18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B ON AUGUST 1, 2021 (R. 1: 2 Exodus 16: 2- 4, 12- 15; Psalm 78: 3- 4, 23- 25, 54; R. 2: Ephesians 4: 17, 20- 24; Gospel: John 6: 24- 35)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
PLEASE, WHAT IS THIS?
Last Sunday, the Gospel passage was about how Jesus miraculously fed over five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. The people were so impressed that they wanted to make him their king. You know the implication of that? That would have made things easier for Jesus. Everybody would have loved him, and there would have been no need for the cross. His apostles would have become ministers and even helped to secure contracts for their families and friends. But Jesus knew his Father had a different and better plan. So, to keep his apostles from the people who wanted to corrupt their minds, Jesus sent them ahead and he slipped away from everyone and went to a mountain alone to pray.
Today’s Gospel passage continues from where the crowd later found Jesus across the sea. In their excitement they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” But Jesus was not carried away by that; he knew that miracles do not always bring about faith and salvation. Therefore, he said to them, “…you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled…” Jesus worked a sign, but the people understood it only on the material level. They felt they found in Jesus, a king who would give them an easy future, provide them with free food for the rest of their lives and they would no longer need to work. They failed to see the food as a sign of God’s loving-generosity. They failed to see the multiplication of the loaves as a sign that in Jesus, a new Moses had come in their midst to lead them to a new Promised Land and a new and permanent freedom. They did not realize that the material (food) was pointing to something greater.
In today’s first reading, God fed the Israelites with what came to be called “Manna.” This Hebrew word means “What please [is this]?” So, the name of the food is a polite question, which invited them to see the food as a sign pointing to something greater. Manna leads us to ask about every food we eat, “What please is this?” The theological answer would be, a gift from heaven, an expression of God’s love, and an invitation for us to celebrate and share with others. Material things are the starting points of theology. The beginning of frustration is when we do not go beyond the material. Think of how many times you thought having the new iPhone would solve all your problems, but a few days later, there was nothing new about the phone. Think of when you thought that new house, that new handbag, that new car etc has the key to your happiness, what happened a few days, weeks or months after you got it? Any relationship with the material that does not lead us beyond the material to the ultimate reality is dangerous and can lead us to frustration.
Like the crowd in the Gospel, we sometimes go around looking for signs and miracles while we have them all around us. If we develop the habit of reflecting on everything around us and listening to what God wants to tell us through them, we will live a more fulfilled life. It is very easy to lose enthusiasm in marriage when we don’t see it as a sign of something greater. The sacramental union between a woman and a man is a preparation for the wedding feast of the Lamb where Jesus is the Groom, and the Church is the Bride (cf. Revelation 19:6-9). Similarly, the celibate aspect of the life of a Roman Catholic Priest or Nun can only be more fulfilling when it is seen as a sign pointing to something greater in the world to come. Frustration can easily become the lot of a priest or nun if he/she sees celibacy as a discipline imposed on him/her by the Church just for the fun of it. But when it is seen as a sign of witnessing and pointing to the life to come, where there will be no marriage, where all will be reunited with God, he/she will be able to generously and happily embrace the life relying on the grace of God. Even when things that seem unpleasant come our way, it is an opportunity for us to ask God, “Please, what is this?” And after asking, we must be attentive to get the answer.
My dearly beloved in Christ, God, out of his love for us continues to reveal himself to us through his creation. It is not his plan for us to remain at the point of His creation without getting to the Creator. It is said that when the wise man points at the star, the foolish man looks at the wise man’s hand and not the star. If we continue to attach our happiness to material wealth, we will continue to suffer from frustration. Let’s talk about money, for example. Money is about numbers, and number is infinite. There is no number we arrive at that we can term the highest. The more we have, the more we desire, and the more we desire, the more our frustration. After his entire search for happiness in material pleasure ended in frustration, St. Augustine made this confession, “You have made us to yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” May God grant us the grace to use the things of this world in a way that will get us to heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.