THANKSGIVING - US

Fr. Rodney Kissinger, S.J.

“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Luke 17: 17-18) Ingratitude has been called “the most unkindest cut of all.” Yes, it is so easy to fall in love with the gift and forget all about the Giver; to admire a painting and never think of the painter; to enjoy music and never know the heart from which it came; to accept and love ourselves and not to care for the One from whom we came.

We like to think of ourselves as doers and achievers but the basic fact of life is that we are primarily receivers and transmitters not achievers. We all started out as zero, zip, nada. We did not ask to be. We did nothing to get here. My very existence is a gift of God. What am I anyway but a conglomeration of the gifts of God? What do I have that I have not received? Our most basic relationship with God therefore should be one of gratitude.  

On another level I really did not start out as zero, zip, nada. In fact, I did not start out at all. I existed for all eternity. I existed in the mind of God as one of an infinite number of possible beings, beings that possibly could be. Out of this infinite number of possible beings God freely chose to create me.  

My parents did not want me. They may have wanted a child but they did not know who I would be. But God knew exactly who I would be, and he wanted me. “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you.” So from all eternity my most basic relationship with God is one of gratitude. “Lord, give me a grateful heart.” 

To remember and give thanks. God gave us a memory so that we can remember and give thanks. The memory enables us to bring forth from the storeroom of the past the wonderful moments of success, love and happiness, so that we can re-live, re-enjoy them and be grateful. “Lord, give me a grateful heart.” 

To remember and give thanks. That is what the Bible is all about. The Bible is the written history of many of the wonderful gifts God has given us from the very creation of the world and the promise of even greater gifts in the future. In the beginning the memory of these gifts was handed on orally to each succeeding generation and then under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit written down so that all could remember and give thanks. “Lord, give me a grateful heart.”
 
To remember and give thanks. That is what the Mass is all about. The Mass is the perfect act of thanksgiving that Jesus commanded us to, “Do this in memory of me.” It is the perfect sacrifice Malachi foretold which would be offered up from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof. “Lord, give me a grateful heart.”

To remember and give thanks. That is why we have a National Thanksgiving Day. We live in a country of plenty in a world of want, a land of religious and political freedom in a world of ethnic cleansing and zero tolerance, a land at peace  in a world at war. Yet we have to set aside one day a year to remind us to give thanks to God. “Lord, give me a grateful heart.”

To remember and give thanks. And in so doing we grow in the love of God. It is in gratitude for the gifts that we grow in the love of the Giver. As we say in the preface at Mass, “Our act of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness but makes us grow in grace through Jesus Christ, or Lord.”  

Gifts are the language of love, the more one loves the more one gives. Never has this language of gift-giving been spoken to me as God has spoken it to me. If God would not give me one gift more I should be grateful. But the best gift is yet to come. God will continue to look over me with His Divine Providence and then at the end of my life he will give me the greatest gift of all the gift of the Giver to be known, loved and possessed forever. 

“Lord, give me a grateful heart,” so that I may always remember and give thanks, and in so doing I may grow in the love of You. 

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Fr. Roman Vanasse, O. Praem.  

On Sunday morning, most of us go to something called "Mass" - but the real word for it is "Eucharist". That word means "thanks" in Greek and is still used today in modern Greece. I still remember the first time I went to Greece and stopped at a "taverna" or sidewalk café in Athens for some coffee. It was a warm, sunny day and I enjoyed watching the people walk by. When I was ready to leave, I asked the waiter for my check. When he brought it, I paid for my coffee and then added a small tip. He said "efkaristo". I immediately recognized the word as a variation of "Eucharist".

"Thank you" - these words express one of the most important sentiments that we owe to one another. Gratitude is a virtue that is practiced too rarely. We tend to take so many things for granted: our parents,  the country in which we live, the planet earth, the stars in the sky, the flowers in the field, sunset and sunrise. If we truly realized how blessed we are, our hearts would be filled with such gratitude that we would be saying "thank you" every time we breathe. All it takes is a little foreign travel to realize how much we have been blessed, and these blessings have come to us freely. So, it is fitting that we take some special time occasionally to focus on some of the things for which we should be especially thankful. 

In many of his letters, St. Paul thanks God for the graces we have all received. Another word for "graces" is the expression of love which God has bestowed on us, without our merit or any real effort on our part.  

The first among these is the gift of our faith. We believe in Jesus. We believe in life everlasting. Because of our faith, we see the whole world and everything in it from a different perspective than those who do not believe. They see nothing but what they can touch, taste, see and feel. For them, the world is limited to material things. But through the eyes of faith, we see beyond the world of our senses to the wonderful world of the spirit and the great grace of our redemption in Jesus Christ. The real beauty of the world lies beyond what we can see with our senses.

Thanksgiving is a special day when we say thanks for all the good things which have come to us throughout our lives. Let us be thankful for being born in a time and place where so much is given to us, but most of all let us give thanks for the great love which is ours in Jesus Christ. The best way to give thanks is by sharing that love with one another. 

The next time we join with Jesus in that great sacrifice, as we receive communion and share in His Eucharist, let us say "thank you" to God for all the many blessings which are ours, even without asking. Amen.

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Back during the dark days of 1929, a group of ministers in the Northeast, all graduates of the Boston School of Theology, gathered to discuss how they should conduct their Thanksgiving Sunday services. Things were about as bad as they could get, with no sign of relief. The bread lines were depressingly long, the stock market had plummeted, and the term Great Depression seemed an apt description for the mood of the country. The ministers thought they should only lightly touch upon the subject Thanksgiving in deference to the human misery all about them. After all, there was to be thankful for. But it was Dr. William L. Stiger, pastor of a large congregation in the city that rallied the group. This was not the time, he suggested, to give mere passing mention to Thanksgiving, just the opposite.  

This was the time for the nation to get matters in perspective and thank God for blessings always present, but perhaps suppressed due to intense hardship.

I suggest to you the ministers struck upon something. The most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound. Think of the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving. Half their number dead, men without a country, but still there was thanksgiving to God. Their gratitude was not for something but in something. It was that same sense of gratitude that lead Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of national civil war, when the butcher's list of casualties seemed to have no end and the very nation struggled for survival.

Perhaps in your own life, right now, intense hardship. You are experiencing your own personal Great Depression. Why should you be thankful this day? May I suggest three things? 

1. We must learn to be thankful or we become bitter.
2. We must learn to be thankful or we will become discouraged.
3. We must learn to be thankful or we will grow arrogant and self-satisfied.

Thankfulness seems to be a lost art today. Warren Wiersby illustrated this problem in his commentary on Colossians. He told about a ministerial student in Evanston, Illinois, who was part of a life-saving squad. In 1860, a ship went aground on the shore of Lake Michigan near Evanston, and Edward Spencer waded again and again into the frigid waters to rescue 17 passengers. In the process, his health was permanently damaged. Some years later at his funeral, it was noted that not one of the people he rescued ever thanked him.

Our Daily Bread, February 20, 1994.
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An estimated 1.5 million people are living today after bouts with breast cancer. Every time I forget to feel grateful to be among them, I hear the voice of an eight-year-old named Christina, who had cancer of the nervous system. When asked what she wanted for her birthday, she thought long and hard and finally said, "I don't know. I have two sticker books and a Cabbage Patch doll. I have everything!" The kid is right. 

Erma Bombeck, Redbook, October,1992.
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Why did only one cleansed leper return to thank Jesus?  The following are nine suggested reasons why the nine did not return:  

One waited to see if the cure was real.
One waited to see if it would last.
One said he would see Jesus later.
One decided that he had never had leprosy.
One said he would have gotten well anyway.
One gave the glory to the priests.
One said, "O, well, Jesus didn't really do anything."
One said, "Any rabbi could have done it."
One said, "I was already much improved."
Charles L. Brown, Content The Newsletter, June, 1990, p. 3.

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Forgive Me When I Whine 

Today upon a bus, I saw a lovely maid with golden hair; I envied her -- she seemed so gay, and how, I wished I were so fair; When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle; she had one foot and wore a crutch, but as she passed, a smile. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two feet -- the world is mine.

And when I stopped to buy some sweets, the lad who served me had such charm; he seemed to radiate good cheer, his manner was so kind and warm; I said, "It's nice to deal with you, such courtesy I seldom find"; he turned and said, "Oh, thank you sir." And then I saw that he was blind. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine, I have two eyes, the world is mine. 

Then, when walking down the street, I saw a child with eyes of blue; he stood and watched the others play, it seemed he knew not what to do; I stopped a moment, then I said, "Why don't you join the others, dear?" He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew he could not hear. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two ears, the world is mine.  

With feet to take me where I'd go; with eyes to see the sunsets glow, with ears to hear what I would know. I am blessed indeed. The world is mine; oh, God, forgive me when I whine.

Source Unknown.
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In his autobiography, Breaking Barriers, syndicated columnist Carl Rowan tells about a teacher who greatly influenced his life. Rowan relates: Miss Thompson reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a piece of paper containing a quote attributed to Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. I listened intently as she read: "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us."

More than 30 years later, I gave a speech in which I said that Frances Thompson had given me a desperately needed belief in myself. A newspaper printed the story, and someone mailed the clipping to my beloved teacher. She wrote me: "You have no idea what that newspaper story meant to me. For years, I endured my brother's arguments that I had wasted my life. That I should have married and had a family. When I read that you gave me credit for helping to launch a marvelous career, I put the clipping in front of my brother. After he'd read it, I said, 'You see, I didn't really waste my life, did I?'"  

Carl Rowan, Breaking Barriers.
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In his book FOLK PSALMS OF FAITH, Ray Stedman tells of an experience H.A. Ironside had in a crowded restaurant. Just as Ironside was about to begin his meal, a man approached and asked if he could join him. Ironside invited his to have a seat. Then, as was his custom, Ironside bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes, the other man asked, "Do you have a headache?" Ironside replied, "No, I don't." The other man asked, "Well, is there something wrong with your food?" Ironside replied, "No, I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat."   

The man said, "Oh, you're one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don't have to give thanks to anybody when I eat. I just start right in!"  

 Ironside said, "Yes, you're just like my dog. That's what he does too!"

Ray Stedman, Folk Psalms of Faith.
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It is gratitude that prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket. Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.  

Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean...For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark...ten feet long.   

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred. In Captain Eddie's own words, "Cherry," that was the B- 17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, "read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off."  

Now this is still Captian Rickenbacker talking..."Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don't know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food...if I could catch it."  

And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it.

And now you also know...that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset...on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast...you could see an old man walking...white-haired, bushy-eyebrowed, slightly bent. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls...to remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle...like manna in the wilderness.   

Paul Aurandt, "The Old Man and the Gulls", Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, 1977, quoted in Heaven Bound Living, Knofel Stanton, Standard, 1989, p. 79-80.

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The first American Thanksgiving didn't occur in 1621 when a group of Pilgrims shared a feast with a group of friendly Indians. The first recorded thanksgiving took place in Virginia more than 11 years earlier, and it wasn't a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown had reduced a group of 409 settlers to 60. The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was held to give thanks to God.   

Today in the Word, July, 1990, p. 22.
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A 12 year old boy named David was born without an immune system. He underwent a bone marrow transplant in order to correct the deficiency. Up to that point he had spent his entire life in a plastic bubble in order to prevent exposure to common germs, bacteria, and viruses that could kill him. He lived without ever knowing human contact. When asked what he'd like to do if and when released from his protective bubble, he replied, "I want to walk barefoot on grass, and touch my mother's hand."

Source Unknown.
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To All Ye Pilgrims: Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.   

William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------In a sermon at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, Gary Wilburn said: "In 1636, amid the darkness of the Thirty Years' War, a German pastor, Martin Rinkart, is said to have buried five thousand of his parishioners in one year, and average of fifteen a day. His parish was ravaged by war, death, and economic disaster. In the heart of that darkness, with the cries of fear outside his window, he sat down and wrote this table grace for his children: 'Now thank we all our God / With heart and hands and voices;/ Who wondrous things had done,/ In whom His world rejoices. /Who, from our mother's arms,/Hath led us on our way/ With countless gifts of love/ And still is ours today.'"Here was a man who knew thanksgiving comes from love of God, not from outward circumstances.   

Don Maddox.
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First National Thanksgiving Proclamation  

Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; Whereas, both the houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness!"

Now therefore, I do recommend next, to be devoted by the people of the states to the service of that great and glorious being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be, that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country. 

George Washington, 1779.
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Two 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamations which are said to be by Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln's
 Thanksgiving Proclamation
 of 1863 

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.  

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.

Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.  

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. 

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.  

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union. 

A. Lincoln, October 3, 1863.  

Abraham Lincoln's
Thanksgiving Proclamation  of 1863 

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord. 

We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? 

We have been the recipients of the choisest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. 

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father Who dwelleth in the heavens.  

A. Lincoln, October 3, 1863.
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Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, "Certainly the preacher won't think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this." Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, "We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this."  

Daily Bread, August 26, 1989.
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In Budapest, a man goes to the rabbi and complains, "Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?"   

The rabbi answers, "Take your goat into the room with you."  The man in incredulous, but the rabbi insists. "Do as I say and come back in a week."   

A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before.  "We cannot stand it," he tells the rabbi. "The goat is filthy." 

The rabbi then tells him, "Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week." 

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, "Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there's no goat -- only the nine of us." 

George Mikes, How to be Decadent, Andre Deutsch, London.

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Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence.  The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn't make it.   

Terrified, the one shouted to the other, "Put up a prayer, John. We're in for it!" 
 John answered, "I can't. I've never made a public prayer in my life."
"But you must!" implored his companion. "The bull is catching up to us."
 "All right," panted John, "I'll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: 'O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.'"

Source Unknown 
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One of my favorite Peanuts comic strips is the one that came out some years ago just a few days before Thanksgiving. Lucy's feeling sorry for herself and she laments, "My life is a drag. I'm completely fed up. I've never felt so low in my life."  

Her little brother Linus tries to console her and he says, "Lucy, when you're in a mood like this, you should try to think of things you have to be thankful for; in other words, count your blessings." 

To that, Lucy says, "Ha! That's a good one! I could count my blessings on one finger! I've never had anything and I never will have anything. I don't get half the breaks that other people do. Nothing ever goes right for me! And you talk about counting blessings! You talk about being thankful! What do I have to be thankful for?"

 Linus says, "Well, for one thing, you have a little brother who loves you."

With that, Lucy runs and hugs her little brother Linus as she cries tears of joy. And while she's hugging him tightly, Linus says, "Every now and then, I say the right thing

Welcome to this celebration of Thanksgiving. This is a day we count our blessings. For many of us, our focus will be on our material blessings. Our warm house. The comfortable car. The stylish clothes. A table bountifully spread. And yet, in the long run of things, these are the least important of all our blessings.

Our lesson for the day from John's Gospel takes place just after Jesus has taken five small barley loaves and two small fish and had fed about five thousand men and an unknown number of women and children. Amazing is too small an adjective for such an extraordinary feat. Now the crowd is seeking him out in earnest.
 
Jesus isn't impressed with their sudden interest. "I tell you the truth," he says, you are looking for me . . . because you ate the loaves and had your fill." Then he gives a word of warning, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."

What Jesus is saying is beware of focusing on the physical, the material blessings in your life. These blessings are generally trivial and transitory. It is a cliché, of course, to say that money can't buy happiness. But the proof is bountiful. There are many, many people who are blessed materially who are miserable...