Chúa Nhật XVIII Thường Niên- Người Tín Hữu

BONDAGE OF CAPTIVE HABIT

Rev. John Kha Tran

Years ago, Denver Zoo officials had a difficult decision to make.  They were offered the gift of a beautiful, large polar bear, but there was no existing room for the bear.  At the time of the gift the board of directors was in the middle of a fund-raising campaign to renovate the zoo.  They changed the strategy to include a magnificent habitat for a polar bear.  During construction, the bear was put in a small temporary cage.  The space was so small that the bear could only take three steps, turnaround, walk three steps, turnaround, and so on and so on.  With unforeseen delays, the construction took three years.  But finally the polar bear's new home was finished: waterfalls, caves, and lots of space.  The bear entered its new home, looked around, took three steps, turned around, took three steps back, and turned around.  And so on, and so on!

The word of God is calling us to free ourselves from the bondage of our habitual worldly desires and look for the fullness of life in Jesus Christ.

Chick-fil-A

It is a hot debate topic now on Chick-fil-A taking stand on same-sex marriage. Chick-fil-A, the fast food chain known for putting faith ahead of profits by closing on Sundays, is standing firm in its opposition to gay marriage. Dan Cathy, the owner and president of Chick-fil-A told the Baptist Press that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” (Associated Press, Friday July 27, 2012). Gay rights groups have called for a boycott, the Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet toys from kids’ meals, and politicians in Boston and Chicago told the chain it is not welcome there. A Chicago alderman vowed to block a Chick-fil-A proposed in his district, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported him, saying, "Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values."

Christian conservatives have thrown their support behind the Atlanta-based company, promising to buy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries next week on “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago says the city's mayor showed contempt for many residents' beliefs by stating that Chick-fil-A's stance on marriage was against “Chicago’s values.” The city government cannot decide for everyone what are the 'values' that must be held by citizens of Chicago. “I was born and raised here, and my understanding of being a Chicagoan never included submitting my value system to the government for approval,” Cardinal George wrote. The cardinal stressed that authentic marriage exists prior to any decree of the state or Church, due to the complementarity of the two sexes and their procreative potential. The natural definition of marriage is not “bigotry,” nor is it unique to a particular religion, he said. “People who are not Christian or religious at all take for granted that marriage is the union of a man and a woman for the sake of family and, of its nature, for life. The laws of civilizations much older than ours assume this understanding of marriage. . . Jesus Christ's teaching on marriage affirms marriage as the unbreakable union of a man and woman as “one flesh.” The Cardinal asked, “Was Jesus a bigot?” “Could Jesus be accepted as a Chicagoan?  Whether Jesus' own “values” were still welcome in Chicago by Mayor Emanuel's standards?”( http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/cardinal-george-says-mayor-overstepped-with-chick-fil-a-remarks/).

Christians and Christian values are being challenged in our secular society today. Many people wonder are we still a nation under God? Many of our people are questioning not just the authority of God but also the existence of God. Like the people of Israel in the desert, we question the authority and the existence of God because we are so much into the desires of the flesh.

Complaint

When the Israelites grumble against Moses and Aaron; they are not only grumbling against these two leaders, but also against God and God’s leadership. God's authority is being challenged. It is understandable that they complain because they are in a vulnerable situation in the wilderness. So it is not their complaint but their desire is disturbing. They value the fleshpots and bread in their former way of life more than their new relationship with God. "Would that we had died at the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!"They are suggesting that it would have been better had God not intervened on their behalf. Such a desire is a total rejection of God. They reject God’s role in their life. They don’t want to walk with God any longer.

It is amazing at God's reaction. God hears their rebellious and ungrateful grumbling. And God responds with provision. They want meat and bread of Egypt, God sends them meat and bread from heaven. God wants them to know that He is their God. He wants them to know that it is not wise to give up on God. Their grumbling implies that they are willing to relinquish their privileged status. God’s action shows that He is not willing to let them do so.

Desire for Things with Eternal Values

People come back surrounding Jesus with eager eyes and ready stomachs. Jesus looks around and says, “I know why you come to me again, not because of who I am, but because of the bread I gave you. You want more bread. You want more fish. You want more food”. They are shock to hear Him saying that. Jesus looks into their eyes and says, “I am not going to give you that bread anymore. I am the bread of life; take me as your bread. Take me as the fountain in your life. Take me as the principle for your daily life.” They must have been unable to understand what Jesus means. They are more self-seeking rather than God-seeking. Their desire for temporal and material things is so strong and overwhelming that they have no room for the desire of things that are spiritual and eternal.

Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them to turn their desire from material to spiritual, from temporal to eternal. He frankly tells them, “Do not work for food that perished but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Jesus wants them to realize that it is important for them to know who he is. He is not only the source for survival but also the source of life. He is the true bread from heaven. He offers fullness of life.

The works we do reflect our desire. We have physical desires and spiritual desires. So it is important for us to check the works we are doing. It is important that we balance our works to satisfy both physical and spiritual desires. Of course we can work to satisfy our physical hunger and thirst, but we also have the spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst. We can to work to satisfy them too. When our spiritual desires are strong we will work for things that have values toward eternal life.  Many people are guilty of spending more time working for food that will perish and not enough time working for food that endure for eternal life.

If we fill our life with all that the world provides as nourishment we will still hunger. Neither the barley loaves nor the food that God supplied in the wilderness will have lasting satisfaction. We will feast on it, and we will be hungry again. It is only faith in Jesus, the bread of life that will satisfy our deepest hunger. We will not be able to survive apart from him. We won’t have fullness of life without be united with Jesus.

God uses natural means in the Exodus story to feed the people. But the people are forbidden to collect more than they need for that day. The point of this story is not divine prodigality but total dependence on God. The bread comes from heaven means it comes from God. Everything we have is given from God. The restriction about collecting it was meant to emphasize this point.
Our survival is in God’s hands, not ours.

New Way of Life

There are only two ways of living:

  • The way of the wise or righteous
  • And the way of the foolish or wicked.

Paul is comparing these two ways of living and insisting that since they have learned of Christ, Christians are bound to live a new life in Christ. The new life of the Christians demands a radical change. That radical change means to put away their old identity and put on new identity. Put away their old personality and put on Christ’s personality. They can no longer live the way non-believers do. This is not merely external change. Paul uses clothing as a metaphor for identity. Conversion to Christ requires a stripping of the old identity and clothing in the new.

The people of Israel were called to let go of their old way of life in Egypt and to put their total trust in God. Jesus' followers will accept Jesus as the source of their lives and their nourishment. The same is demanded of us. We are no longer content to live with full bellies but empty minds and selfish hearts. We are to put aside our old selves steeped in ignorance and self-interest, and put on a new self-created in God's image. Being fed on the bread from heaven, we are being transformed into it. We have learned Christ; we are nourished by his teaching. As a result, we put on the identity and personality of Christ. Our way of living gives witness to our new understanding. So how much of your personality could be identified with Christ’s personality? What can you do to become more Christ like?