Today’s gospel takes place during another Jewish festival, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple. Jesus is walking just outside of the temple in the Portico of Solomon, a long porch-like area that opened up into a large temple plaza. This is the setting where the Jews, most likely the religious leaders, confront Jesus.
Two giant statues of Saints Peter and Paul stand as guards at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. St. Peter holds the key on the right side, while St. Paul holds a sword on the other. These two figures stand as giants in the faith. Born and educated as a Roman citizen and as a righteous Pharisee, Paul was cruel to the followers of Christ. He imprisoned women and men believers and murdered some with his sword.
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Jesus says in the Gospel today, "Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died. I am the Bread of life that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and never die" (John 6:49-50). God gave Adam and Eve all kinds of good food in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:16). Sadly, their craving to eat beyond what God had provided led to their downfall (Genesis 3:6).
Anyone who’s gone on a road trip or long drive with family or friends knows what it’s like to get hungry or thirsty. And you probably know what happens next … the question: what do you feel like eating? It’s a miracle if there is a unanimous conclusion; most often, some in the group know what they want but don’t agree with the others, and then there are the people who say, "I don’t know what I want”.
Let's remember St. Stephen today, who he was, and how he became the first Christian martyr. Why is his feast celebrated on December 26 and not today or tomorrow when we have the readings about his martyrdom? And following Stephen's story, let's see what is in it for us.
On Tuesday, I mentioned in my homily that two verses caught my attention. The first was, “We are disgusted with this wretched food!” And the second is when the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Who are you?” Well, it looks like the Israelites took care of the food issue, but as we just heard in the gospel, Jesus’ identity is still an issue. Interestingly, the first reading reminds us of God changing Abram’s name to Abraham, signaling a change in role and relationship with God.