Sunday, July 25, 2021

Ever Complaining: A Reflection on the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on our parish blog on the Mass readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

I like to think of myself on the "good" side of Bible stories―as Moses, ever trusting God, or as Paul, sacrificing everything for the Gospel, or as one of Jesus' devoted disciples.

But this Sunday's readings hold up a humbling mirror.

When the Israelites want to go back to times that seemed sweeter, complaining that God's work in their lives or in their community isn't what they expected, I hear myself grumbling with them:

"Would that we had died at the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!" (Exodus 16:3)

The Israelites are so busy complaining, they don't even recognize answered prayers when God provides manna from heaven. "What is this?" they ask.

And Moses replies: "This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat." (Exodus 16:15)

Then, in this week's Gospel, a crowd follows Jesus, looking for adventure, entertainment, and free food.

"What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert… Give us this bread always." (John 6:30-34)

Jesus gently redirects them:

"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." (John 6:35)

But ultimately, most of the crowd leaves (John 6:66).

I want to believe I wouldn't demand a sign or insist on some kind of Jesus circus, whether 2,000 years ago or today. But how easily do I take offense when the liturgy doesn't look how I think it should, meeting my personal aesthetics for music, volume, attire, demeanor, art, architecture, or language?

The reality is, sometimes my heart resonates less with Moses and more with the frustrated Israelites; sometimes I'm less like Jesus and more like his fairweather followers.

This Sunday's reading from the New Testament suggests a remedy for when we're tempted to look backward to a "former way of life" or feel jaded by our own "deceitful desires" (Ephesians 4:22):

Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Ephesians 4:24)

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