The following is my homily for this weekend, the 18th Sunday of Ordinary time, Year B.
I’m not sure about you, but I love movies with twist endings; you know, those types of movies that pull the rug out from under you at the last second and completely surprise you. Movies like The 6th sense, The Others, Fight Club, Shutter Island, Memento, Scream, even the new Pixar movie Coco has an element of this. Movies where the main character was bad all along, the trusted character turns out to be the murderer or was dead the whole time or maybe just a hallucination of another character. You’re just left at the end of the movie going… wow! How did I miss that!?
And I think that’s the best part of it, right? Because when you go back and watch it again, you just think, “Oh my gosh. It was so obvious! It was right there the whole time, staring me right in the face!” In one of my favorite movies, they give away the twist of the movie in the very first line. The writers and director want us to figure it out, but we miss it. Hidden in plain sight, we don’t see it.
And while that might seem like a strange introduction to a homily, it’s that sort of feeling I get when I hear our readings proclaimed today. A sense that the very thing we’re looking for has been hidden in plain sight the whole time, yet the people don’t seem to see it.
In our first reading, the Israelites are wandering in the desert, complaining about their situation, and demand a miracle. They’re going to starve to death, they say. They would rather have stayed slaves than be out in the desert, that’s how hungry they are. Hearing their plea, God sends down manna from heaven, provides them with quail to eat. God provides them with an amazing miracle, showers them with grace and new life. And how do they respond? They look at one another and ask, “What is this?” God was in their midst and they didn’t even see it.
Eventually they catch on and realize what God is doing, and by the time of Jesus this is what they expect. They want God to send down manna from heaven, they want a sign from God that God is still with them, providing for them in their great hunger. And so they demand this from Jesus: “What sign can you perform so that we may believe in you?” they ask. They have seen no manna, no quails, and so they believe, once again, that God is not with them, that they are starving in the desert.
And you can almost picture Jesus’ puzzled face, can’t you. His confusion at their demand for a sign. “So… let me get this straight. You don’t believe in me, but you would if God sent down nourishment from heaven, bread, flesh maybe, something that would feed you and keep you alive, an extraordinary miracle that shows God’s glory… Have you not be following me for months now? Have you not seen me heal people? Have you not heard me say that I have come from the Father, that the Father and I are one? Okay, let me make this clear to you: I am the bread of life. I am manna come down from heaven. My flesh is the flesh that will nourish you. Got it…?”
Now, I’m sure Jesus was probably tiny bit less snarky than I’m portraying him, but you can definitely imagine him being a bit annoyed or at the very least confused, right? There he was, revealing the Father’s glory, performing miracles in plain sight, placing salvation right in front of their noses, and they couldn’t see it. How could they not see what was right before them?
And it makes me wonder. Looking back 3500 years to the desert, 2000 years to Capernaum, it’s very easy for us to pick on the people of the Bible, to look down on them for not seeing the twist ending of the movie that seems so obvious to us. But are we any different today? For so many years I read the Bible and was amazed by the miracles in them. In awe of how God used to interact with God’s people. I wondered why my life was so ordinary, why God didn’t call me or others like he used to. I looked for signs, demanded miracles so that I would believe. “Send me manna from heaven so that I might believe,” I’d say. “Do something extraordinary so that I won’t have any more doubts.” And I imagine that Jesus was just left shaking his head. Smiling and loving, but shaking his head.
“Don’t you hear my word spoken to you every week, calling you to follow? Don’t you see the sacrifice I offer you on this altar, my very flesh and blood to give you nourishment and strength? Don’t you see my love and grace poured out for you, the mercy and forgiveness offered each and every day?” But I didn’t. Hidden in plain sight, God was all around me but I didn’t see.
And maybe this is the case for you. Maybe you find yourself asking the same questions and wonder what to do. If that’s the case, I think the answer is really simple: we have to look harder… or maybe start looking at all. Seriously. Just. Start. Looking. It’s like when people tell me that they’re struggling with their faith. I ask them what they’re doing, what are they struggling with that they can’t get, and they say, “Well, I don’t know, nothing really.” No, you’re not struggling! You’re just not trying. You’re hoping that everything will just be easy and right without doing any work! Sometimes we tell ourselves that God is hidden, that we can’t find God, that God doesn’t perform miracles like God used to… when what we really mean is that we really haven’t looked that hard.
That was the case for me until a few years ago. The friars in my house decided to meet each week for faith sharing. Once a week we would sit down, read a passage from scripture, and answer a simple question: how did we see God working in our lives this week. At first it was difficult. At first I didn’t know what to say. But as I heard others share their stories, as I thought about it all week, really focused so that I would have something to say—in fact, actually looked—what I realized was that God was there all along, right in front of my face, hidden in plain sight, waiting to be seen.
And then it was like he was everywhere. After I saw God once, it was like watching a movie already knowing the ending. The evidence was there, so obvious, jumping right out at me, leaving me to wonder how I missed it for all these years.
God wants you to know him. God wants you to find him. Sometimes, as simple as it sounds, all we need to do is look. For one day, maybe all this week, look for God in everything you do—in your work, in your family life, in what you do for fun—make an active effort to see God right before you, reaching out to you… and you might just find that he was there all along, hidden in plain sight.