05 August, 2012

Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (B) 2012

John 6:24-35

They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ (John 6:34).

Last Sunday we have started to read John 6 and today we are presented with the second episode of our story. So far St John has told us of how Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people on the mountain side and rescued his disciples who were in danger at sea. Today John uses a debate between Jesus and the crowd to tease out some questions about our approach to the gospel. 
The crowd who was fed by Jesus is anxiously looking for Him, seeking this prophet and Messiah who provided free and unlimited food. The crowd wants Jesus to be their king, and so it is little wonder that they are ready to look for him wherever they can, even for miles; on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and in the nearby towns. They would gladly follow a Jesus who can provide for all their needs; a man who would make their lives easier; someone who can satisfy their hunger. However, what the crowd does not understand is that the miraculous food which they received from Jesus – like the manna received by their ancestors in the wilderness of the Exodus – was only a sign pointing towards greater things to come. And so when they eventually find Jesus they are met by a cold welcome. Stubbornly, the crowd does not give up, and engages Jesus in a bold religious dispute culminating in a plea, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ (John 6:34). 

Last week I suggested to you a comparison between John and Mark’s accounts of the feeding of the five thousands. Today we begin exploring the “uncharted waters” of John 6 (which find no parallel in the other gospels), and I would like you to look up in your personal time of prayer the story of the woman at the well, found in John 4, comparing it with story we have heard this morning. The lack of understanding found in both chapters is marked by John’s subtle irony at the world misconception of the Christian use of water and bread; water of baptism, and the bread and wine of the Eucharist. 

The woman at the well, a nameless woman from Samaria, is the second female theologian found in John’s gospel and she, like today’s crowd, engages Jesus in a religious dispute claiming the religious superiority of her ancestors, focusing on possible material gain, and completely missing the point of what Jesus is trying to tell her until He does so plainly, and wins her attention by performing a sign.  
‘Everyone who drinks [the water from this well] will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. […] The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’ (John 4:14-15) 

In our story Jesus is stern with the crowd, but he does not send them away. He tries to correct their misinterpretations and to direct their attention away from material things. You are here, he says, not because you believe in me but because you got something out of it. You ate your fill; now you want more. Even at the end of their conversation with Jesus, the crowd remains unsure about the true meaning of his words, and yet, They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ (John 6:34).

Perhaps it is the same case with us. Maybe we do see something captivating about Jesus, but we cannot go beyond a casual acquaintance with Him. Maybe we do come to Jesus thinking that we have Him all figured out, and we risk becoming numb to His words of life. But how do we approach Him? Why do we look for Him? These are important questions. Are we looking for Him to ease our lives? Are we expecting Jesus to endorse our every opinion of Himself? Do we mistake him to be a tireless provider of miracles and of things to serve our needs?

Are we really looking for Jesus out of a genuine hunger for Him? Because we are slowly coming to understand that nothing else at all can even remotely compare to following Him and being with Him?
Perhaps we can truly recognise ourselves in this unidentified crowd who debates with Jesus. Likewise, perhaps the woman at the well remains nameless so that we may spot something of our own experience in hers. However it may be, let us never fail to make our own the words of the crowd, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ (John 6:34).

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