Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Tuesday in the 3rd Week of Easter
Stones and Bread
Readings: Acts 7:51—8:1a; Psalm 31:3cd-4, 6 and 7b and 8a, 17 and 21ab; John 6:30-35
Picture: CC kevsunblush
As is often the case, our readings today lead us to recall other passages of scripture. Two in particular are brought to mind. And each is connected with the three central themes that we find in today’s readings: signs, stones and bread.
It’s quite puzzling, isn’t it, that so shortly after having been fed miraculously, the people in the gospel ask Jesus for a sign in order that they might believe in him? Obviously, what Jesus says of them in yesterday’s reading is accurate: you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. This gives their request for yet another sign a certain manipulative, even demonic, ring to it. We say demonic, because their request brings to mind the first passage of scripture mentioned above. In the synoptic gospels, the devil first tempts Jesus in the desert with the following words: If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread (Matthew 4:3). Which can perhaps be paraphrased as follows: If you want me to believe in you, to commit my life to you, then first satisfy my hunger, first pay my mortgage, or find me a job, or heal my illness…
The gospel makes plain for us the difficulty with this approach. To all the questions and problems that the world has to offer, God responds with only one answer, only one sign. As Jesus tells the tempter in the desert: One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). The only all-sufficient, all-satisfying sign that God offers hungry humanity is Jesus himself, the bread of life. But their obsession with superficial sustenance prevents the people in the gospel from partaking in the true bread that satisfies our deepest yearning. Sadly for them, the bread of God… which comes down from heaven is transformed instead into a stone, the same stone spoken about in the second of the scripture passages mentioned above. For those without faith: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and "A stone that will make people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall." They stumble by disobeying the word (1 Peter 2:7-8).
In contrast, in today’s first reading, we see an opposing dynamic. We see instead the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in the gospel. Steadfast in faith even while being stoned to death, Stephen is strengthened to such a degree that he is able to continue entrusting himself to God and to pray even for his executioners. Here, in the experience of Stephen, we see taking place the very miracle that Jesus refused the tempter in the desert. In Stephen’s dedication and commitment to the Lord, the stones hurled at him in hatred are transformed into spiritual sustenance not only for himself, but also for the whole world. For, in the Acts of the Apostles, the martyrdom of Stephen also heralds the beginnings of the conversion and ministry of the man called Saul, soon to be renamed Paul…
Bread into stone, or stone into bread? That seems to be the question presented to us today. And, as we might expect, the direction in which our answer takes depends upon how we relate to the One who embodies, in himself, both Stone and Bread. In the words of the psalmist: Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into whose hands do we commend ours today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 10:03 am