18th Sunday of the Year, B – August 1, 2021.
Readings: Exodus 16:2-4,12-15; Ps 78:3.4bc.23-24.25.54(R.24); Ephesians 4:17.20-24; Gospel – John 6:24-35.
Theme: Working for the Food that Endures!
The first reading recounts how the sons and daughters of Israel rebelled against Moses in the desert. In the second reading, St. Paul insists that our minds must be renewed by a spiritual revolution occasioned by the Eucharist. In the gospel, Jesus promises the bread of life. He shifts the attention of his audience from material bread to the food that lasts forever. We are challenged to feed our souls with food such as attending Holy Mass, receiving Holy Communion, taking to bible reading, meditation, attending retreats, going for sacramental confession and listening to Christian music as well as watching Christian movies amongst others.
Beloved in Christ, our liturgy this Sunday challenges us to dispose ourselves to the treasures of the Church so as to enjoy the food that does not spoil. Contrary to the agitations of the people of Israel about physical hunger, Jesus promises the bread of life which nourishes both the body and soul to eternal life. Our reflection is weaved around the story of the man with four wives. This will guide us through the pastoral lessons.
Story of a Man and his Four Wives
The story is told of a man who had four wives. He loved his fourth wife the most. She was his favourite as he took care of her a great deal and gave her the best in life. He loved his third wife too. He was always proud of her and looked forward to introducing her to his friends; although he was afraid that she might runaway with other men.
He also loved his second wife. She was always there for him whenever he faced some challenges in life. He, however, did not love his first wife. Ironically, that was the wife that loved him deeply. She was also the only woman that took great care of him and was loyal to him.
One day, he took ill and Doctors confirmed that he was going to die pretty soon. The idea of taking one of his wives with him to the grave came to his mind. Therefore, he approached the fourth wife with the proposal: “Can you die with me and keep me company in the grave?” She did not reply in the affirmative. In fact, she said no and walked away. Heartbroken, he went to his third wife and asked the same question.
He got a shocker: “Look Mr. Man, life is so cool here. I am going to remarry when you die and catch fun with some young man.” With that disappointing reply, he went to his second wife with the same proposal and she said: “Well, my husband, I am so sorry. This time around, I can’t help you. The most important thing I can do is to arrange for your funeral.”
With tears in his eyes, he heard an angelic voice: “My beloved husband, wherever you go, I will follow. I will go with you, even to the grave.” The man turned around, and lo and behold, it was the voice of his first wife. She was looking so skinny and malnourished because of years of neglect.
With so much tears, grief and much pain in his heart, he said to her: “I regret all the ill-treatment I gave you. I should have taken better care of while I had the chance to!” We shall take the lessons of the story under pastoral application where we shall demonstrate how each of us is married to these four lives in his lifetime.
Background & Summary of the Readings
The first reading (Exodus 16:2-4,12-15) recounts how the sons and daughters of Israel rebelled against Moses and wished they had died in Egypt. When Moses conveyed their sentiments to God, he heard their complaints but noted that he wanted to test them. He, therefore, supplied them with bread from heaven. It is important to note that their cry was for physical food. When it seemed that no respite was coming, they started wishing they were in Egypt where they could “sit down to pans of meat and eat bread to their heart’s content.”
In the second reading, St. Paul insists: “Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24). He suggests that only the Eucharist can begin and sustain that spiritual revolution.
In the gospel (John 6:1-15), Jesus promises the bread of life. He shifts the attention of his audience in the gospel from material bread to the food that lasts forever. The message of the first reading is a preparation for the message of the gospel which further prepares us to appreciate the Eucharist as the food for our spiritual journey. The meat of the gospel is care for the soul.
The Story of a Man and his Four Wives is actually the story of each one of us. Surprisingly, we all have four wives in our lives.
1. The Fourth Wife is Your Body – No matter how much time and effort you lavish on it to make it look good in terms of ornamentations like expensive jewelries, paintings, top-class fashion design clothing, foreign shoes, exquisite cousins and exotic drinks, it will leave you when you die. The Israelites in the first reading (Exodus 16:2-4,12-15) cried for material bread which only feeds the body.
In the gospel, (John 6:26) Jesus told the people: “I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.” Aren’t we also guilty of working for the bread that does not last?
2. The Third Wife is Your Possessions – This represents your status and wealth. These include, inordinate craze for power and positions as well as having landed property like estates in Banana Island, countless containers in Tin Can Island Port, fleet of vehicles on the road, billions of money in local and foreign currencies, cubana-like wealth et al. Truth is, when you die, your status and wealth will go to others who perhaps didn’t know what you went through to acquire such.
The gospel tells us that the people were asking for a sign. Elsewhere Jesus tells the Israelites, the only sign that would be given you is the sign of Jonah (Mt. 16:4) – The sign of Jonah is true repentance which leads to salvation. We are guilty of pursuing mundane interests. The mushrooming of miracle and propriety centers in our country which preach tithes without truth and money for miracle is a testimony of a Cross-less Christianity and a scandal to the real gospel of Christ.
3. The Second Wife is Your Family and Friends – Some people are so attached to their family and friends that they feel like each of these people could actually be buried with them or cease to exist once they are no more. You are very much mistaken. No matter how close you were with your family members and friends while you were alive, the furthest they can go to is hold your corpse and cry profusely or stand near your grave sobbing.
Scandalously, some may be glad you passed – Perhaps there were family or relational issues that you were a stumbling block to. Sadly, there are some that could actually drink and celebrate your death.
4. The First Wife is Your Soul – Your soul is the wife that you neglect in pursuit of material wealth, vain glory and pleasure. It is actually the only thing that follows you wherever you go, even to the grave. In the gospel, Jesus says: “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you, for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal” (John 6:27).
Jesus further clarifies that part of taking care of the soul is believing in the one he has sent. He emphatically states: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst” (Jn. 6:35).
What our liturgy challenges us about is to take advantage of the celebration of the Eucharist as an opportunity to feed our souls. Since “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” (Mt. 4:4) Christians are charged to hunger for justice and peace in a troubled world while avoiding everything that would jeopardize their souls.
1. The first reading recounts how the sons and daughters of Israel rebelled against Moses.
2. In the second reading, St. Paul insists: “Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution…”
3. He suggests that only the Eucharist can begin and sustain that spiritual revolution.
4. In the gospel, Jesus promises the bread of life.
5. He shifts the attention of his audience in the gospel from material bread to the food that lasts forever.
Since Christians are often caught between fulfilling their physical and spiritual needs, Jesus invites us to work for the bread that endures. Our liturgy warns against feeding our body, spending time to amass wealth or gain vain power and seeing family and friends as the beginning and the end of everything. On the contrary, we are called upon to take utmost care of our first wife which is the soul.
Our souls require attending Holy Mass, receiving Holy Communion, taking to bible reading, meditation, attending retreats, going for sacramental confession and listening to Christian music as well as watching Christian movies amongst others. Will you oblige your first wife? Well, any negligence on your part means you will pay the price at the end of time. Have a Blessed Week. Happy New Month!