18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 31 – August 1, 2021
What Have You Done for Me Lately?
It’s frustrating when we extend ourselves generously to a person or group of people only to have them turn around in short order, with a seeming lack of gratitude, and say to us, “Well, what have you done for me lately?” Or to say, “What you’ve done for us up until now amounts to nothing.” Or to say, “We don’t believe in you, so nothing you can say or do is good!”
Perhaps Jesus felt that way in today’s Gospel episode. As you recall, in last week’s Gospel, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people, as a sign of his love and as a sign pointed to the miraculous food that is the Eucharist.
When we meet Jesus in this week’s Gospel, he has left the deserted place where he wondrously fed the multitude and has crossed over the Sea of Galilee – and is now back in Capernaum. There he meets up with some of the same people he miraculously fed, and what do they say to him, but “What sign do you do, so that we may believe in you?” In other words, “What have you done for us lately?” Or more to the point, “Perform another sign so that we might believe in you.”
Instead of getting frustrated and walking away (as we might be inclined to do), Jesus stays with them, engages them, and takes the conversation to a higher level – and what lesson in discipleship and evangelization!
Jesus explains to the crowd the significance of the miraculous feeding of 5,000. It was not merely about feeding physically hungry people in an isolated place. Rather, he wanted to engage them so that they would understand who is really is and how he really wanted to feed them, namely, with his own flesh and blood.
Bread from Heaven
When some in the crowd point out to Jesus that Moses fed the people in the desert with manna from the heavens, Jesus had his opening – and he made the most of it. Jesus pointed out that manna, the bread from heaven came, not from Moses,
but rather from his heavenly Father, from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
He also wants to make the connection between Moses and himself. The Messiah whom many in Israel were expecting was to be a new Moses, who would free Israel from their hated Roman conquerors but who would also feed them, as did Moses, with bread and flesh from heaven – with the manna and quail that covered the desert floor every morning and evening. Jesus wants them to understand that he is in fact the new Moses, the long-awaited Messiah, who will feed them, not with manna from the heavens, but with his very own flesh and blood in the Eucharist he would institute.
Amazing, even miraculous as the bread from heaven in the desert was, Jesus is about to unveil for them an even deeper mystery, when he says: “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will not hunger, he who comes to me, will never thirst again!”
Here Jesus is talking about a bread and flesh that nourishes, not just our bodies, but a bread and a flesh that nourishes and transforms our whole being, body and soul. that bread, that flesh, that drink is the Eucharist: the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ!
Do We Believe?
When the crowd asked Jesus to perform yet another sign, they were, in effect, demanding to know who he was – was he the Messiah or not?
When the crowd further asks what they must do to be doing the works of God, the answer Jesus gives is telling: “You must believe in the one whom he has sent.” In other words, understanding the meaning of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and grasping what Jesus was about to say about himself as the Bread of Life, hinges on their belief in Christ as the Son of Man, as the One whom God the Father had sent into the world as their Redeemer. Absent such faith, Jesus in his Bread of Life discourse would make no sense, and they would walk away – sad, disillusioned, and spiritually starving.
I hope you can see where all of this is going – how it applies to ourselves. You know, we can be a lot like the crowd whom Jesus fed. God can bestow on us more than our fill of his blessings – and for a time we are grateful – but still we do not understand that the good things of this passing world are meant to point to blessings without end.
When we encounter problems and difficulties or some unmet need, we can easily say to the Lord, “What have you done for me lately?” Or, we can assume an attitude that says to God, “Everything you’ve given us up until now really amounts to nothing!” Or, we may even say, “My situation is such that I no longer believe in God!”
It seems to me that any attempt to revive our faith in the Eucharist relies on reviving our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as our Messiah and Lord, as the Head of the Church, as the One whom God sent into the world as our Savior.
We must allow the Lord to engage us, to challenge us, to change the conversations that are going on in our lives – to take us beyond our immediate wants, needs, opinions, and preferences. Jesus wants to open our eyes to himself as our Savior and Lord, for only then will we regard as his words as trustworthy, only then will we find it possible to embrace what Scripture and Tradition teaches about Baptism and about the Eucharist and about the way of life we are called to live.
If we believe in Christ and fall in love with him ‘quite definitely’ (ala Arrupe), we will take him at his word that he is the Bread of Life and we will take part in the Eucharist that he instituted on the night before he died.
Eucharistic Form of Life
This brings us at length to the teaching of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. In our second reading St. Paul spells out for us what it means for us to believe in Christ.
Believing in Christ means a total transformation of our lives – intellectually and morally. St. Paul tells us to ‘put off our old nature which belongs to our former way of life’ and goes on to say that we should be ‘renewed in the spirit of our minds…’
Here the Apostle is laying the basis for the Church’s teaching on the universal call to holiness, the fact that all of us are called by our Baptism to righteousness, to lead lives distinctively different from the world around us. The first step to this is to allow the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, to renew our way of thinking, to shake up our priorities, to enable us to see ourselves as we really are, and to embrace the Church’s teaching, not as a constraint but as a path to freedom.
Baptism puts us on the path toward a righteous way of life but the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist purify and nourish us thru out our lives, just as God purified and nurtured his people as they journeyed through the desert. Even as the Eucharist is bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, so too the worthy reception of the Eucharist transforms our lives such that we can say with Paul, “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me!”
As we prepare ourselves to receive Holy Communion, we should indeed, as St. Paul says elsewhere, examine our consciences to see where we fall short, to see how our old nature eclipses our redeemed nature. If we find that we have fallen short in a major way, that is, committed a mortal sin, then we must hasten to the Sacrament of Penance to seek God’s forgiveness.
In any case, our participation in the Eucharist must result in our ongoing conversion. Listening to the Word of God must change how we think and prioritize. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ must strengthen us to lead lives radiant in the truth and love of the Gospel as it comes to us through the Church, lives that evangelize others.
What has the Lord done for us lately?
The Lord gives himself to us in sacrificial love at every hour of every day as Holy Mass is celebrated on altars throughout the whole world.
Come, let us worship!