The journey across the lake
The theme and concept of journey is significant throughout the Scriptures. It is worth noting that of every single person of significance in the Bible, a journey is required.
There are three specific journeys in the Readings today – all across bodies of water.
In the Old Testament today, Moses and the people have journeyed from Egypt to the wilderness and are not far from the margins of the Promised Land. The whole People of God – the Church – is on a pilgrim journey mirroring that of the People of Israel described in the Book of Exodus today.
Jesus himself makes many journeys within the confines of Israel and along its borders. It is also worth noting and the Evangelists make clear that Jesus is depicted in His ministry on His way somewhere or has arrived from somewhere else. Today Jesus is in Capernaum – a name meaning ‘border’. The border is the place of decision – whether to stay or to cross over. It is the place of decision for Jesus as the Bread of Life in this chapter of John 6 which is the Gospel this and every third summer.
This is also very true of the followers of Jesus in today’s episode. They make a journey across the Sea of Galilee in boats. But what and whom are they looking for? That is the big question. And that is a question we have to pose to ourselves – who is Jesus Christ for you and me at this point?
A response in faith is in this way offered to us who are bystanders – it is a unique opportunity, and a life-changing one - a response to join our journey to His, at whatever stage we are in life’s journey. The journey towards JESUS in the Gospel today becomes not only a personal journey of education and self-discovery but one of inner transformation for the follower of Jesus..
It is often challenging, and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus purifies and clarifies our vision. Often we must return to this sense of journey – and indeed mission –as there is a temptation to stay ‘where we are’ – static, comfortable, passive, unchallenged – and therefore we might turn back –back to complacency and even the ‘former life’ we lived, life without Christ.
This is the temptation that Paul warns His followers among the people of Ephesus in the Second Reading today – the old self which gets corrupted by following ‘illusory desires’. There is the temptation among those who have crossed the waters of baptism to hearken back to the predictable ‘safety’ of enslavement to sin, to journey back to paganism. The illusory desires are the fake promises of lasting happiness – of pleasures and worldly attachments that promise everything but are worthless and even harmful to salvation.
This is a life lesson to all of us who have had perhaps false or unduly high expectations and disappointments. We know that the joys of life are not forever – that they do not last. The joys of life prepare us, strengthen us and sustain us as a counter-balance to withstand and endure the bitterness, inevitable disappointments and anti-climaxes of life.
The disciples today change from a spirit of excitement and enthusiasm and the certainty that Jesus is their king – in earthly terms. They feel that Jesus having miraculously fed them will continue to do so and moreover, without any effort on their part.
They misinterpret the significance of the bread miracle that has just taken place as recounted in the Gospel last Sunday.
Crossing the lake – what happens? Their hopes are dashed –they might even feel disappointment, frustration, even a sense of anti-climax. This kind of bread miracle is a ‘one-off’.
Now instead of being changed utterly after this miracle – they want more, they even demand more of Jesus. As if Jesus hadn’t done enough for them they ask: “what sign will you give us?” Never could it be more truly said of a people that ‘eaten bread is soon forgotten’!
All of us have desires and needs. But when Mother Teresa was alive she spoke of the greatest hunger in the world today – not that of poverty but that of love. She fed and clothed many street children and orphans. Often they would have a glazed far-away look on their eyes having been abandoned by their parents and left alone. The sense of rejection could be read in their eyes. The sisters would kiss, cuddle, hug and speak lovingly to these children until the light in their eyes would return. When journeying through the Western world she saw the same look of hunger for love among the well-off and comfortable.
Our problem very often is that we look for answers in the wrong places. Christ alone can satisfy the longings of the human heart. While we physically hunger and thirst and be filled today, we will be empty again tomorrow. Jesus alone satisfies in a continuous way the longings and hunger pangs of the heart.
Jesus will now set out to teach that He is the bread of life. We will return to that theme next Sunday.
The true bread that gives life to the world: The Eucharist. In prayer in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, in receiving Jesus in the Eucharist we will slowly be transformed by the sacrament of love, and we will learn to say, like the disciples were later taught: ‘give us this day our daily bread’, but also like the disciples in the Gospel today as we grow in Eucharistic love: we will make their plea our own: – "Lord, give us that bread always".