20th April. Monday of Week 3 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts 6:8-15

Stephen’s preaching angers the crowd: Is he speaking against Moses?

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen as it was called, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Gospel: John 6:22-29

We should work for the food that endures for eternal life.

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. or it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”


Seeing beneath the surface

We only see a character in its true nature if we take the trouble to really look. The members of the Sanhedrin looked on the face of Stephen, and it seemed like that of an angel. Jesus tells the crowd: “You are not looking for me because you have seen signs but because you have eaten your fill of the loaves.” Each of us looks outward in many different ways: with wide interest or with narrow bias, with a large heart open to goodness everywhere or with a narrow focus limited to personal concerns, with faith that accepts even miracles or with pessimism that sees only the worst, with wonder that peers beneath the surface to teeming possibilities or with a dull shrug of the shoulders that hardly pays attention to miracles! Somehow or other, our present world and all the more surely our future existence turn into what we see, at least so far as our own personal life is concerned.

A saint like Stephen, ordained to care for the poor and for neglected widows, was endowed by God with such a large heart that he overlooked trivia and did not allow himself to be caught on the sticky paper of petty worries. Instead of such narrow-mindedness, he reached out to the needs of the helpless. Yet he was dragged before the court for acting against the customs of the people. Important, intelligent people were willing to argue about customs when the poor were going hungry. The members of the Sanhedrin looked at a saint and turned him into a sinner. They saw the face of an angel and twisted it into that of a devil.

When Jesus fed the hungry in the desert, they were concerned only about stuffing food between their teeth. They did not ask about the goodness and generosity of God who cares for them; they did not inquire about their ways of sharing with others and so of imitating the goodness of Jesus. They did not stop to listen to the words of Jesus, ponder them prayerfully and ask for their implications in their daily lives. They simply wanted more food. Eventually, John’s gospel links this miraculous multiplication of bread and fish with the Eucharist, Jesus’ very own body and blood given for the life of the world.

Food for eternity

Jesus distinguishes between food that grows stale with time and food that endures to eternal life. He has fed the people in the wilderness with bread and fish, aware that hunger must be satisfied; but as people continued looking for more of this physical food, he invites them to look for the food that gives eternal life and satisfies the deepest of our hungers.  He came not just to give people physical food but to give them the spiritual food of God’s presence, God’s life and God’s Spirit. The gospel reminds us that, while the physical and material is vital because we are physical and material beings, our searching must not stop at the physical and the material. There is a great deal more to life than the satisfaction of our physical needs. We have deeper, spiritual hungers and thirsts as well that we need to attend to if we are to live a truly balanced life and be at peace within ourselves. In the gospel Jesus offers himself to us as the one who offers us the food that endures to eternal life. He can satisfy the deepest hungers and thirsts in our hearts. Our seeking must ultimately be directed towards him; it cannot stop at or be satisfied with anything less. [Martin Hogan]

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