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God's Word on Sunday: Are we ready to meet our faith challenge?

  • July 25, 2021

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 1 (Year B) Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15, 31a; Psalm 78; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35

The story of the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness is not pretty or inspiring.

The people were fickle, fearful, untrusting and ungrateful. They raged bitterly against Moses and his brother Aaron, and there were even a couple of attempts to overthrow Moses and install a more compliant leader. But the worst of their negative behaviour was their cynical criticism of God. Forgotten were the miraculous escape from Egypt, the humbling of pharaoh and the gods of Egypt and the passage through the sea.

Now all they could do was accuse God of luring them into the wilderness in order to kill them. And they conjured up fantasies of how good things had been in Egypt. In other words, they were human and did what many humans do. When things get tough, sometimes gratitude and courage suffer.

God’s reply to this latest infidelity was to grant them a super abundance of food. Quail and manna from Heaven soon arrived — more than enough to satisfy their hunger. This was a sort of test — God would remove the source of their discontent to determine if they would be obedient.

But it was not really about the food. Complaints are usually about other things. The people did not take well to hardship, sacrifice and discipline. God’s test failed; the people were not up to the challenge and many instances of rebellion, negativity and faithlessness followed. As a consequence, God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until the generation born in slavery had perished.

We should not judge the Israelites, for they are mirror images of all peoples. The story of liberation in Exodus and the journey through the wilderness in Exodus and Numbers is a metaphor for the journey of the soul through life. Perhaps we recognize some of our own attitudes and behaviour when we engage the biblical text.

The lesson present in the story is the necessity for constancy and faith in our journey. God accompanies us on the journey and stands ready to provide for us, but our minds and hearts must be in harmony with the divine source.

All of this means breaking from old habits and ways of thinking, as the author of Ephesians notes. Being a follower of the Lord means making a sharp break with the past and learning new ways of thinking and acting. The image and likeness of God that is within us is restored and renewed when we put on the new person.

Some are disappointed with their faith in the Lord because they feel nothing has changed in their lives. But the change comes from within us, with the aid of the Spirit. Although the initiative is from the Lord, the co-operation and engagement with the process can only come from us.

The crowd had been dazzled when Jesus performed the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. But they had not understood what He was about, for they tried to seize Him and make Him king. Then they raced to the other side of the lake looking for Jesus, for they had not seen Him leave with the others.

Jesus knew what was in their minds and hearts — they chased after Him because of the food that He produced and for the power He represented. But He then urged them to seek another type of food that was eternal and would never perish. This is what He represented: He was the bread — the nourishment and sustenance — that comes down from Heaven.

They did not get it and continued to speak of the bread in literal everyday terms. Jesus was offering them the opportunity to be connected to the divine source, but not many would sign on.

They asked Him the perennial question: What do we have to do to perform the works of God? His answer was deceptively simple: Believe in the one whom God has sent. Is that all? But in John’s Gospel, believing in Jesus means dwelling and abiding in Him continually and relying upon Him for spiritual energy and sustenance rather than on earthly things. We must choose what will reside in the deepest regions of our heart and soul: our ego or the Christ.

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