Providential Grace of God: 18th Sunday
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB
Theme: Providential Grace of God “I am the Bread of Life”
Point of reflection: What nourishes my daily life? Where do I get true energy, true purpose and firm hope? As human beings, we often have wrong nourishments in our life, we tend to have wrong motives, wrong purposes in life and even wrong hopes. Today’s Scriptural readings correct such wrong nourishments; in the readings of today, we encounter the Providential Grace of God onto His people.
First Reading: Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15
Psalm: Psalm 78:3–4, 23–25, 54
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:17, 20–24
Gospel: John 6:24–35
Sermon (Reflection): The theme of today’s Biblical readings is Providential Grace of God; God provides for His people and God corrects our wrongs nourishments and gives us the eternal bread of life.
Quite interesting to note on today’s three readings present a series of troubling misunderstandings around the right type of nourishment.
In the first reading, the Israelites, driven by physical hunger, sought the security of slavery because it appeared to offer them sufficient food. But what they truly needed was just trust and faith in God to sustain them into the future.
Today as Christians, what kind of nourishments do we have? Where do we go when we want help? Some of us go to the Sangoma (Local Traditional healer) (Sing’ang’a) instead of going to Christ. What are we seeking in our life? Are we seeking Christ? As Christians, we need to be liberated.
Today’s first reading shows how the liberated people, though led by God, began to complain, or “murmur”, for the second time in the course of their desert journey. At first, the lack of water had led to cries of desperation (Cf. Exodus 15:22-27).
This second instance of murmuring was far more serious. The whole congregation, used to the agricultural abundance of Egypt, found the scarcity and insecurity of the wilderness unbearable. While their anxiety about food security could be understood and excused, their longing for the food of Egypt could not.
Scarcity of food led them to an utter disregard for God’s work, and demonstrated that the Israelites no longer had confidence in God’s continuing provision of sustenance. In our today daily life we also disregard God in one way or another, either by our actions or words. We often loss hope that things are not going on our way. But we need to stand firm as the Israelites despite inconceivable betrayal, God again proved Himself loyal and trustworthy.
Patiently, He provided the grumbling nation with food, sending manna and quails. Both were natural phenomena. Manna, which in Hebrew means “what is it?” even in Greek “μάννα” was an edible substance produced by a desert tree. It appears in the early morning and disappears in the heat of the day. Quails are birds who, exhausted by the desert crossing, settle on the ground to rest. Providing these means of food, God nourished his people through nature.
Manna, “the gift from heaven”, would be provided each day. God commanded that it should not be gathered and stored for the next day, with the exceptions of the provision for the Sabbath. This command was intended as a lesson, to teach the Israelites to trust in God’s daily and unwavering care. Such trust and obedience are the basic qualities required of God’s chosen people.
This is a lesson for us today, no matter how bad the situation may be in our life, no matter difficult the situation may be, never loose trust in God; we need to trust and obey God, and this is the requirement for happiness in life.
In the second reading, Paul insisted that the Ephesians decide on a way and a manner of living. Are they going to follow the common and tempting Gentile ways, or choose Christ’s more demanding but ultimately life-giving path? The passage from the letter to the Ephesian draws a very stark contrast between two ways of living: the Christian way and the Gentile way. Paul presents the Ephesians with a clear and definitive choice between the two ways. The Gentile way of life is characterised by futility of mind, darkness of intellect, alienation from God, hardness of heart, impurity, and greed (Cf. Ephesians 4:17-18).
St Paul takes an uncompromising stance. There can be no middle ground between the Christian and the Gentile ways of life, they are fundamentally incompatible. Paul insists on a daily struggle against the ever-present temptation to follow pagan ways.
He argues for a decisive renouncement of the old ways, and for the renewal of the mind by “putting on Christ”. This new self, is a calling to all of us as Christians, we need to take off our old bad ways and put on new good ways of Christ.
In the Gospel, following the miraculous multiplication of bread, and the episode of walking on water (Cf. John 6:16-22), the evangelist turns his attention to the effects of these spectacular deeds of Jesus on the people. Those who had been miraculously fed, thought of Jesus as a prophet and a king, and looked for him with great eagerness. However, they sought him for all the wrong reasons.
They wanted more bread and fish, and hoped for other benefits that a new king could bring. Jesus corrected their misunderstanding and clarified what he had to offer. He stated that the food he provides as “the Son of Man” is no ordinary bread, but a permanent and enduring nourishment.
My dear brothers and sisters, some of us are in the Church for wrong motives – there is a calling today to correct our wrong motives. It is easy to join a church or a sodality or a congregation with wrong motives but what is most important is to purify our motives and have the right nourishment for our lives.
In the Gospel passage today, the wrong motive grew deeper as the crowd asked about the way to access this unending food, thinking about earning it through physical labour. Jesus responded by pointing to faith in Himself as the source of this permanent nourishment.
Such an extraordinary claim provoked the crowd to demand a sign which would prove that Jesus could be trusted as God’s reliable representative. Manna was the sign attesting to Moses’ credibility, what could Jesus provide?
In response, Jesus explained the true meaning of the Scripture text which the crowd quoted. It was God, not Moses, who provided the Israelites with manna. But now, God has sent Jesus as a new kind of bread, the sustenance capable of permanently satisfying human hunger and thirst. Jesus Christ is the eternal bread of life.
Christian Act in Word of God “Providential Grace of God”
One of the common trends in modern society among Christians is the constant pursuit of having more, and yet never being satisfied. As we continue to reflect on the providential grace of God, we are warned against being misguided and dissatisfied in our expectations, and against placing our hopes on false promises.
Can we ask ourselves inside our hearts, do I recognise the gifts, talents, and grace in me that God has given me?
God knows what is good for us, and He enriches our lives with numerous blessings. His plans for us reach further than we can see. We often do not see and recognise God’s gifts and benefits. The reason that we are not aware of God’s involvement in our lives is our short-sightedness.
Too often we think only in terms of the here and now, and fail to see further into the future and the long-term effects of what we encounter today. Not having something today, we hastily draw the conclusion that God has abandoned us.
Yet, as believers we are called to look into the future with trust in God’s careful and loving design for our future, the future that extends into eternity.
There is a real and ever-present danger for every Christian, that of being drawn to the wrong type of nourishment. Today, in our advanced society, it is very easy to be blinded by the appeal of the many benefits that developed civilisation brings. The unrestricted use and pursuit of material benefits and objects is known as consumerism. It might be likened to an illness, which confines the person’s full attention to the pursuit of what is gratifying, and pleasant, of buying evermore.
But such consumption cannot be the purpose of life, because it cannot nourish true life. While there is a place for enjoyment and satisfaction to be had in material things, we must not forget about true nourishment – the values and lifestyle that Jesus advocated.
Our true nourishment cannot be found in anything material that we possess. True nourishment, and lasting values, can only be found in the one who is himself everlasting – God.
To be on the right path that leads us to eternal joy and happiness, and to appreciate the gifts we have received, we need to be positive-minded. This does not mean we deny the misery and the pain that we experience daily. Rather, it means that we foster the spirit of being appreciative, and seek to recognise God’s blessings, even in the midst of life’s deserts.
Unlike the Israelites in the wilderness, and the people who followed Jesus only looking for bread, we must be able to see beyond the daily bread, and strive for deeper values.
While we definitely need to secure our bodily nourishment, the whole point of being a Christian is to search for food that secures eternal life.
That food is Jesus himself. Through faith and commitment to him, we secure our future in a way that no other nourishment in this world can do.
Action: I will change by choosing the right nourishments: I have chosen Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Almighty God, pardon me for choosing the wrong nourishments in my life and for those moments when my prayer to you has been full of requests and lacked thanksgiving for the many gifts and blessings I have received. Give me the Spirit of wisdom to recognise and pursue what will nourish my faith and love for you, so that I may be your faithful servant on earth, and be united with you in eternity, grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You forever and ever, Amen.