Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday in the 3rd Week of Easter
Without Missing the Forest for the Trees

Readings: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 66:8-9, 16-17, 20; John 6:44-51
Picture: CC Shayan (USA)

It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. I vaguely remember reading somewhere about a scripture scholar who often found it difficult to pray with the scriptures. The difficulty was due not to a lack of knowledge – this was a scholar! – but rather to an excess. Fully conversant with the historical background as well as the issues of interpretation surrounding each scripture text, the scholar often found it difficult to get past such considerations in order to encounter the One to whom all prayer is addressed. Bogged down by various details of information, the scholar couldn’t quite access the deeper concerns and feelings that needed to be expressed. It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, especially if one is a tree-expert.

The people with whom Jesus is speaking in today’s gospel are probably not experts, but it’s quite clear that they have a good knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. They know enough to cite the example of Moses feeding the people with manna in the desert as a precedent, in the hope of convincing Jesus to continue doing something similar. It’s probably not difficult to empathize with them, especially not at the present time, when the price of rice is escalating and many are already starting to hoard. In the desert of their hunger and need, wouldn’t it be handy to have a one-man bread/ rice-producing machine? Yet the people’s knowledge of scripture presents more of a hindrance than a help to their relationship with God. Caught up in their own immediate concerns, they miss the deeper significance of the very scriptures that they are citing. They miss the forest for the trees.

Isn’t this why Jesus has carefully been refocusing their attention? As we heard on Tuesday: it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. And today: I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. Jesus is doing for the people the very same thing that we see Philip doing for the Ethiopian eunuch on the desert route in the first reading. In the desert of their obsession with material things, Jesus shows them how all of scripture points to the marvelous deeds that the Father performs, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Through the Filial Lamb led to the slaughter, the Word Made Flesh and Splendor of the Father, the True Bread come down from heaven, the people are being led into the fullness of life. And the measure of their appreciation of the scriptures lies less in how much they know than in how open they are in approaching this One whom the Father sends. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me… It’s important to study the scriptures. But do not miss the forest for the trees.

And what of us? In the respective deserts of our own existence, what are the trees to which we might be tempted to cling? What are the hindrances that prevent us from deepening our relationship with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit?

How is God inviting us to refocus our attention from the trees to the forest today?


  1. After the car was dropped off for servicing this morning, I boarded the bus and was presented with this group of total strangers who were about their own business. It's like a forest of faces which jolt you into the realm of wonder and day dreaming?
    What lives are they leading, what mysteries lie in their heart in their searching for meaning. How can I fulfil my mission in such a common place occurence? All I feel is a canopy of noise emanating from the bus as it groans towards my destination. It camouflaged my own sense of confusion and insecurity.
    This is yet but another stage of my daily journey as I go about my own existence seeking God in strange places and the humdrum events in life. The forest is alive with opportunities as we grow in faith. Stand Tall.

  2. If like me you like to watch those National Geographic type documentaries, you will be treated once in a while to breathtaking panaroma from a plane flying low over the Amazonian jungle, say. The view is truly spectacular from 'up there'. It didn't matter to me how cluttered the jungle floor was, or the perpetual life-and death struggles of living creatures under the canopy .. All that mattered to me was the awesome Big Picture. In the course of my work, we're often reminded to look at The Big Picture sometimes just to take our minds off the intractable nitty gritty that grate and grind on everyone. Is there room for the 'woods' in our lives?

    I have a close friend who is the devotional type, if you know what I mean. A God-fearing, neighbor-loving person, I have great respect and admiration for her. Before I go on, please do not misconstrue this post as deriding Christian devotions. It's just that, in the context of Fr Chris' reflection, I often wonder if we run the risk of devotions lifting us way above the canopy of life, and so lose track of the trees.

  3. LOL! Shall I change my online moniker from ClappingTrees to ClappingForest from now on? (btw, love the tree-hugging photo!)

    Right now, I do need to focus on the essentials and avoid being distracted by unimportant stuff.

    However, isn't there a time for everything? Sometimes, we focus on the "forest" as a whole. Other times, we could be called to examine the trees for more detail!


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