18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Simham)
I remember the story of a man who rang up to his mom and said, “Mom today I don’t want to go to church, because I have to two reasons. 1. It’s same old faces I see everyday and 2. They don’t like me anyway. And the mother said to him, “Son I have two reasons to tell you that you should go for mass. 1. Today is Sunday, a day of obligation and 2. You are their parish priest.
All of us gathered here today have a reason to be here for this mass. Reasons may vary from person to person but we all have a reason to be here. But through the gospel today, Jesus is challenging us to think about the reason why we are here? There can be right reasons and wrong reasons. He is asking us to do the soul searching. The gospel text of today raises a basic question about our faith. Why am I a Christian? Why do I come to church? Why do I seek God or Jesus? Why do I pray?
Jesus tells the people, who have made so much effort to get into boats and cross to Capernaum, “I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat” (Jn 6:26). The statement seems too blunt, insensitive and impolite. That strong statement of Jesus invites us to do a soul searching ourselves. Why am I a Christian, why do I come to church, why do I seek God: Is it mere convenience? Is it just out of habit and tradition? Or is it simply that God can solve my problems?
Why do I go “looking for Jesus” (Cf. Jn 6:24)?
Let us suppose, you are driving into a busy shopping mall or an airport. On the way you are wondering if you will find a parking space. In such dire situations, are you one of those who begin to pray very earnestly to Jesus or Mary that they should help you find a parking space. You begin to utter your magical “Our fathers” and “Hail Marys”. I too do this sometimes, particularly when I am anxious about journeys, meetings and health! I did it in sea-tac airport when I lost my boarding pass and need to get it reprinted. In one sense, this shows our trust in the providence of God. And, yes, God is capable of helping us find a parking space or get a boarding pass. But should he? Is God a mere problem solver? And should my relationship with God be reduced to solving all the nitty-gritty issues of my daily life? Here is where the statement of my wise uneducated friend becomes very powerful: “Do we seek the bread given by the father, or the father himself who gives us bread?” On a spiritual level, it is not the nice feeling or even the consolation that we might feel during prayer that we seek. St Ignatius said: “seek not the consolation of God but seek the God of consolation.”
In the first reading of today, we heard read an edited version of Exodus 16. Inspired by the Book of Exodus, we could ask ourselves, why did the Lord God bring the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt? Why did he help them cross the sea on dry ground? Why did he rain down manna for their food? Why quails as their meat? Why did he give them water from the rock? Was the Lord God acting as a superman, or a spider-man, or even a Santa Claus, solving their problems? No. It was with the sole reason of inviting them to a covenantal relationship with Him!
In the gospels, why does Jesus preach? Why does he perform his works – miracles –signs? Why does he feed the five thousand? Yes, these works are expressions of his compassion. But his intention is not merely to solve problems. In fact, he didn’t manage to solve all the problems of the human condition. He even refuses to offer food when people ask for it, as in the gospel narrative of today. He tells them rather bluntly: “You are not looking for me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat” (Jn 6:26).
Jesus’ works have one sole end: that we might build an intimate relationship with him, and in so doing become one with the Father. It is this intimacy that is captured in the symbol of bread. It is this depth of relationship that is powerfully expressed in the Eucharist. What I eat becomes part of me. This is “the kind of food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you” (Jn 6:27). “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst” (Jn 6:35). It is HE whom we seek.
Fr. Showreelu Simham