Do you seek the bread that the Father gives,
or do you seek the Father who gives you bread?
<p style="text-align: justify"A few years ago a priest was back in India on his home-leave. And he met a gentleman who was a visitor to our home-parish. He had never been to school, he told me. But during the course of our long conversation about Christian faith and life, he discovered that he was indeed a wise man. For instance, he is the one who put this question to the priest: “Do you seek the bread given by the father, or do you seek the father who gives you bread?” In Tamil it sounded so well. The word for ‘bread’ is “appam”; and the familiar word for ‘father’ is “appa”. So it would sound like a tongue-twister! Yes, this is what I would like to invite us to reflect about on this 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Do we seek the bread given by the father, or the father himself who gives us bread?”
Jesus is not a king who solves people’s ‘human’ problems (Cf Jn 6:15)
In the gospel reading of last Sunday, we heard read how Jesus fed a large crowd of five thousand people from five barley loaves and two fish. And when they had picked up the pieces left over, they had filled 12 baskets with the scraps. The people were very impressed. The gospel text concluded with this sentence: “Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself” (Jn 6:15). In the Gospel of John we do not have the narration of the three classical temptations of Jesus. To me, John mentions the temptations of Jesus throughout his gospel. And this is one of them: the people wanted to make him a king. But he escaped to the hills, thus Jesus overcomes the temptation. If it was the mission of Jesus to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth, and if the people offer him an ample opportunity to achieve this mission by making him a king, why is he not taking the free offer?
In the church today – both universal and local – we possess much property, wield great power, and run projects that are business-like. Why? To fulfil our mission, we argue! But I wonder, why is Jesus not making use of the right opportunity to accomplish his mission? On the other hand, the narrative that follows in chapter 6 of John is a lot confusing, much challenging, and the conclusion to this chapter will even be very sad. We will wait three more Sundays to look at that end. But 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 Mary’s”. I too do this sometimes, particularly when I am anxious about journeys, meetings and health! In one sense, this shows our trust in the providence
of God. And, yes, God is capable of helping us find a parking space. 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. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.