I have to be honest: I think this selection from Isaiah is one of the most disagreeable readings in either Testament. Who wants to be reminded that God does not share our opinions? In some way, this teaching seems to trump even the command to love our enemies because "God's ways" question enmity itself.
Have you seen the movie "Spartacus"? There have been several versions of the story of this Thracian gladiator and slave (109-71 B.C.) who united his fellow slaves in a revolt against the Roman empire. Historians estimate that the slave army grew to between 90,000 to 125,000 people at its peak. After several successful onslaughts on Rome, Spartacus and his army were defeated. Although his body was never found, some 6,000 slaves were crucified all along the road from Rome to Capua. This cruel punishment was intended to warn others against any further insurrection.
Today, the sacred texts put us in touch with the truth that we are not yet holy as God is holy or perfect as God is perfect. We fall short of our goals; we miss the mark; we sin. But we are not without hope, because the God who created us in the divine image loves us and wants us to be the best reflection of the Godhead that we can be. The God who loves us also wants to enter into a relationship with us from which we will draw life, true happiness and deep fulfillment.
To understand why Jeremiah is so despondent in today's first reading, it's essential to appreciate the role of biblical prophets in the history of salvation.
Contrary to popular opinion, they normally don't predict the future, certainly not the coming of Jesus. Unfortunately this false notion of their ministry is often reinforced in our liturgies. The Second Advent Preface, in the old translation, stated, "(Jesus') future coming was proclaimed by all the prophets." In the revised translation, it still says, "For all the oracles of the prophets foretold him."
Scripture is never simple. Even before we begin to read, we must know who is speaking, and why, and to whom, and with what agenda. To make matters even harder, the events and teachings we read about took place millennia ago in a language, culture and context different from our own. Despite this, we return to the Scriptures again and again to understand what God wants of us. We need to know what God's love is asking of us here and now in our own culture, language and circumstances.
Spiritual Reflections: He wouldn't have gotten away with it in our day. How could Jesus call that woman a dog?
While it may not be completely evident at first glance, there is a remarkable similarity between the situation in which Elijah found himself (first reading) and the disciples' predicament in today's Gospel. Elijah had incurred the wrath of Jezebel, wife of Ahab, king of Israel, and as a result, the prophet had to flee into the desert. There, he began to despair. He sat under a broom tree and prayed for God to take his life.
In a sermon on the feeding of the vast crowd in a deserted place, Peter Gomes insisted that the message of this miracle is clear: It is not the will of God that people should go hungry (Sermons: Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living, William Morrow and Co., 1998). Repeated six times in the four Gospels, the feeding of the multitude attests to the fact that Jesus met people's real needs.
He fed the hungry, said Gomes, not with metaphors but with food, not with resolutions and presidential commissions but with so much bread and fish that there was an abundance left over.
The fact that Jesus of Nazareth frequently employed parables while he was teaching tells us a lot about what he was trying to accomplish during his earthly ministry.
Teachers don't use parables when they're just adding to their students' store of knowledge. Parables only come into play when someone is striving to change a person's whole frame of mind, when they're attempting to alter the way people process all the knowledge they receive. Parables are a means of retooling one's brain.
Spiritual Reflections: In this week's readings, we're dealing with parables. The one sure thing is that message is not going to be what we would expect.