Existence. From “ex estare”, “to stand out.”
The word “existence” is a very obvious concept in our lives but also the most overlooked if not seen or understood at all. A very peculiar greeting among us Filipinos when we meet someone is “Hi! Nandito ka pala?” When translated into English, the more it is illogical and dumb as “Hi! You are here?” or worst, “Hi! Are you here?” Now, what kind of a question is it especially if the person you meet is like me standing at 5”5’, weighing 265 pounds? Do you ask “are you here?” when the presence is very obvious? It is a case of what teenagers call “MEMA” for “may masabi” or “just to have something to say”, indicating a very shallow perception and a lack of depth in friendship or acquaintanceship. The normal and most sane things to say when you meet anyone anywhere after the usual greeting of “Hi” and “Hello” are “how are you”, “what’s up”, and “what are you buying or looking for?” It was exactly the situation with the people who asked Jesus a silly question upon finding him on the other side of the lake in our gospel today.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “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. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”(Jn.6:25-27)
At least the people did not ask Jesus “Rabbi, are you here?” But still, their query of “Rabbi, when did you get here?” showed their lack of deep appreciation for the person of Jesus. They were really looking for bread and for things. Not for Jesus and His person which is exactly what our relationship with God and with others too! We always look for something else except for the very persons we relate with like family and friends and God. This is what I refer to as “objectifying” the subject or taking persons as things. Sometimes, we feel we truly love God and those around us but when we examine our priorities in life, we do not really love that much because we fail and even refuse to care, recognize and look for the person. What we easily and often look for is the object, the things we can have to fill us, even bloat us.
It is very amazing that John recorded this seemingly trivial anecdote but loaded with meanings. After all, he is often referred to as the “beloved disciple” that, for his love for Jesus he must have seen something very special in this episode. It was not merely a simple question on the part of the people but the sad reality of their lack of love for God and others, something we too must admit as very true with us today. Like in the first reading, the people were so tired and seem to have lost all zeal in following God in the wilderness that they have become very shallow in their perception of everything and of themselves. They were disillusioned and tired with the wandering in the desert, the circuitous route they were taking that suddenly, they have forgotten their deepest desires and aspirations when still in Egypt as slaves. They have forgotten God. Like us in this life of so many concerns when we forget the most essential ones like persons and the values they represent – love, kindness, and loyalty.
See how Jesus did not answer the people’s question and instead declared to them in very clear manner something that echoes even within us today: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal… This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent – the Christ.” Have we become like those people who approached Jesus at the other side of the lake with the silly question to mask their desire for things, for material bread than for the person of Jesus Christ? Have we forgotten all the lofty ideals of life and being a person created in God’s image and likeness? Is this the reason why these days we could easily dispense prayer and celebration of the Mass because we have been so focused with material things than with deeper realities? How ironic that when life has become more convenient and easier today, the more we experience of being lost and anxious, sad and unfulfilled. What a tragedy that amidst the material affluence of life these days, lives and people have become more empty and unfulfilled.
Last Sunday we reflected on the need to see things with the eyes of Christ to fully understand and appreciate the feeding of more than five thousand people by Jesus from five loaves of bread and two fish. Today, Jesus is telling us to search for Him, for His very person and not for the bread and other material things it represents. Jesus Himself is the bread of life, the bread from heaven – the Christ or the Anointed One of God. When we believe in Him, then we see Him too in the many signs He comes in our lives daily. Then we eventually realize we are also like Him – bread offered, blessed, broken and shared with others to sustain earthly life into eternity. That is when we find meaning in our lives! This is the direction of life we must all take as we reflected three weeks ago. It is a direction demanding a continuous laboring in love, of always finding and giving meaning in our lives in God. And that is the wondrous reality in every Eucharistic celebration we have when we are constantly renewed in Christ as St. Paul told the Ephesians in our second reading today. The great St. John Paul II described the Eucharist as a “cosmic reality” or the brief experience of eternity while still here on earth!
When Jesus declared Himself as the bread of life, He made Himself existent among us, very present in us and among us. In the Eucharist, Jesus exists, standing out to us, reaching out to us to fulfill our very person so we could also stand out and reach out unto others in loving service and presence. For a meaningful existence, may we desire more of the person of Jesus, the only essential in life readily available to us in the Holy Eucharist. A blessed week to you! Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan 3022