Friday, July 31, 2009

Making An Easy Thing Hard

(18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B)

The crowd asks Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Anyone who believes in God asks this question at some level. If there is a God, what does it mean for me? What does God ask of me? What is God’s will? It’s a really big question, so it’s very good news to hear in the gospel today that the answer is so simple! What does God want from us? “To believe in the one he sent,” Jesus says. That’s it! It’s like that advertising slogan, ‘that was easy.’ “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” When we do that with all our heart and mind, everything else will fall into place.

But notice how the people in the gospel respond. Rather than accept the good news of this easy answer, they make it hard. They ask, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” What sign? Are they kidding? This gospel passage follows upon the one we heard last Sunday, when Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread. What sign can you do? Are these folks that forgetful?

But aren’t we like that all the time? Take this very morning for example. We wake up, open our eyes and begin to see this miraculous and beautiful creation. The sun rises on both the bad and the good, a symbol of God’s generous blessing to each of his creatures. If we have a family, perhaps we are greeted by people we love in the morning, revealing the grace of God as it has come to dwell in our lives through the love that is God’s Spirit among us. If we are aware of all this, we arrive at Mass filled with gratitude and bursting with the desire to thank God for his goodness to us. But if you’re anything like me, this isn’t what usually happens. Perhaps I’m preoccupied with some difficult relationship, or missing the miracle of the present moment by worrying about something I have to deal with later.

We do this kind of thing a lot. We miss the miracles and beauties of the moment because we are worrying about the future or living in the past. We miss a lot of the gentle acts of God when we live not in the reality of the now, but in futures that don’t yet exist. Or maybe we miss the presence of God in the present because we are living in the past. Look at the people in the first reading. They complained to Moses about being led into the desert, and want the ‘good old days’ in Egypt when they had better food and bread to eat. They were conveniently forgetting that in Egypt they were slaves and victims of hard, forced labor! People always do this. When thinking back to the past, we imagine that things were better because we’re only remembering the things that were in fact better, while sometimes ignoring that the ‘good old days’ weren’t always so good.

God is eternal, so there is no before or after with God. God lives in the eternal Now, what the medievals called the nunc stans. So if we want to notice, appreciate, and live in the wonders and blessings God gives us, we have to notice the now. We have to work against the twofold distraction illustrated by the two readings today: not forgetting the miraculous signs God does at each moment, like the crowd in the gospel, and not selectively remembering the past like the Israelites in the first reading. Let us make it our spiritual practice to pay attention to the goodness of God that comes to us at each moment of the day, for it is the pouring out of the divine life on the world in the Son. When we see it we will believe in the One God sends, and this is the work of God.


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I don't ask for any signs; I don't need them (or particularly want them). However, what I do find peculiar, given a host of miracles (for the majority of which there is ample evidence -- other people involved, medical records, etc.), is that given a little time, while I don't forget them, somehow I start questioning did they really happen, or did they really happen that way. My goodness, God created some perverse creatures -- well, at least, He created a perverse me. I am glad He forgives!

4narnia said...

i just found your homily from last weekend! as always, it's a very inspiring homily, Fr. C! thank you! PEACE! ~tara t~