18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:24-35
August 5, 2018

It’s often said that Evangelical Christians use the Bible as a “rule book,” while Catholic Christians look to the Bible as a prayer book (about 30% of the Mass is Scripture proclaimed.) The Jewish people, on the other hand, see The Old Testament of the Bible, The Book of Exodus in particular, as “the history of their nation.” There is truth to all three approaches.

As we continue to explore “The Bread of Life Discourse,” reported at John 6, in search of a deeper meaning of and appreciation for The Eucharist, our First Reading on this 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time is from the Book of Exodus. All people of the Bible should be able to appreciate the “Exodus Story” as history. If it is true that “history repeats itself,” then the story of this mass migration of an entire nation deserves special attention in these first decades of the 21st century.

The world is experiencing the greatest population shift since World War ll. The United Nations estimates that 65.3 billion people have been uprooted from their homes because of war, terror, violence, and natural disaster. This historic movement of people brings with it traumatic change to both the migrating peoples as well as to the host nations. And with change very often comes grumbling, the kind of grumbling that we hear about in our Old Testament Reading. Liberated from severe oppression and forced labor in Egypt, the freed slaves began to “grumble” at the first sign of adversity.

Suddenly, their lives under the harsh taskmasters in Egypt seemed the better alternative to the uncertainty of their future as they wandered in the desert looking for the Promised Land. Their grumbling, it would seem, was the symptom of an underlying condition more threatening to their spiritual lives than either slavery or vulnerability in the desert was to their physical well-being. They had lost confidence in their leaders as well as their trust in God.

It’s hard to conceive how this formerly enslaved and oppressed nation, both witnesses to and beneficiaries of the infinite power of our liberating God, could so quickly look back to Egypt with longing. But, when you give it some thought, isn’t this the all too common reaction to change…once change appears to offer some challenge, danger, or threat…real or imagined…don’t we want to “go back to where we came from?” When change starts to “stretch us,” don’t we grumble?

We see this happening today with those fleeing from the likes of brutal dictators, civil war, religious extremists, drought, and famine. As they search for a “promised land,” they often grumble (sometimes with good reason) at the circumstances they find in the very place they are seeking refuge.

Moreover, the nations of refuge often raise a voice of protest, grumbling at the invasion of refugees and the enormous changes that involves. We are being “stretched” and there is a whole lot of grumbling!

History is likely to identify these later years of the second decade of this century as a time of rising nationalism, tribalism, isolationism, and protectionism. These are the exact paranoid and self-serving feelings that brought disaster to Egypt. Certainly, the Exodus story describes practices and policies the “host nation” implemented to control the resident aliens. The change from welcoming host to cruel taskmaster ultimately brought plague, disaster, and ruin to Egypt. For their part, the desire for immediate gratification and the satisfaction of their material needs brought renewed misery to the recently liberated Israel. These trends should be alarming to Christians because they can be contrary to God’s will and God’s ways.

Jesus came into the world to redirect our focus towards God and away from ourselves and our selfish needs and desires as the entire human race migrates. We are all citizens of a pilgrim nation in search of the Promised Land…The Kingdom of God.

Jesus has left us with the Eucharist as a “rule book” that teaches us to make the journey in peace and harmony, caring for one another, especially those in greatest need.

Jesus has given us the Eucharist so that, rather than grumble, we can pray as we move closer to The Promised Land.

And, just as God fed a migrating nation fleeing slavery and searching for home, Jesus feeds us with Eucharist, to nourish us while we are on the move.

We cannot deny that Eucharist calls for change…change that stretches us in the most profound way. But, if we grumble…think about just Who it is we are grumbling against!