Why Do Haitians Smile?

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 5, 2018

So often, people who live in third world countries are found smiling. In my own life, I have been to Haiti four times, and I think what keeps drawing me back is that truth: the Haitian people are so often smiling. And as one looks at their smiling faces, we are forced to ask, “What are they smiling about?”


They have nothing, literally nothing, and yet they continue to smile. So the question is: “Why do Haitians smile?”


Sometimes we ask ourselves, what do I want out of life? The answer to the question is very, very important. If we are starving for food, we will surely answer that we want food. If we are prisoners and being tortured, surely we will answer that we want freedom. So often our answers can be a clear response to the things we most lack in life.


In many countries there is an enormous lack of the material goods that make life livable, and yet the people are smiling. In many other countries there are so much material goods that most people seem to have everything, but there are still needs.


Perhaps it is when we have most of the things we want that we are miserable. It is then that we can ask ourselves: What do I want out of life? If I already have enough food, do I want more food? If I already have freedom, do I want even more freedom? Do I want a bigger and better home and more money? What do I want?


The first reading from the book of Exodus, speaks about our ancestors in the faith. They wanted freedom. They were willing to leave Egypt for freedom. But as soon as they had freedom, they realized that now they lacked the food that they had in Egypt. This is such a human story. When we get what we want, then we want something else. And very often we forget to enjoy and appreciate what we already have.


In the Gospel people begin to follow Jesus. Jesus realizes that they are following him because he gave them bread. They ate the physical bread but they missed the miracle. They did not recognize that when he gave them bread, it was the result of a great miracle about God’s relationship with the world. They saw only the bread, totally oblivious to the spiritual sign.

Today’s scriptures challenge us to think about our own lives, what we have, what we lack, and what we want. Do I have most of the material things that I need and still feel empty? Do I have all the food I need and still feel hungry? Am I seriously hungry for spiritual food?


Do I confuse the material goods of this world with the spiritual goods of God? Do I seriously think that all the material goods of this world will make me happy? Didn’t Jesus teach us not to build up material treasures where moth and rust decay, but to build up spiritual treasure that no one can take from us?


In conclusion, living as a good person, doing what Jesus did, living like Jesus lived, caring like Jesus cared, giving like Jesus gave--that’s what makes you happy, that’s what gives you peace. It’s not the material things with which you surround yourself, they may bring happiness for a while, but it wears off. It’s the spiritual things that truly matter and never wear off.


Now you know why the Haitians smile. Amen.

Sunday Readings

Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15

[The Lord said,] in the morning you will have your fill of bread, and then you will know that I, the Lord, am your God.

Ephesians 4:17, 20–24

You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires.


John 6:24–35

[Jesus said,] “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.