“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” The prophet Haggai has a similar theme to this. I imagine him to be a kind of grandfatherly figure looking at the big picture and seeing how many people waste the precious gift of life given to them. “Reflect carefully how things have gone for you. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough, drink but never have your fill, put on clothes but do not feel warm.” (Haggai 1:6) George Bernard Shaw once said the youth is wasted on the young. Well we have all either being there or are on the way. It’s one thing to waste one’s youth, but one’s life is another thing.
Yesterday was the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola and if his wasn’t a misspent youth it was certainly full of worldly ambition. But he came to his senses after a cannon ball burst open his leg. There he realised that as well as worldly desires there were much deeper desires of the heart, desires of a spiritual nature, and that it was only by paying attention to the latter that one could find one’s peace.
St. Paul is onto the same thing when he talks about aimless living that leads us nowhere. “I urge you in the name of the Lord,” he says, “not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live.” Then he goes on to say how such aimlessness leads one down the slippery slope to immorality, licentiousness, greed leaving one very unhappy.
The people who formed Christ’s audience along the lake shore were solely concerned with their immediate bodily needs. They were so enthusiastic about his multiplying of food that they wanted to make Jesus a king. They were totally blind to the spiritual aspect of the miracle, and the message he wanted to teach them with it. “Do not work for food that cannot last,” Jesus warned them, “but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you.”
We might smile at the people missing the point but do we fare much better? For Paul, choosing Christ is a proactive choice. It just doesn’t happen. It means following Christ on his terms, not ours. We must seek our Lord for himself, and not for what we can get from him. The bread from heaven for us is the Eucharist, and the proper way to receive its blessing is to open ourselves to God’s love, given to us in the person of Jesus.
Without this proactive choice our lives can easily slip into aimlessness and frivolity. It becomes all too easy to get wrapped up with trivial things and selfish pleasure-seeking. Very soon our understanding will be darkened, and, worse still, our hearts will become insensitive to real values. ‘Trivial Pursuit’ was a very popular game some years ago. As a game it’s fine, indeed a lovely way for a family to pass an evening. But if our lives become an endless saga of trivial pursuits, that’s a totally different matter and very sad also.
The people ask a very sincere question: “What must we do if we are to carry out God’s work?” This is not an unusual question. We all want to know how to please God. Jesus’ answer touches the heart of Christianity: “This is carrying out God’s work: you must believe in the one he has sent.” God only wants them to believe in Jesus Christ since he is the great gift that God has sent to the world. This is a new demand. It is in this that they need to work. Anything else is secondary.
Christian faith doesn’t consist principally in going around correctly fulfilling a list of new practices and observances, better than those of the Hebrew Testament. No. Christian identity is in learning to live a way of life that is born of a living and trusting relationship with Jesus the Christ. We make ourselves Christian to the extent that we learn to think, feel, love, work, suffer and live as Jesus does.
All this calls for a certain wrench, leaving behind an old way of life to put on Christ – the kind of wrench that is spelt out in the first reading today where the Israelites pine for the ‘good old days’ that really weren’t that good at all. But we have an understanding God to help us. Pope Benedict suggests, in his encyclical God is Love that there is something unique in the Gospel. It reveals to us a God who actively comes down to meet people rather than waiting for them to rise to him through their own efforts. If only we could grasp this amazing truth, that Jesus is the God who has actively come down from heaven.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” In Jesus is the food and drink that will last and that the prophet Haggai so longed for.
Sunday, 2nd August 2015