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?
Posted by Fr Chris at 9:47 am