Beyond “when” and “what”

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XVIII-B in Ordinary Time, 01 August 2021
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15 ><}}}}'> Ephesians 4:17, 20-24 ><}}}}'> John 6:24-35
Photo by author, Church of Dominus Flevit overlooking Jerusalem, 2017.

Last Sunday we reflected the “where” of Jesus in asking Philip, “Where can we buy enough food” for the crowd who have followed them to a deserted place. We said that “where” of Jesus referred not to any place or location but to himself as the only one who can give “enough food” for everyone.

Today I invite you, my dear readers to join me reflecting on the “when” and “what” of the people who have followed Jesus to the other side of the lake, looking for him to have more food after that miraculous feeding last week. This time, the people are the ones asking Jesus with when and what that reveal their pride before God.

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 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.”

John 6:24-35
Photo by author, Capernaum’s shore at Lake Tiberias, 2017.

From a deserted place to Capernaum

To fully appreciate today’s gospel account by John, let us get its whole picture with a little help from Mark who started the story of Jesus and the Twelve crossing the lake to a deserted place to rest the other week. With his usual dash of humor, Mark told us how the people arrived to the place ahead of Jesus who was moved with pity at seeing the crowd “for they were like sheep without a shepherd that he taught them with many things.”

John continued the story last Sunday telling us how Jesus fed the people to their satisfaction with so many leftovers out of just five loaves of bread and two fish. The people were astonished that they tried to get Jesus to make him a king but he “withdrew again to the mountain alone.”

This Sunday, John continued his story telling us how the crowd finally found Jesus at Capernaum with his disciples.

How did he get there?

Photo by author, Lake of Tiberias (aka, Galilee), 2020.

According to Mark 6:45ff., after feeding the people, Jesus told the Twelve to proceed ahead of him to the other side of the lake that evening while he dismissed the crowd. Later that evening while Jesus was praying on the mountain, he saw his disciples’ boat being tossed by big waves due to strong winds. He followed them at the “fourth watch of the night” (about 3AM) by walking on water that terrified the Twelve who thought they have seen a ghost.

Upon identifying himself as the Lord, Peter asked to let him come to him by walking on water too; Peter sank when he doubted due to the strong winds until Jesus saved him and joined them on the boat going to Capernaum.

Mark’s story of Jesus walking on water after the miraculous feeding provides us the context for the people’s question to him today in John’s continuation of the story last week, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” (Jn.6:25): it was very difficult, almost impossible for anyone to have crossed the lake at night due to giant waves caused by strong winds. (Any pilgrim to the Holy Land can attest to this fact even today.)

And that was the main issue here: the people refused to see the deeper meanings behind the two events when Jesus fed them and the almost impossible crossing of the lake that night.

That is why Jesus did not answer their question by bluntly addressing their suspicious motive, “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.”

Ironically, while their asking of “when did you get here” implicitly acknowledged the Lord’s miraculous crossing of the lake, they still refused to accept it by downplaying everything like addressing Jesus as “Rabbi” when in fact, they were not interested with him but merely with the food he had given them!


Their question of "when" 
was not really about his time of arrival there 
but more of an inquiry on the person of Jesus....

Their question of when was not really about his time of arrival there but more of an inquiry on the person of Jesus as they wondered how could he made it across the lake that night. They have failed to recognize the deeper meaning of the sign Jesus did in feeding them with enough food which Jesus explained anew.

And the stage is now set for Jesus to reveal himself, of who he really is which his disciples were also asking and contending among themselves all these weeks and months of being with the Lord.

Photo by author(2017), ruins at Capernaum with a church built over the house where Jesus was believed to have stayed.

The need for us to be open to Jesus, our bread of life

Many times in life, our words and attitudes betray us of our inner motives, of our selfish interests to get near some people, to meet and know them not for who they are but for what we can have from them – even with God!

Remember Andrew last Sunday who did not bother to ask the boy’s name who gave the five loaves of bread and two fish from which Jesus performed his miracle? “There is a boy here with five barley loaves and two fish” – no name, just a “there” because the did not matter at all to Andrew except his food.

But there is something deeper being revealed in this attitude of forgetting the other person and being focused on material things: that is our pride, of believing only in ourselves, of playing God!

So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

John 6:28-31

See how the crowd ignored Christ’s promise of giving food that endures for eternal life by following up their question with What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” – another veiled question like their when, insisting on their own achievements and abilities, on what they can.

Worst is how in a twist highlighting pride in themselves as they dared to question Jesus again with What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?“!!! Helloooooo….!

Photo by author at the ruins of the synagogue of Capernaum where Jesus preached his bread of life discourse, 2017.

They have gone so blinded with their pride that suddenly the miraculous feeding they have personally witnessed plus the unimaginable crossing of the lake at night remained lacking, not enough for them to believe in the powers of Jesus that they still asked for another sign.

Their “what” had become a demand from them, an insistence on Jesus the Son of God to give them signs from heaven even if they ironically preferred without them knowing how they were stuck at the lowest level of looking at things.

They have closed their eyes to seeing beyond the ordinary things happening to them since Jesus came teaching and healing. And now after feeding them, they demanded Jesus to follow them instead of them following the Lord.

Is it not the same thing happens with us when we keep on demanding God for proofs of his love and mercy, demanding so many other things from him above while we refuse to rise above ourselves, to “level up” in our lives?

This is the call by St. Paul in the second reading, that we must “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” (Eph. 4:23-24).


Once again, we are placed on highest level of quarantine due to a surge in COVID-19 cases with threats from the new Delta variant. Unless we learn to see this pandemic on a higher plane or level that calls for spiritual renewal among us, it will persist to disrupt and destroy lives among us.

It is more than a virus infecting us but an attitude deep within us when we have lost respect for one another and with nature. Pope Francis had long ago sounded this alarm in 2015 with his encyclical Laudato Si calling for each of us to change our lifestyle, each of us contributing for the betterment of the world because it is easiest to join advocacies but difficult to change our ways of life by having less.

With all these pandemic and climate changes going on around us, the signs are getting clearer for us to shift our perspectives, to see things on a higher plane like what Jesus had began at Capernaum declaring himself, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger; and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn.6:35).

Our misunderstandings with others and in life will persist unless we remove the veils and masks that cover so many insincerities of our questions in search of the many answers to the problems we face.

Like the people who have followed Jesus to Capernaum that day who were stuck in the desert experiences of Moses (first reading) that they could not see Jesus himself as the new bread from heaven; in fact, Jesus had to correct them that it was not Moses who gave the manna but God the Father in heaven who now gives Jesus to nourish us in our journey to eternal life.

Let us empty our selves of our pride to let Jesus fill us today with his words and his Body and Blood so we may realize next week the meaning and sweetness of himself as the Bread of life. A blessed week to you. Stay safe and keep praying. Amen.

Photo by author, April 2020.

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