Homily for the 18th Sunday in the Ordinary Time – Year B
Homily Theme: WHAT GRUMBLING DOES TO THE BRAIN
1. Neurons. “When we quit appreciating, we stop thanking. When we stop thanking, we start complaining.” (Kent Crockett, I Once Was Blind But Now I Squint, p.161). Brothers and sisters, we know this from our own experience and from millennia of human experience, including today’s 1st reading (Ex 16:2-4, 12-16), that if we keep complaining, it becomes easier to continue complaining. Why? How? Neuroscience has confirmed that if we keep grumbling, our brain gets rewired for negativity. Several discoveries explaining how this rewiring happens have been tagged: “Neurons that Fire Together Wire together”. These discoveries have been rewarded with Nobel Prizes, such as the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine/Physiology. Essentially, our behaviors influence neurons in our brain by a mechanism called neuronal plasticity. In simple terms, when brain cells communicate frequently, the connection between them strengthens. Messages that travel the same pathway in the brain over and over again, begin to transmit faster and faster. With enough repetition, they become automatic. Grumbling reinforces the neural pathways for complaining and our brains form almost permanent bridges for this bad habit, which becomes a huge problem for us and for those around us.
2. Grumbling. Today’s 1st reading reports that the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Unfortunately, the habit of complaining seems to have been formed in many of them. Less than 48 hours after God took them out of Egypt, they grumbled before reaching the Red Sea (Ex 14:11ff); 3 days after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, they grumbled over lack of water (Ex 15:22ff); then over food as we heard today (Ex 16:2ff). After God gave them manna, they grumbled that they wanted meat; they got both manna and meat as we heard. But the grumbling continued. Worst of all, when they got close to the Promised Land, they chose to believe exaggerated negative reports about the inhabitants of the land. Their reaction is one of the saddest sentences in Scripture: ‘So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”’ (Num 14:4). That grumbling and hesitance would cost them 40 extra years of wandering in the desert. That’s you and me trying to go back to our sinful habits. That’s you and me forgetting God in our lives. That’s what chronic grumbling does, not only to our brains, but to our destinies. What next? Instead of chronic complaining, instead of venting, both of which solve no problem, there is instrumental complaining, which solves problems. When you politely confront your spouse about overspending on the credit card, that could be instrumental complaining.
3. Gratitude. In today’s Gospel reading (Jn 6:24-35), we see our Lord using instrumental complaining to offer lasting solutions to human wants. The people He fed miraculously, from the multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fish, went after Him for more free food. Our Lord pointed out that they should work for food that leads to eternal life. A dialogue ensued that recalled today’s 1st reading, ending with our Lord’s salvific teaching: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Brothers and sisters, believing in Christ, believing in Divine Providence, changes our grumbling into gratitude. An attitude of gratitude changes our perspective. As Alphonse Karr puts it: “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses”. A grateful attitude enhances problem-solving. For, when we are in difficulty, we will politely ask for help from God, recalling God’s previous goodness to us, something we call prayer, not grumbling. We will even seek help from one another also politely, and our brains will become re-wired for positive action, re-wired for gratitude, which leads to happiness. Let’s turn our grumbling into gratitude, prayer and positive action to make the world a better place for everyone’s happiness.
– Fr Andrew Ekpenyong at St Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, Omaha, USA. 18th Sunday, Yr B, 1st August 2021