“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Dear friends, today we continue the journey we began a few Sundays ago. Jesus is in conversation with the crowd that came to him when he was planning to rest. Jesus had fed them with loaves and fishes which they ate to their satisfaction. However, Jesus had no intention of feeding them with bread and fish again. Instead, He told them of the bread which comes from heaven and gives life to the world.
They said: “Give us this bread always.” In response, Jesus said: “I am the bread of life.” Jesus made them understand that He is the bread which endures to eternal life but the bread they were seeking was mere perishable bread. Let us now consider the lessons contained in today’s readings:
Lesson One: We are free to choose our reaction when our expectations are not met.
When these people came to Jesus, they looked pitiable. Jesus even described them as sheep without a shepherd. They came with great faith and their physical needs were met. In fact, they wanted to take Jesus by force and make him a king instantly. However, the moment they realized they weren’t going to get food the second time, all that love and admiration quickly turned to anger and hatred.
That was when they remembered that Jesus (the same person they were about to make a king) is just a “son of Joseph” and that they knew his father and mother. How do we react to God and to the church when our expectations are not met? What becomes of our admiration, our faith and our devotion when our prayers are not granted? Do I still see Jesus as my King or do I become angry with Him for not letting my will prevail?
Lesson Two: Bitterness is self-destruction.
Apart from the crowd, another angry person in today’s liturgy is Elijah. In our first reading, we are told about how Elijah, (who prevailed against four hundred prophets of Baal) was consumed by anger because he walked a whole day through the wilderness without food or water. Elijah’s exhaustion turned into bitterness and he wished he would die.
Bitterness, whether against God, against others or against our very selves dries up our faith. We stop seeing the brighter side of whatever situation we find ourselves and we begin to wish for or expect only the worst.
Lesson Three: Bitterness is Blindness.
If only Elijah could see the smile on God’s face having defeated the prophets of Baal, he wouldn’t have asked for his death. If only this crowd could see God physically present in the person of Jesus, they wouldn’t murmur or look down on Jesus.
When anger takes over us, we become blind to all the good things God has done for us, we become blind to the good others have done and we become blind to our own self-worth and value. In short, the reason why we raise our voice when we are bitter is that we become temporarily deaf and we unconsciously assume everyone around us is deaf as well. We only see negativity rather than positivity.
Lesson Four: Follow St. Paul’s Advice: Avoid Bitterness.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul admonishes us not to grieve the Holy Spirit and to achieve this, he says we must let go of all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, slander and malice. The crowd slandered Jesus by murmuring (gossiping) against Him.
Just as the crowd were spoke negatively about Jesus, are there persons I gossip about in very negative terms? What if all those things I say (or believe) about such persons are not even true? I once read a book in which the author describes bitterness as madness; madness in the sense that we think we are right holding on to our pain not knowing that we only cheat ourselves in the long run. Do yourself a favour; just let it go!
Lesson Five: God Never Abandons Us in Moments of Bitterness.
I felt touched by the fact that God had to send an Angel to feed Elijah after he had just prayed for death. Twice the Angel brought food to Elijah so much so that Elijah went on for forty days and forty nights without a single atom of hunger. That is the same God we serve. I think God deserves our complete trust.
You see, if you are down and your prayers are not answered, if you don’t get that job or that business deal, if you didn’t get promoted, if you still aren’t married or pregnant, if you didn’t pass that exam and so on, don’t worry, don’t get annoyed with God, don’t wish your death, just keep trusting God. Something better than food, something more precious than gold, something sweeter than pleasure is coming.
The crowd wanted bread but Jesus was offering the Holy Eucharist. Imagine the huge difference in value. Elijah wanted food and water but God removed his hunger and tiredness for a whole forty days. Imagine the huge difference. Flee from bitterness, trust God! He surely has something better ahead of you.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, create in me a deeper longing for you so that I may seek less of these perishable things around me. Amen.
Bible Study: 1 Kings 19:4-8, Psalm 34:2-9, Ephesians 4:30-5:2, John 6:41-51).