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Keen on the Gift, But not on the Giver

August 1, 2015

Sunday Reflection: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
(Ex 16:2-4. 12-15 / Eph 4:17. 20-24 / Jn 6:24-35) 


Consider the old Chinese provide, "Give someone a fish and he eats for a day. Teach one how to fish and he eats for a lifetime." The point in the saying is that we keep our aim not on what satisfies us momentarily, but to strive towards long-term sustenance. Though it is good to live for the day, sometimes we get too enmeshed in the preoccupation of the moment that we lose track of the tomorrow that always awaits us. Both is the ecstasy of the now, and in the troubles of today, we sometimes end up turning a blind eye to what's next, such that the things of tomorrow often catch us surprised and unready.

 

Constantly aim for long-term sustainability.

 

Hence, we can also say, "Get hold of the gift and you'll be happy for the day, hold on to the giver and you'll be happy for a lifetime."

 

This is not to suggest that we become scheming "friendly-users." It's a simple reminder of a truth in human experience that, caught up in the joy of the moment, we become too keen on the gift we received that we become unmindful, or at least become perfunctory, of the person who gave it. 

 

Once, I was with another Filipino visiting priest in Los Angeles during the Christmas break. In keeping with the season, people were giving gifts and personal cheques to us priests usually after the mass. As there are so many people to greet with a smile, and the goings-on of gift giving, we priests simply accept envelopes from parishioners unmindful of the amount they bear, often forgeting already who gave what. 

 

One Sunday, a parishioner gave each of us priests an envelope, which was not unusual, coupled with the warm greeting of Merry Christmas. When time already permitted, after we returned to our respective rooms, we opened our envelopes. There were cash, and there were cheques. 

 

One cheque was a sizeable amount of $100. Later on, the two of us priests made referrence to the hefty cheque we received, not least gracious for the generous gift. The following Sunday the same lady who gave us the envelopes the week before greeted us again, but now introducing herself. Upon hearing her name, I was reminded of the name printed on the personal cheque bearing the $100 amount. I tried to entertain her and carry a brief conversation just to indicate that I recognized her as the generous donor, and that I was very grateful for the gift. Later, exiting the church, my priest companion asked me about the lady I briefly talked to. I repeated her name to him. I asked my priest companion, "The name doesn't ring a bell to you?" "No," he replied. "That's the name printed on the personal cheque we got each amounting to $100! She was the generous donor!" He only reponded "ah". To which I immediately asked, "Don't you read the names of the donors who give you personal cheques?" "Hmmm, not really."

 

Sometimes we can be so keen on the amount written on a cheque that we forget to notice the name of the donor printed on it.

 

 
The readings for today speaks of the bread that came down from heaven. In the Old Testament, as we hear in our first reading for today, it was in reference to the manna that the Israelites received as they journeyed from their slavery in Egypt to their attainment of freedom in the promised land.

This is likewise repeated in the Responsorial Psalm of today: The Lord gave them bread from heaven.

Furthermore, Jesus speaks of this in the Gospel Reading.

However, the problem is clearly revealed in the Gospel reading, especially when we hear Jesus saying:

 

“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. 

 

The people who were there in the feeding of the multitude were looking for Jesus, not because they long for him, but because of the food that they gave him.  The people totally missed the point that Jesus wanted to send in the sign that he performed. Even after clarifying to the people that it was not Moses, but the Father in heaven who gave manna to their ancestors in the desert, the people was still more concerned about the bread itself. Jesus had to tell them explicitly that he was that bread!

 

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.”

 

A gift is always a symbol of friendship. Either of one that already exists. Or of an invitation that friendship may really start and hopefully grow.

When Yahweh gave the Israelites their bread in the dessert, God wanted that the people may genuinely enter into a real relationship with him. That's what "Israel" literally means, God's chosen people. When Jesus gave the people bread to eat in the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus wanted to enter into a relationship with them, but the people was more keen on the bread that he can give.

Only at the end did the people realize that the bread, the real gift of Jesus was not the bread that they ate in the miraculous multiplication event. The real gift of Jesus was himself. He is the bread come down from heaven. He is the gift of the Father himself. And that this gift is symbolic of the invitation that we, those who partake of this bread, enter into a genuine relationship with the giver.

Once we become more keen on the giver, when we become converted in longing for the sourceof the gift, rather than the gift itself, we are renewed for we no longer desire the gift, but the giver himself.

 

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.

 

This Sunday, we ask ourselves: are we more interested in the gift? or perhaps in the person who is the source of this gift? 

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