In his reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Father Garry Koch focuses on what it means to have true faith in the works of Jesus. Photo from Shutterstock.com
In his reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Father Garry Koch focuses on what it means to have true faith in the works of Jesus. Photo from Shutterstock.com
Gospel Reflection for Aug. 1, 2021, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The crowd that Jesus feeds with the few loaves and fish was not completely satisfied. Sure, they had enough to eat, enough that there were 12 baskets of food left over, but they wanted more. Their desire for more led many of them to search for Jesus – we cannot imagine that thousands of people walked en masse to the place where they had gone, but certainly a dedicated number of them did.

What did they want – more teaching, a deeper relationship with Jesus, a sense of the Father? Sadly, no. Did they want more food – well, maybe. Instead what they wanted was another sign. While on the previous day they understood the meaning of the action of Jesus, so much so that they got caught up in the messianic fervor that almost had them carry Jesus off to make him their king, today they aren’t so sure.

What is the difference? What happened over night to change their minds and quell their enthusiasm?

While the enthusiastic appeal of Jesus was probably extreme, as no good would have come from anointing Jesus king, they return with a sense of suspicion.

Every crowd has its doubters and skeptics, and at times they can steal the thunder of the crowd and cause disruption among the believers and the faint of heart. 

The sign – the multiplication of the bread and the fish – should have been enough. They got it at first, but now, they aren’t so sure. Now, they seek another. Perhaps something as simple as feeding them again would do it. Maybe they feel the need for something else, but it is also likely that a sign – any sign – would not be enough to satisfy the crowd. As we will discover, as Jesus explains the meaning of the sign to them they will summarily and quickly reject it.

Jesus refuses to give another sign, although there are yet more signs to come in his ministry. With perhaps a bit of irony there was another sign, one revealed exclusively to the 12 in the interim. Jesus had sent the twelve ahead of him to the other side of the lake and, then Jesus comes upon them as he walks to them on the sea. This sign, one of the clearest in the Gospels, points us to the divine nature of Jesus, and connects him to the great work of creation as recounted in Genesis 1.

There are yet two signs remaining in the Gospel: restoration of sight to Bartimaeus who was born blind, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. But this crowd will not see Jesus perform these signs, and they will prove to sow more skepticism and uncertainty around Jesus.

What prevents this crowd from coming to see in Jesus the messiah they seek? What prevents men and women in our own time seeing the mighty works of God present in their lives?

While there is something inherent within us to seek certainty, we are all called to make the leap of faith in many aspects of our lives. We look for signs along the way, signs that we are making or have made the right decision. We do this as we choose our spouses, our friends, our business partners, and as we select schools, decide where to live, and what path to take in life. We learn to balance signs – to sometimes take the bad with the good – and yet we make the decision. No one of us is perfect. No one of us makes perfect decisions. Occasionally we miss the signs, signs that we should have moved forward and other signs that perhaps we should have held back. But at some point we respond in faith and take the leap.

This crowd cannot do that with Jesus. The many signs he has already performed ahead of this sign should have been more than enough for them. While they seem to want to believe, and to become his disciples, they seem to be looking more for reasons to say no than to say yes.

This is also so for so many of us. We find that one situation, that one bad encounter, that one priest, deacon, religious, or church employee who was hard to deal with, and we say “no” I cannot be a disciple, or I am no longer a disciple.

We demand too many signs from God, choosing instead to overlook the marvelous works of God in our lives, and in the universe around us. We prefer to take down the signs, to shred the Good News, and to demand that God does more so that we do not need faith but can rather live in absolute certainty.

Why is religious faith the only area of our lives that we place under such ardent scrutiny?

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.