Taste and see the goodness of Jesus
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 18th Sunday of Ordinarry Time, August 3, 2003
Psalms 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54
and the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 10, 2003
Psalms 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
St. Mark is getting cheated this year. Year B of the Sunday lectionary cycle features Gospel passages from this evangelist. However, Mark's contributions are especially reduced this year.
Mark has no account of the birth of Jesus, so he is replaced by Matthew and Luke on most Sundays of the Advent and Christmas cycle. During the Easter season we hear mostly from John. John also contributes the Gospel for five weeks every summer of Year B. We then hear the discourse on the bread of life, an important chapter in John's Gospel and in the entire New Testament.
This year, however, it gets even worse for poor Mark. A number of solemnities fall on Sundays this year: the Presentation (Feb. 2), Peter and Paul (June 29), the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14), All Souls (Nov. 2), and the Dedication of John Lateran (Nov. 9). All those celebrations supplant the normal readings for the Sundays in Ordinary Time. So even though this is Mark's year, we are not hearing his voice very much.
What we do hear over the next five weeks are some lovely passages about the Eucharist. Jesus calls himself the "bread of life," and that image brings a number of other Scripture passages into play.
Among those are the psalms we will sing over the next two weeks. This weekend, for example, we sing Psalm 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54. We don't sing the entire psalm. It is too long: 72 verses. It also includes obscure references to the fields of Zoan and the disturbing comparison of a vengeful God to a warrior shouting because of wine. We won't be singing those verses this weekend.
Instead, we meet verses that foreshadow the Eucharist. The responsorial psalm this weekend falls into three strophes. The first comes from the opening verses. Psalm 78 recounts the history of Israel. God offered a covenant to the chosen people, freed them from slavery in Egypt and brought them through the desert to the promised land. Eventually God chose David to lead the people to a golden age.
This entire story is summarized in Psalm 78, so the opening strophe simply announces the coming tale: "What we have heard and know, we will declare to the generation to come." God has done wondrous deeds, and one generation passes the message on to the next.
For its second strophe the responsory this Sunday skips 20 verses and quite a bit of history. Israel has been freed from slavery and has crossed the Red Sea. Now, in the desert, God fed the people with manna. This story appears in the first reading (Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15). God "opened the doors of heaven[,] rained manna upon them for food and gave them heavenly bread." These verses of the psalm are absolutely central to understanding why we sing this weekend. Jesus will speak of himself as bread from heaven. We recognize in his words and deeds that God cares for us in our need. The Israelites in the desert received a mysterious bread that appeared out of nowhere as from heaven. So we on our journey through the desert of this life receive nourishment from God.
The final strophe of the psalm continues this thought and then jumps ahead another 30 verses for its conclusion. God brought the people to a holy land. By juxtaposing that conclusion to the story of manna, we express that the Eucharist feeds us as we journey toward the promised land of heaven.
The following Sunday we will sing Psalm 34:2-9. The entire psalm is alphabetical. In the original language each verse begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It's a little like that old song by Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise and Sidney Lippman: "'A,' you're adorable, 'B,' you're so beautiful, 'C,' you're a cutie full of charms. 'D,' you're a darling and 'E,' you're exciting."
The first half of Psalm 34 is filled with similar acclamations of praise for God. Next Sunday's responsory comes from that part of the psalm.
We use it next week because of the last line of the fourth strophe: "Taste and see how good the Lord is." That verse also serves as the refrain. Christians read this line as a prophetic utterance foretelling the Eucharist. When we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, we taste and see how good God is.
God's goodness is like a nutritious and tasty meal. We experience it most closely when we eat and drink at Mass.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. Munchin Parish, Cameron, and coordinates the Good News column for The Catholic Key.