The story is told of two old friends bumped into one another on the street one day. One of them looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears. His friend asked, “What has the world done to you, my old friend?” The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars.” “That’s a lot of money.” “But, two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand free and clear.” “Sounds like you’ve been blessed….” “You don’t understand!” he interrupted. “Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million.” Now he was really confused. “Then, why do you look so glum?” “This week… nothing!”
That’s the trouble with receiving something on a regular basis. Even if it is a gift, we eventually come to expect it.
In today’s first reading “The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They were tempted to make a U-turn to Egypt, to follow the compass of their stomachs rather than focus on the way to freedom through wilderness. Slavery with good food looked more attractive to them than freedom on a starvation diet. God heard the complaints of Israel and promised that He would now rain down bread from heaven for them. In the morning there was when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. When the people asked Moses what it was, he told them it is “the bread the Lord gives you to eat”
In today’s Gospel reading another crowd follow the instructions of their stomach and express their longing for food. This time it is the crowd of Galileans who, on the previous day, ate to their hearts’ content when Jesus offered them a meal of barley loaves and fishes. Now they follow Jesus to Capernaum, his base on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
They were so enthusiastic about this sudden abundance of food that they decided to ensure its continuation. And so they wanted to make Jesus a king. They were totally blind to the spiritual content of the miracle, and the message Jesus wanted them to draw from it. “Do not work for food that cannot last,” Jesus warned them, “but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you.”
With us too, it so often happens that we are willing to follow Christ – even to seek him out with a certain kind of zeal – but on our own conditions, namely, that he should solve our immediate problems, and grant us the requests we make of him. If we feel he has let us down, we sometimes go so far as to contemplate turning our backs on him. But never on such conditions will Christ draw near to us. We must seek him for himself, and not for what we can get from him.
A dedicated business executive who is father to a family. He spends the majority of his time “getting ahead:” working over-time and on weekends; bringing work home from the office; attending all the “compulsory” social engagements that are demanded of him by his position in the company. He tells himself that he is doing all this in order to be a “good” father and husband – to provide a “better life” for his family. (A “better life” in this instance equals a new car, a larger home, more exotic vacations, designer clothes for his wife and children.) After years of this kind of dedication to his work out of love for his family he suddenly comes to realize that he has become almost a stranger to his wife and children. He finds that he has little in common with them. Despite all his work and good intentions, he had never spent the time to significantly enter into their lives, and now that he is finally established in his business and feels the need of their support and love, they cannot give it to him because they do not know him.
In the words of today’s Gospel, rather than working for the bread that remains to eternal life, this man was in reality working for perishable food. This Sunday’s Scriptures confront us with one of the most crucial questions we all must deal with in living the Christian life: discernment. How can we, as followers of Christ, accurately read “the signs of the times,” i.e., look for the hand of God at work in our world without getting “side-tracked” into the dead-end streets (perishable food) of our own limited vision?
How can we avoid this, and similar “traps?” How can we discern that what we do, how we live, is based on ultimate, life-giving Christian values? I encourage everyone to evaluate your own life and the family during this week. The Gospel today tells us that to truly do the “works of God” we must have faith in the One whom God has sent.