Sunday, August 05, 2012

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
The Tidbits are for the Table

Picture: cc happy via

Sisters and brothers, once upon a time, there lived a very wealthy tycoon, who made his home in a huge palace at the top of a high mountain. In this wonderful place, there was every kind of exotic and delicious food to eat. And, everyday, the tycoon would host a sumptuous feast for his family and friends. One day, it came to the tycoon’s attention, that there were many people living at the foot of the mountain, who were too poor to feed themselves. So, out of pity, he sent out his servants to invite all the starving people to live in his palace, where they could eat for free. Unfortunately, most of the people did not believe his servants, and refused to climb the mountain. While those who did believe, found the road too difficult, and gave up halfway.

On being told about what was happening, the tycoon came up with a brilliant plan. He realised that it was too difficult for the people, hungry as they were, to persevere in climbing the mountain without receiving some tangible guarantee of what they would enjoy at the top. So, when he next sent out his servants, the tycoon made them bring along some appetisers from his table. The servants were instructed to line the road up the mountain with these little tidbits, so that the people might be attracted to climb to the top. Surely, having tasted the tidbits, they would now finally allow themselves to be lured all the way to his table. Where they could feast to their hearts’ content.

However, something rather unexpected happened. The people found the tidbits so tasty that, instead of climbing up the mountain, many of them simply waited by the side of road for the tycoon’s servants to feed them. Some of the people even took the trouble to build little shacks along the way, so that they could live there permanently. They also did everything they could to ensure that there was a steady flow of tidbits. They worked hard, for example, to improve the condition of the road, so that the servants could travel unimpeded. And whenever the servants were a little late in bringing the tidbits, some of them would stage noisy demonstrations to protest the tycoon’s apparent negligence or cruelty. But few, if any, of them ever made the journey up the mountain. Few, if any, learned the lesson that the tidbits were meant only to lure them to the tycoon’s table.

The tasty tidbits are meant for the dinner table. Sisters and brothers, this too is the lesson that our readings are teaching us today. In the first reading, God has a plan to guide the Israelites to a very special place. A land flowing with milk and honey. But the way to this place is difficult. They have to pass through a vast wilderness. Hungry and thirsty, the people are tempted to give up. They even dream of returning to slavery in Egypt. At least there, even if they don’t have their freedom, their stomachs will be full. In response to the people’s complaints, God feeds them. But the food that God provides is meant only to sustain them along the way. The manna and the quail are but tidbits, offered to help the Israelites to persevere on their journey to the table of plenty that God is preparing for them in the Promised Land. The tidbits are meant to lure them to the table.

In the gospel too, we see a similar situation. Earlier in the gospel of John, Jesus had miraculously fed thousands of people. As a result, in today’s reading, the people want to make Him king. If Jesus were their king, then their stomachs would never be empty again. Or so they think. What they fail to realise, however, is that Jesus’ miracle is meant only to be a sign pointing them to a deeper reality. The bread that Jesus provides them is only a tidbit meant to entice them to climb the mountain of faith. To lure them to make the journey to the Table of the Lord.

And, as Jesus takes pains to point out, this table is none other than Jesus himself. In Him, the heavenly Table of Plenty has come down among us. I am the bread of life, he says. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst. Jesus performs miracles in order to draw people into relationship with Him. To encourage them to place all their hope in Him. To allow Him to lead them into the fullness of life. By insisting on making Jesus a mere earthly king, the people are turning down His offer of friendship. They are refusing to climb the mountain of faith. They are failing to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of their lives. By treating Jesus as nothing more than a bread-making machine, they are shortchanging themselves, settling for the tidbits at the expense of the Table. Which is why Jesus warns them not to work for food that cannot last, but to work instead for food that endures to eternal life. Not to settle for the tidbits, but to press on towards the Table of Life, by believing wholeheartedly in the One that God has sent.

Sisters and brothers, in the spiritual life, material blessings are meant to draw us ever deeper into relationship with God. They are tidbits meant to lead us to the Table of the Lord. The same Table around which we are gathered this morning. And this crucial distinction between tidbits and Table is something that we too need to remember especially today. Today, when so many of us spend many of our waking hours doing exactly what Jesus tells the people not to do. We worry and work for food that cannot last. We expend much time and energy accumulating things. From money to consumer goods. From titles and degrees to corporate contacts and friends on social networks.

Today, when it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish certain forms of worship from the practices of the stock market. When the so-called prosperity gospel finds such a warm reception among so many. Such that even some of us Catholics are seduced by its message. God doesn’t want you to be poor. God wants you to be rich. And getting rich involves donating more. The more money you donate, so we’re told, the more God will bless you with material wealth. But doesn’t this amount to what the people in the gospel were trying to do? What Jesus was warning them against? Doesn’t this reduce the almighty God to an earthly king? A bread-making, money-minting machine, that we can manipulate at will?

Which is not to say that we shouldn’t work and pray for our material needs. We should. We have to. But we should do it in such a way that, even as our hands may work for such food, our hearts are set first on God, on His kingdom, and on His righteousness. By doing this, we will be heeding those wise words from the second reading: You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth. By living in this new way–this way that strives to put God first in all things–we will be treating material blessings as they are meant to be treated. We will finally be recognising the truth that the tidbits are meant only for the Table.

Sisters and brothers, how well are we learning and living this truth today?

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