Words of THE WORD
Sunday of the Eighteenth Week

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

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.” (John 6:24-26)

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

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. 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 an act of mercy or pity (see Mark 6:34, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time). While the crowd sang His praises as a prophet, Jesus withdrew to the solitude of the mountain and later walked on water to Capernaum (John 6:15-23) thus setting the stage for the next event in the Bread of Life discourse.

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 and do 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 contemporary usage, ‘searching’ is practically synonymous with ‘googling’ and tends to be about pieces of data or information. In antiquity, ζητεω (zeteo) was used in reference to people being lost or found — a sense of being lost or found in the living of life, having or loosing a sense of purpose, destiny or direction in life. ζητεω (zeteo) does not necessarily refer to a physical loss or find when referencing people, it speaks more about the connection, the relationship, the link people have with one another.

Yet what is even more fascinating about ζητεω (zeteo) is that 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 John’s Gospel. When Jesus feeds the crowd that is the σημεῖα (semeia) and it that provides the ‘terms’ for ζητεω: seeking Jesus as Person for the connection, the relationship, the encounter He offers as gift.

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 speaks this Sunday to the heart of living as Jesus’ disciple. At the very heart of discipleship is the encounter with the Person, Jesus Christ. That encounter, that “sign” to use Johannine terminology, initially requires 2 response actions: metanoia (the ongoing, daily conversion of heart, mind and body from selfishness to selflessness as lived by Jesus) and believing that Who Jesus is as well as what He says and does is THE only way to live life. In so doing, life is lived in the mode of response — acting based on the fact that “I” do not search for Jesus. “I” let myself be found by Jesus on His terms and then respond by living life marked by daily conversion and believing. Such an approach to living lessens the possibility of creating a ‘comfortable Jesus’ that is synonymous with mere niceness. Being found by Jesus and responding properly displaces ‘me-centered entitlement’ and opens the horizons of a Divinely animated and abundant life to which I can only respond: ‘thank you — and — how may I serve sacrificially and joyfully in Jesus’ Name?’