18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
One day, a man is walking in the mountains, enjoying the beautiful scenery, but steps too close to the edge of the mountain and begins to fall. In utter desperation, he reaches out and grabs a limb of a gnarly old tree, sticking out of the side of the cliff. He then takes a moment to assess the situation. He finds himself about 100 feet down a sheer cliff and about 900 feet from the floor of the canyon below. If he should slip again, he’d surely plummet to his death.
Full of fear, the man cries out, “help me!”
But there’s no answer. Again and again, the man cries out, “help me, help me!” but to no avail. In one final attempt, he yells out, “Is anybody up there?” And this time, a voice replies, “Yes, I’m up here.”
“Who said that?” asked the man.
“It’s the Lord.”
“Can you help me?” asked the man in desperation.
“Yes, I sure can. Just have faith. All you have to do is let go of the branch.”
“What??! Let go??!”
“Exactly, just have faith in me. Let go, and I’ll catch you” replied the Lord.
The man thought about it for a moment, and then yelled out, “Is there anybody else up there??!”
Like that man in our joke, the Israelites in our first reading from the book of Exodus just weren’t willing to trust that God had their best interests at heart. They weren’t too sure about their leaders either. They had their own ideas of the ways things should have been done and complained to Moses and Aaron when their expectations weren’t being met.
Their reaction to this predicament shows just how desperate and frustrated they really were:
“If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread. For you have brought us out into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Fortunately for them, their complaining doesn’t fall on deaf ears. It reaches the throne of God and, in his goodness, God responds by sending them quails to eat in the evening and a fine flaky substance that resembled frost on the ground for them to eat in the morning. They called this substance manna, or bread from heaven. But to fully understand what God did for the Israelites, we have to know a part of the account from the Book of Exodus that isn’t recorded in today’s proclamation. God didn’t just give them this food, carte blanche. No, to eat this manna, they would have to collect it for themselves each day. In other words, satisfying their hunger would require a continual effort on their part and an unwavering trust that God would do his. Some of the Israelites though, began to doubt that God would come through for them every day with manna from heaven, and so, they decide to take matters into their own hands. They disregard God’s command to collect only enough for one day and instead, collect enough for two days’ worth at a time. Much to their surprise, they soon discover after the first day, that all of the uneaten manna that they had saved for the second day, had become rotten with worms.
Like those Israelites, all of us have hungers too! All of us have a spiritual hunger for the presence of God in our daily lives or else he wouldn’t be here today (or participating via livestream.) All of us have a hunger for truth, peace, love, and justice in the world. All of us have a respect for human life and a hunger for acceptance and belonging, too. The good news is that God’s willing to satisfy all of these hungers for us. But we have to make sure that we have the proper orientation in life. Jesus says in our gospel, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” In other words, we have to be mindful of what it is that’s entering, not just our physical bodies, but what’s nourishing our spiritual selves too!
We have to make seeking the Lord’s presence, both inside and outside of the church, a priority. We have to take the time to pray and commune with God each day. We have to make God’s presence, part and parcel of the everyday events we experience in our daily life. Oftentimes, we may forget or avoid the work that’s necessary in order to connect with God in this way.
One reason is that it’s easy to get frustrated and discouraged at our lack of progress. We might have the best of intentions to pray, but then begin to think that the Lord really isn’t listening, that he’s got bigger fish to fry than to deal with our meager little complaints and so, we think, why waste God’s time? That’s when our complaining sets in, just as it did for the Israelites.
Another tendency we may face is our desire for quick, and easy solutions that require very little effort on our part. We may for example, have the best of intentions to put aside five minutes at the beginning and the end of each day to pray, only to stop doing it after a week, because we aren’t getting the results we expect on the timeline that we’ve established. Our excuses sound really convincing too. “It’s too quiet. It’s too noisy. I can’t hear myself think. My kids keep interrupting me. I don’t hear God speaking back to me. Even if I do, I don’t know what God is saying. I find myself staring at the clock instead of praying, waiting for the time to end.”
Yet another tendency we sometimes may run into, is the belief that we don’t have to pray during the week because we’ve stored up enough spiritual treasures for the week ahead by celebrating mass on the weekend. If we have this attitude, we need to recall that the Lord is the Lord of our lives, not just of our Sundays. He wants to give us food that will satisfy ALL our longings EVERY day, if we but take the time to ask him what we must do to satisfy those hungers.
When we’re spiritually hungry, our feelings of emptiness, incompleteness and longings don’t go away until they’re met. And I think that’s intentional by God. God doesn’t want us to go it alone and seek food that will only make us perish in the end. No, God wants to give us food that will endure to eternal life, food that will make visible, the Kingdom of God in our midst!
He wants to provide for our every need, if we’re just willing to meet God half-way and be receptive to what it is that the Lord is asking us to do.
This is where particular spiritualities may come into play and where we may find that one particular devotion or method of praying is more life-giving to us than another. If the rosary works for you, then pray it! If a novena to a particular saint satisfies your needs and longings for divine intervention, then by all means pray it. If reading a verse of scripture works for you and gives you inspiration for living your life more fully according to God’s plan, then memorize. If participating in the Eucharist is the best way that you feel nourished and sustained by God, then prepare ahead of time for the mass by familiarizing yourself with the readings and then actively reflect on the message of the homily as it’s being preached and apply it to your own life. The list of possibilities is endless.
And if we still haven’t found a sustaining way to have our hungers met, we should remain open to learning new methods of prayer and joining other spiritual groups with like-minded individuals that may have a particular focus on a gospel value that we’re passionate about. If you’re a strong advocate for unborn babies, then participate in the Right to Life march. If you’re passionate about helping the poor all over the world to find a better life, then get involved in Development and Peace’s initiatives. If you’re worried about climate change and global warming, join an environmental activist organization on the Canadian Environmental Network website and do something about it. God is willing to satisfy all our hungers and has given us specific hungers as a means of getting us to connect with him and with God’s plan for our world.
Let’s resolve today, to put our complaining ways aside then, and instead, trust in the Lord’s power to guide and direct our lives to the Kingdom of God and to guide us in effecting the kind of change God wants to see in our world at large and in our personal lives.
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