Sunday August 1, 2021, 18th Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
The tie in between today’s readings: God wants a personal relationship with you.
In today’s Exodus reading, the Hebrews can’t grasp that there’s more going on than meets the eye. After 400 years of praying to be released from slavery, God responds. He plagues Egypt, parts the Red Sea, and makes polluted water drinkable in the middle of the desert. Now hungry, they’re whining about the “good old days” when they were slaves…Seriously? Instead of praying to their Redeemer God, who brought them this far, and trusting Him for help, they complain: “C’mon God, you’re slacking. You’re not meeting expectations. Maybe we should just leave you and go back to Pharaoh.” Complaining to God is never good; it shows contempt for the Almighty, is self-centered, and blinds you from the bigger picture. Despite the insult, God in His mercy gives quail and manna to sustain them. He sets up the Ten Commandments and the Law, whose foundational underpinning is love of God and neighbor.
God is reaching out for a relationship, but they don’t get it. They know that they’re going to the Promised Land, but don’t know that it is a mere representation of what God really wants for them: eternal life with Him in heaven. They never understand the personal connections: grace for failure, obedience in love, forgiveness for sin, and trust in trial. All they see is a God as a boss, just another master with an agenda and rules to follow. You can tell because they are exactly like us: if we don’t like something at work, we complain to management, if we dare, and certainly murmur amongst ourselves. So, what do you do if you don’t like what the boss is doing? Well, you try to get a better deal somewhere else. When your stomach is empty, it’s easier to go back to the devil you know than to trustingly march forward into the unknown. God had an intimate relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now, after 400 years of slavery, all that the Hebrews see is a God under contract.
Fast forward to our gospel, which places us at the morning after Jesus feeds the 5000. Jesus and the apostles had crossed the Sea of Galilee during the night, but the crowd tracked Him down, determined to make Him their Caterer- King. Jesus’ statement sets the stage for their conversation, “You look for me not because of the sign I gave you (pointing to Him as the Messiah), but because your bellies are full. Don’t work for food that perishes. I’ll give you food which endures to eternal life.”
“There’s a good deal,” they’re thinking, “Food for eternal life that doesn’t spoil. What do we have to do for it, Jesus?”
“Nothing, it’s a gift. Just believe in Me.”
“Well, Jesus, we don’t know…That was a good start yesterday with the fishes and loaves, but Moses fed the whole nation with manna in the desert for forty years. We’ll give you the job if you can top that.”
“My Father, not Moses, gave you the manna. I come from Him and He’ll give you the true bread out of heaven that will give life not just to you but the whole world.”
“OK! You got the job, Jesus. How are you on supply?”
“Guys, I’m talking about ME! I AM the bread of life. Come to me and hunger no more. Believe in me and never thirst.” (Check out a similar conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well in John Chapter 4)
They are still stuck on God under contract, while Jesus is trying to take it up a notch and reveal a personal relationship with God that the physical bread only points to. There’s a greater need that He is trying to address: the need to be reconciled back to Him. Just like their ancestors, Jesus’ teachings fall on deaf ears because they see with their bellies, not their souls.
Does our situation mirror the Hebrews? Do we see God as another boss with rules that we must follow? Do we gladly and whole-heartedly participate in the worship service or do we simply endure it for an hour every Sunday (or maybe just Christmas and Easter) to keep “the boss” happy? Are we searching for a better deal?
Be careful! You may be on the way, as Paul says in Ephesians, “being excluded from the life of God because of personal ignorance and hardness of heart.” Paul encourages you to be renewed and put on a new self in the likeness of God, a personal relationship born-again in Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. The thing of it is this: if God under contract thing isn’t working for you, then maybe it’s time to date the boss.