The Sunday Project
Give Us This Day
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time |
By Joey Chee
The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”
Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not.
“I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God.”
In the evening quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning a dew lay all about the camp, and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, “What is this?” for they did not know what it was. But Moses told them, “This is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”
Brothers and sisters: I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
I cannot be the only one to see myself in the Israelites, hungry and grumbling in the desert, willing even to be enslaved and forced to kill their children if only for a toothsome meal. Truth be told, I was quite happy to believe what the church taught about sexuality. If it was lonely at times, or confusing, at least I knew where I stood, and knew that I was safe there. Then I found myself spirited away into the desert, and especially in those early days the ground was constantly shifting beneath my feet and I dared not speak of it to those closest to me, I looked back with not a little regret at what I’d left behind.
Am I making a huge mistake? The question haunted me long after I started affirming my sexuality as a gay man, often waiting until I was about to fall asleep to plunge me into an anxious fit. At other times, I would be triggered by a passage in the writings of the saints, or in scripture. A verse like today’s second reading might have done the trick:
“Put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires”
It’s all too easy to read this as a condemnation of queer sexuality. Does our church not insist that our desires promise happiness where it can never be found?
What was I supposed to do with these questions? How could I continue listening to the word of God if every other verse seemed to condemn the choices I was making? If I’d been given half the chance, I think I would have bolted and happily suppressed my sexuality forever, if only for a little peace and quiet. But God would not be satisfied with so little.
Today’s Gospel grants us a glimpse of this side of God in Jesus, who says gently, insistently,
“Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
With no choice but to continue trusting that I was indeed being led to freedom, I slowly began to find God in new places – strange food, but at each moment, just what I needed to survive another day. I found myself able to see the world, and myself, in a new light. From places where Paul’s letter to the Ephesians might have given me pause, I now drew strength. I came to see that the desire for comfort and safety, for a familiar way of thinking – this was the deceitful, corrupting desire Paul was calling out.
I still have a long way to go before I can say I have really come to Jesus – I still hunger for an uncomplicated relationship with my family, thirst for a church that again feels like home. This new self is still so new that I echo the Israelites seeing manna for the first time, “What is this?” But just as the manna was in time transformed into a sign of God’s faithfulness, so too I can already catch glimmers of the miraculous in what God is doing in me. And with the psalmist, one day soon I firmly believe that:
“We will declare to the generation to come
the glorious deeds of the LORD and his strength
and the wonders that he wrought.”