THE EUCHARIST IS STRENGTH FOR OUR LONG JOURNEY
(A biblical refection on THE 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME [YEAR B] – August 2, 2015)
Gospel Reading: John 6:24-35
First Reading: Exodus 16:2-4,12-15; Psalms: Psalm 78:3-4,23-25,54; Second Reading: Ephesians 4:17,20-24
So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on Him has God the Father set His seal.” Then they said to Him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” So they said to Him, “Then what sign do You do, that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:24-35 RSV)
It is easy to understand why the early Jews desperately wanted to leave Egypt. The Egyptians had originally befriended the Jewish people, who came seeking foor; but that was when Joseph, a Jew, was serving as the COO (Chief Operating Officer) of Egypt. Their privileged status died with Joseph, and they had to provide forced labor for building projects. Their lot was about h same as that of the Egyptian peasants. The Jewish people were given good food, shelter and some security, but their lives were barely tolerable, for they had no freedom. After generations of bondage, Moses, the freedom fighter, came forward to lead his people out of slavery, working extraordinary signs and wonders to accomplish it.
Today’s first reading from Exodus picks up the story during their forty years’ treck back home. Now they were responsible to YHWH rather than Pharaoh, for at last they were free. No more whips to make them build brick walls. Liberty, however, has its price. They paid by marching in the desert, camping in the open and eating food far inferior to that of Egypt. Since freedom had not produced the total happiness envisioned, they blamed Moses for bringing them out to the desert to die. Loud requests echoed through their camp to return to Egypt, where although they would lose their freedom, they could at least settle down and have something decent to eat. Moses prayed to God, who in turn sent a daily ration of quail and manna to keep them from backtracking to Egypt.
Dear sisters and brothers, indeed there’s a strong tendency in human nature to turn back in the face of difficulty. Often our objectives are far off, with many hurdles standing in the way. After an initial big effort, we simply get discouraged and want to turn back.
We may fail to find peace and fulfilment in religion, if we’re afraid to move out of old patterns for new ones. It’s important that we don’t equate new with wrong (or old with good). Few things in this world are that cleanly cut. Most who don’t like change, do like progress; but there can be no progress without change. Those Jewish grumblers had only eaten the bread of Egypt and couldn’t conceive of good or better bread in Israel. The return to Egypt would have been the wrong move, for soon they would again have lamented their lack of freedom.
Sisters and Brothers, to think that the best of life is in the past is foolish. It doesn’t say much for the ingenuity of your kids. Of course, we should acknowledge and appreciate the past. But like Moses, we must push on, fully expecting better things ahead. Across the desert, the mountains and years, we hope to attain our heavenly home. It’s up ahead – not behind. The Eucharist, our manna from heaven, is strength for the long journey.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are indeed the bread of life which comes down from heaven. Give us this bread always. Fill us with Your love so that we will never want anything else. Teach us to come to You every day to receive the food that endures to eternal life. Amen.
Jakarta, 31 July 2015
A Christian Pilgrim