Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021
Readings: Exodus 16:2-4,12-15; Ephesians 4:17,20-24; John 6:24-35
1 August 2021
Adopting an alternative consciousness and way of living
Dear sisters and brothers,
As the lockdown in Sydney drags on seemingly with no end in sight, we all feel the impact of the government health orders. The protest last week was an indication of the level of frustration and anger that many felt. Mind you, this had the exact opposite effect that they might have hoped for. It put the health of the community at risk and had the potential to prolong the very measures that they protested against.
From a Christian perspective, the pandemic that has caused much uncertainty, pain and suffering can be an opportunity for profound transformation. We are challenged to reshape our lives, communities and world in such a way that brings greater justice, human flourishing and sustainability to all.
COVID-19 is a sign that we have alienated ourselves from the God of life and love; that we have become dull to the cry of God’s poor and the cry of God’s creation. It is a time for us to take stock of the way we have contributed to the suffering of Body of Christ, in the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalised and our wounded Mother Earth.
The Word of God this Sunday encourages to trust in the God who accompanies us on the journey of transformation. We are called to respond to times of crisis not with fear and defence of the status quo. Rather, it is the shift to an alternative consciousness and way of living that is often required of the pilgrims in faith.
In the first reading today, we hear the story of God’s people succumbing to the temptation of nostalgia. Faced with the unknown and hostile wilderness, the people of Israel want to go back to Egypt. They prefer the predictable past to the unknown and uncertain future. God’s response is to provide them with manna, which is meant to sustain them for the journey. Manna is above all a sign that God will not fail them, but will lead them beyond the pain of the present to the hope of the future. It is not a replacement of the food of Egypt. Rather, it is the food that enables them to accomplish the exodus into freedom. In other words, God’s people are meant to look beyond their physical needs and commit themselves to a journey of spiritual transformation.
This is also the message of Jesus in the Gospel story. In the previous episode last Sunday, Jesus fed a hungry crowd with the loaves and fishes. But this meal was not meant simply to satisfy their physical hunger. It was meant to foreshadow the divine hospitality and abundance of the Kingdom. So much so that those who partake of God’s meal have to rise to a new level of living the divine generosity and fidelity.
What transpired, however, was the people’s failure to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ miracle. Instead of rising to a new level of consciousness, or in the words of Paul in the second reading “letting their mind be renewed by a spiritual revolution”, they were still stuck in shallow search for temporary relief. This is why Jesus was at pains to tell them “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life.” He goes on to compare the manna of old with the real bread from heaven. Manna was food for the exodus from slavery; but he himself is the food for the new exodus into freedom, liberation and wholeness.
Brothers and sisters,
We live in uncertain and challenging times. The temptation to go back to the proverbial good old days is as real for us today as it was for God’s people wandering in the desert. In a world that is threatened with pollution, depletion of precious resources, loss of biodiversity and of healthy conditions for life itself, can we go on living the way we are used to without a terrible legacy to our children? Is it time for us to think and act intergenerationally instead of the limited horizons we are enslaved to? Is the pandemic a time for a paradigm shift in order to move into a future of hope and abundance for all?
The God revealed in Jesus calls us to rise to the challenge of new way of thinking and acting that brings forth the Kingdom of justice, harmony and life for all. This new consciousness and way of living opens new possibilities. It moves us from scarcity to abundance, from extraction to regeneration, from dominion to reciprocity, and from loneliness and separation to connection with all that is around us.
Let us pray that we have the courage to respond to God’s call during this time of crisis. May we not be enslaved to short-term gain but open our minds to new possibilities that come with new consciousness aligned with the Gospel. May work for the food of abundance that God intends for all of us and God’s creation.