Week 18, Sunday. Words of the Word.

“O God, come to my assistance; O Lord make haste to help me! Your are my rescuer and help; O Lord, do not delay. (Psalm 70:2,6)

Draw near to your servants, O Lord,
and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness,
that, for those who glory in you
as their Creator and guide,
you may restore what you have created
and keep safe what you have restored.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
The Lord gave them bread from heaven. (Psalm 78:24).

GOSPEL EXCERPT (click for all readings)
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking (ζητοῦντες, zetountes) for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
“Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered them and said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
you are looking (ζητεῖτέ, zeteite) for me not because you saw signs (σημεῖα, semeia)
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work (ἐργάζεσθε μὴ) for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

When we left the crowd last week, they had been fed abundantly by Jesus Whose pronouncement: ‘take, thank and distribute’ transformed meager portions of food into an abundance that would shock any matriarch’s grand Sunday meal. Interestingly, while the crowds sought Jesus because of the “signs” He was performing for the sick, Jesus initiated the feeding and gave them food in abundance as gift. As the crowd sang His praises as a prophet, Jesus withdrew to the solitude of the mountain. What we do not hear proclaimed this Sunday are the events associated with Jesus’ walking on the water of Galilee to Capernaum, which sets the stage for the action of the crowd, once again, to seek Jesus.

The Gospel proclamation this Sunday opens with the crowds searching for Jesus and then getting into boats with great urgency when they realize He has gone from the place of the Feeding. When the crowds ‘find’ Jesus, He confronts them: “you are looking (ζητεῖτέ, zeteite) for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”

As far as Jesus is concerned, the Feeding is a σημεῖα (semeia) and as a σημεῖα one is called to make a decision to act on the σημεῖα (recall last week’s discussion of σημεῖα). One might argue that the crowds did in fact ‘do something’ as a result of the σημεῖα: they went looking for Jesus. But were they really looking for Him? Jesus declares that the crowd was not really looking for Him, but for the food He provided earlier. On one hand, it is hard to blame the crowd. Life in general and the economy specifically were very difficult in first-century Galilee. While some made a good living on the sea, others did not know when or where they would eat next. But on the other hand when it comes to the Feeding, it is a σημεῖα and there is no getting around the fact that a σημεῖα calls for a decision to act in a particular way. A σημεῖα calls for a particular work.

The point is underscored further by the use of the Greek verb ζητεω (zeteo). ζητεω, translated in this Sunday’s text as “to seek,” implies more than just looking around for something lost. In fact, in antiquity this verb is generally used when speaking about people being lost or found. ζητεω does not necessarily refer to a physical loss or find when referencing people, it is speaking more about the connection, the relationship, the link people have with one another. Yet what is even more fascinating is that ζητεω involves the work of searching for the other, on the other’s terms! Yes, I realize this sound confusing – how can you search, guided by the other’s terms, when you are not connected to the other person? But that is precisely what the σημεῖα is ordered to do, especially throughout the episodes of Jesus’ Ministry in the Gospel according to Saint John. When Jesus ‘does’ the σημεῖα of the Feeding, that provides the ‘terms’ for ζητεω: seeking Jesus as Person for the connection, the relationship, the encounter He gives.

Saint Augustine commented: “It is as if he said, “You seek me to satisfy the flesh, not the Spirit.” How many seek Jesus for no other objective than to get some kind of temporal benefit! One has a business that has run into problems, and he seeks the intercession of the clergy; another is oppressed by someone more powerful than himself, and he flies to the church. Another desires intervention with someone over whom he has little influence. One person wants this, and another person wants that. The church is filled with these kinds of people! Jesus is scarcely sought after for his own sake. . . . Here too he says, you seek me for something else; seek me for my own sake. He insinuates the truth that he himself is that food . . . “that endures to eternal life.” Tractates on the Gospel of John.

Certainly there is much that rings this Sunday with the Church’s upcoming Synod on the New Evangelization. At the very heart of the New Evangelization is a proclaiming of the Person Jesus Christ Who invites everyone to encounter Him. That encounter, that “sign” to use Johannine terminology, initially requires 2 works, 2 actions on our part: metanoia (the ongoing, daily conversion of heart, mind and body from selfishness to selflessness as lived by Jesus) and believing that is essentially a deep trust in the Person Jesus that what He says and does for me and for us is THE only way to live life. For many ‘named’ Christian, the search for Jesus has become convoluted by all sorts of distractions – some of them ugly, foul and uncompassionate while other distractions may in fact seem and sound spiritual and religious but leave a void in life. Being fed by the Savior is by no means a passive event – it is His invitation to connect deeply with Him for Who He is.

1 comment:

  1. Signs that make us seek for Him are in some ways tailored to incite our restless spirits which hopefully will lead us to an encounter where we remain/abide in Him as He remains/abides in us.