Our first scripture for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Exodus.
The Book of Exodus is book of battles. It details how in the ancient past of Israelite history, the God of Israel intervened in an extraordinary way in the lives of his chosen people. This intervention was to defeat the gods of the Egyptians, who held the Israelites in captivity as slaves. Once these gods were defeated, the Israelites were free to leave Egypt and return to their ancestral lands.
That is what I mean when I referred to the Book of Exodus as a book of battles- the battle that takes place is battle between the God of the Israelites and the gods of the Egyptians.
This might strike us as strange, but it signifies a conflict between the one, true God and false gods, between true worship and false worship that characterizes our own spiritual lives. So many have given themselves over to false gods, and though these gods promise freedom, their promises are a trap, and once someone is ensnared in that trap, then they become enslaved. Deliverance from the power of false gods is one of the great themes of not only the Book of Exodus, but the whole of the Bible.
The false gods that afflict us need not be the mythological beings of legend, but are dark spiritual realities that emerge from our desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors.
The battle between the one, true God and false gods is not the only battle that takes place in the Book of Exodus. There is another conflict, and this conflict is between God and the Israelites themselves. Time and time again the Israelites resist God or upon hearing his will for them, the Israelites set themselves in opposition to God’s will, insisting that not God’s will, but their will be done.
This opposition manifests itself in today’s excerpt from the Book of Exodus where the Israelites, facing adversity, fall into despair, and curse God, insisting that they were better off as the slaves of false gods rather than as followers of the one, true God!
Now remember, the great stories of the Israelites, the stories of the Old Testament, are presented to us, not simply so that we can learn about events from long ago, but so that we can learn about ourselves, come to terms with important truths about our own spiritual lives. The stories of the Israelites from the past are meant as reference points for the story of Church in the present.
What are the false gods in our own lives? What of the Lord’s will do we ourselves resist?
God’s response to the resistance of the Israelites is a display of his divine power and mercy. Knowing that their curse has its origin, not in a real hatred for God, but because the Israelites are suffering, God responds, not with rebukes or with wrath, but with mercy. This mercy takes the form of manna, a heavenly food that is given to the Israelites to sustain them on their journey.
The Church understands the story of the gift of manna or the gift of heavenly bread as a foreshadowing of God in Christ’s gift of the Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament is given to us as an enduring sign of God’s presence- a presence that manifests itself in power and in mercy.
God’s power is revealed in the Blessed Sacrament in the transformation of the bread and wine into the divine and living presence of God in Christ. God’s mercy is revealed in his willingness to give to us a heavenly gift that we do not deserve, but that we need the most. This heavenly gift is God in Christ himself- for it is God in Christ that we receive in the Blessed Sacrament.
God insisted that the Israelites would have to change and accept from him a new way of life before they could return to the lands of their ancestors. It was their unwillingness to chance that made their journey home so frustrating. The lesson for us is that we will not advance in our spiritual lives, if we are unwilling to change and accept from the Lord Jesus a new way of life. The life of a disciple of the Lord Jesus is not about affirmation of who we are, but about a willingness to change so that we can become the person that God has created us to be. This willingness to change is called conversion.
The willingness to change and live a new way of life is called conversion and it is what St. Paul is making reference to today in his Letter to the Ephesians.
The Letter to the Ephesians is about the relationship of Christ and the Church and our relationship to both. There is, according to St. Paul a condition for the possibility for our relationship to Christ and the Church and this is our willingness to accept a new way of life as our way of life. Thus, those who belong to Christ and his Church and abide in a relationship to Christ and his Church, do not live in such a way that their lives will simply conform to cultural expectations. Christians are different in a way similar to how the Israelites were different.
In fact, strategies that insist that Christians simply accommodate their beliefs and practices to the expectations of this or that culture or trend or ideology or political system inevitably lead Christians, not to Christ and his Church, but to an anti-Christ and an anti-Church.
St. Paul cautions about becoming corrupted by what he refers to as “deceitful desires” these desires are the desires for false gods, for wealth, pleasure, power and honors. Christians seek to overcome desires for false gods by cultivating a desire for God in Christ.
What is your own desire for Christ? Do you want to know him? Do you want to share what you know of Christ with others?
If the desire for Christ is strong, then the Church will flourish and grow.
If as Christians our desire is not for Christ, but for wealth, pleasure, power and honors, then the Church atrophies and fails.
Finally, the Gospel for today is a continuation of the Gospel passage we heard last week. For the next few weeks the Church presents as our Gospel for Sunday Mass select excerpts from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John is about the Eucharist, about the Blessed Sacrament and it reveals the mystery of the Eucharist, of the Blessed Sacrament, as the revelation of the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself.
In today’s excerpt from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Christ the Lord engages with people who are so enraptured, taken with the great miracle he performed by multiplying a few loaves and fish (a miracle we heard bout in the Gospel for last Sunday) that they insist that Christ prove his power by giving to the people a sign even greater than the gift of the heavenly manna (the gift that we heard about in our first reading from the Book of Exodus).
Christ the Lord responds: He will give them a sign greater than that of the gift of heavenly manna- that gift will be his own divine life.
Christ gives the gift of his divine life to us in the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist is not just a symbol of Jesus or a sign of community fellowship. The Eucharist is the divine life of the Lord Jesus, given to us as food and drink, and Christ’s divine life is given to us as food and drink so that we can become like the Eucharist that we receive.
It is the Eucharist that fortifies and sustains the Church in its mission, and without the Eucharist, the soul of the Church becomes desiccated and the Church loses the source of its strength and vitality. Without the Eucharist, ours souls will hunger and thirst to the point of starvation and dehydration.
Thus do we come here, and come here time and time again, hungry and thirsty for the divine life of Christ, he makes himself, here and now, our heavenly food, feeding us, not just with a merely a fragment of bread and a sip of wine, but with his own divine life.
Here and now, we are invited to receive a heavenly gift, the Bread of God, the divine life of God in Christ, that, even in this place, wills to come down from heaven and give his life to the world.