XVIII Sunday of Ordinary Time
San José Parish
August 2, 2015
We have now entered into a month long reading of John 6, the great “Bread of Life Discourse.” The chapter comes in three parts, a trilogy if you will. The first part, as we heard last weekend, is the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The sequel, which we skipped, consists in the journey back to Capernaum across the Sea of Tiberius. Here, we witness the iconic story of Jesus walking on the water. The third installment, which we begin today, finishes the small epic with the very long and winding dialogue between Jesus and the crowds.
Now, in their astonishment, it is clear that the crowds pursued Jesus across the lake because they had eaten very well and would like to do so again. “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled” (Jn 6:26). They wanted a free meal, and why not? As they themselves pointed out, if we are going to believe in anyone and follow them, then the least we can expect is food. After all, that is what our father, Moses, provided for us in the desert. “What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (Jn 6:31).
As if we had any doubt that the crowd were following their grumbling stomaches to Jesus, they add: “Sir, give us this bread always” (Jn 6:34). They came to Jesus seeking to eat their fill again and be satisfied.
Yet, Jesus is not terribly excited about all of this. In fact, He is quite contrary. Each time they make their desire for food known, He deflects their question and tries to focus their attention on something much greater. “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the son of man will give you” (6:27). While Jesus is still talking about food, food that He Himself will give, He is clearly talking about a different kind, a greater sort of food.
In the end, Jesus tries to draw the attention of the crowd to God the Father; to the works of God; to belief in the one whom God sent; to the one who actually gave them bread while they were in the desert; and eventually to Himself who is the Bread of Life. Jesus is trying to draw their attention to Himself. They came for food and Jesus wants them to stay for Him.
And are we not the same? We come to Jesus for all kinds of reasons. Yet the one reason, that He is our Lord and God, seems to be the furthest thing from our minds.
“How many seek Jesus for no other reason but that He might bestow on them a temporal benefit! One has a business on hand, he seeks the intercession of the clergy; another is oppressed by one more powerful than himself, he flies to the Church. Another desires intervention on his behalf with one over whom he has little influence. One this way, one in that, the church is daily filled with such people. Jesus is scarcely sought after for Jesus’ sake” (Tractate 25 on John 6:15-44).
This quote is quite convicting. Are there any prayers so pure? so detached from earthly cares and desires? so absent of ulterior motives? Between sports games, tests and grades at school, difficulties at work, city and state politics, worries about relationships with spouses, kids and friends, psychological and physical health, the cares and anxieties of life mount up and so we turn to the Lord—help us! What else if not these things are we to share with Jesus in prayer?
Fear not. Jesus does not want you to stop sharing your cares and concerns with Him in prayer. Please continue to do so. Bombard Him with every little detail. He is our Father, gentle and loving, who cares for you and knows you down to the number of hairs on your head. He wants to hear from His sons and daughters. If we ourselves desire to know the cares and desires of our own children, how much more does the God who knew us before we were in our mothers womb? Come to Jesus and God our Father for whatever reason, but stay, stay with Him for something even greater.
Now understand what the crowd in the gospel today could not. That bread our fathers ate in the desert was true bread from our heavenly Father, but the earthly sustenance it provided was a mere symbol, a shadow of what He would later offer in His Son, Jesus the bread of life everlasting, the Eucharist.
There is another episode in John’s gospel which provides us a window into this dynamic in prayer. Indeed, just two chapters prior Jesus meets with a Samaritan woman at a well. After an exchange in which Jesus asks for a drink, He says: “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4: 13-14). The woman, like the crowd today, responds: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” (Jn 4: 15). Is He speaking of material water, H2O, as she certainly is? Does she get it? No, not yet, but she will through the rest of the conversation, as will the crowds in our own episode.
But what about our cares and anxieties? All those things which led us to Jesus in the first place? What becomes of them? If our Father in heaven truly cared, would He not provide for us in this way?
Jesus never discredits nor ignores our cares and anxieties, but rather fulfills them. If we come, but to stay with Jesus, we will find greater realities. There Jesus will take our burdens and cares and transform them, use them as symbols or shadows of deeper realities. There He will reveal that the crisis that has compelled me to come to Jesus in prayer, when I might not have otherwise, is not the entirety of the problem. Rather, like the woman’s anxiety about providing water and the crowds grumbling stomach, Jesus will reveal that our thirst and hunger should be for Him who offers water and food that will give eternal life, His love. In this light, the light of Christ, He will draw out through the prism of these cares and concerns a need and a desire for greater trust in Him. The anxiety caused by these events, tragic and difficult as they are, comes primarily from a lack of trust in God’s providence. Such a trust will give us true peace and serenity in the face of trials. In this way, God uses these our cares and concerns as shadows, symbols of a deeper reality He wishes to free us from: self-reliance, pride, envy, lust. And the material benefits for which we ask Him, copies of a greater gift: Himself, the grace and gift of His Spirit.
So will we come to Jesus with our cares and our burdens? Will we allow Him to reveal to us more profound truths? Receiving these gifts of God, will we stay with Him in peace and security? Will we, then, face the trials and travails of life with Christ such that as St. Paul says nothing can separate us from Christ? This is our fight song, for we count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord? So we have come, but will we stay?