Sunday, August 13, 2006

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Nourishment in the Desert

Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

The desert can be a very formidable and uncomfortable place. There’re no air conditioners in the desert, no refrigerators or ice-cold beers, no hamburgers or Kentucky Fried Chicken, no washing machines or showers, no wireless connections or DVDs… And yet, today we hear of someone who actually goes a day’s journey into the desert. Why? Is Elijah out of his mind?

Quite coincidentally, if you believe in coincidence, not too long from now, most of us will also be journeying into the desert, to a place called Turpan. In fact, we’ll be spending the night there. Have you asked yourself why? Are we out of our minds?

And even before we set off for the desert, have you asked yourself why you’re here in Beijing, China? Of course, there are more creature comforts here than at Turpan. Here we have air-conditioners and refrigerators and KFC. But still, isn’t coming to China somewhat like entering the desert? We come to a strange and unfamiliar place and meet new people of a culture different from ours. The air is different. The roads are different. And the bathrooms are… well, also different. More likely than not, exciting as it may be, for most of us, just being here in China poses a challenge that we will do well to acknowledge. Once again, we might ask ourselves: Why are we here? What are we hoping to find?

Could we be hoping to find what Elijah found? Just as he is ready to lie down and give himself up for dead, Elijah finds nourishment. Incredible as it may seem, Elijah finds food and drink where one would least expect. But even more significant than the food and drink is their effect on Elijah. He walks for forty days and nights to the mountain of God. What Elijah finds in the desert is nothing less than a highway to God.

Could it be that here in our desert, whether it is Turpan or Xian, Xiahe or Beijing, in the dorm or in the street, in class or on excursions, whether we are conscious of it or not, we are also hoping to find, as Elijah did, some nourishment for our souls, food for our own respective journeys? If so, the good news is that there is food and drink in the desert. God is awaiting us there.

But to enjoy this nourishment, we must be like Elijah. We must get up and eat. Yet, we don’t always wish to do so. Consider the people in the gospel. Here is Jesus, the Bread of Life come down from heaven, offering himself to them. And they reject him because he is too familiar: Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother?

It’s not only the familiar that invites rejection. We also reject the different and the strange as well, don’t we? And more likely than not, in the days ahead, there’ll be times when we’ll find ourselves tempted to reject the nourishment set before us, in whichever form it may take: people or places, ideas or experiences. It is at times like these that we will need to recall the message in the second reading today: Be kind… compassionate, forgiving… In particular, we will need to remind ourselves to seek first to observe and listen, to know a little more, and to understand a little more, before we criticize. Because it is only by doing this that we can begin to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. It is only by doing this that we can find, in the desert, the nourishment that we seek.

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