassionate, loving God of the Hebrew Scriptures, and that he begins to demonstrate what the reign of God looks like, namely, that people like you and me are raised above their oppression, their hurts, their suffering, and then  begin themselves to share, through love and compassion, what they have, much or little, without leaving anyone in need.

God's gifting of Godself -- in the feeding of the 5000 and in the Eucharist which we share -- happens among ordinary folks, with all their flaws and greatnesses, in the most unlikely of places, times and situations of everyday life...Even in a Spanish language classroom, with a retired priest and an educator, conversing with their young Mexican teacher who simply wants "someone to love [her]" we all wish.

The Word of God which you and I share together in Eucharist and which feeds us each time we come together here, assures us that despite the imperfectness of this world and of each of us human beings who inhabit it, there is One who loves us unconditionally, perfectly; One who heals us, who brings justice to us and to the earth, indeed, to all of creation: the Holy One of God, Jesus the Christ, who fulfills, as no other can, our innate yearning for "someone who will love [us]".  

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