It is so easy to forget.
We all forget things all the time, often just by not thinking about them for a while.
In the first reading today, we find that the Israelites have forgotten quite a lot. They forgot how awful slavery was in Egypt. They longed for their fleshpots and for bread. Fleshpots, by the way, were big ‘ole pots in which water is boiled and meat is cooked.1 Since the Israelites were slave in Egypt, they probably cooked fish, not meat in them: meat is expensive. The Israelites had forgotten how awful slavery was. They forgot that God saved them from Egyptian slavery for the specific purpose of glorifying him through right and proper worship. They forgot that God cared about them. They thought he’d let them starve. That is, of course, ridiculous. He gave them manna and quail to eat: their bread and fleshpots were even better than before. God provided, but it was so easy for the Israelites to forget that he did!
What is even more providential is that the desert in which the Israelites forgot God was named the Desert of Sin. This is exactly what sin is! When we sin, we are turning away from God. It works the other way too: when we turn away from God, we sin. The whole Exodus story reminds us of how sin functions, too. The Israelites long for something they think is good, but if they had simply turned to God all their needs and desires would have been fulfilled. I find it amazing that in something as simple as the name of a desert, we can find such profound things!
The Ephesians, too, were quite forgetful of God. They weren’t even creative enough to come up with a new way to forget him. The Ephesians longed for their own version of bread and fleshpots. They looked back and longed for the lives of depravity they lived before they “learned Christ.” Paul forcefully rebukes them in a small section we don’t read, saying they “must no longer live as the Gentiles do […] alienated from the life of God because of ignorance” and “hardness of heart.” He says “they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.” (Ephesians 4:17-19) That’s sounds harsh, but it’s the next line that really stings. Paul says that all these things are “not how you learned Christ.” (Ephesians 4:20) They forgot Christ. They forgot God.
Jesus himself had to contend with this problem too. In today’s Gospel, we hear that the people went searching for Jesus. When they eventually found him, he told them they were looking for him because they filled their bellies. He called them to instead look for food the endures for eternal life. To do that, they must do the works of God. These works, Jesus explains, are to believe in the one sent by God, that is: to believe in Jesus. The Jews ask, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” Seriously? The day before—not even 24 hours ago—Jesus multiplied food on an immense scale, for thousands! God again gave the Jews bread and fish, flesh-baskets if you will: the exact things they had been craving ever since leaving slavery in Egypt. Somehow the Jews already forgot that Jesus performed a sign greater than anything Moses ever did. Moses prayed; God provided. Jesus took what was offered, and he provided himself. The Jews should’ve picked up on the clue.
It is so easy to forget.
What was it that the Israelites in the desert, the Ephesians, and the Jews following Jesus all forgot? They forgot God. The Israelites wandering in the desert forgot that God loves them. The Ephesians forgot that God has expectations and standards for our lives. The Jews forgot that Jesus had already shown them signs, that he had already demonstrated his authority, that he was already worthy of faith. Not one of them remembered who God is. Not one of them remembered that God saved them. Not one of them remembered that God had provided for them. Not one of them remembered that God promised them eternal life.
It is so easy to forget, but it is so important to remember.
The Jews could not remember who God was, so they could not recognize Jesus as God, and they could not respond to Jesus with faith. Without faith, we do not have the openness and flexibility we need to be formed and instructed by our Lord. Sure, the Jews sought Jesus out, but they did so for the wrong reasons. St. Augustine writes of them: “You seek me for the flesh, not for the spirit. How many seek Jesus for no other purpose than that he may do them good in this present life! […] Scarcely ever is Jesus sought for Jesus’ sake.”2 They sought Jesus because he gave them bread and fish, but they could not accept the gift he wanted to give them. They could not remember, so they could not have faith, so they could not see their God who was standing in front of them, and who was offering them life everlasting.
The Jews could never have imagined what was coming. At the Last Supper, Jesus would take bread and wine and turn it into his very own body and blood, instituting the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus Christ, our God and King, would not only nourish our minds through his teachings and examples, but he would become the most excellent nourishment for our bodies too. Through this Eucharistic food, God enters into us, transforming our bodies and our souls. The Eucharist, by transforming us, helps us to remember. It helps us to remember the gifts God has given us. It helps us to remember who God is. It helps us to remember God.
Everything about the Eucharist helps us remember God. Just like God, the Eucharist is a mystery—the mystery of faith, in fact. The Eucharist gives us a taste of Heaven, where we will see God face-to-face. The Eucharist transforms us so that we may better follow God. God is present in the Eucharist, and while it’s a little different, God is present in each one of our lives. By persisting through the ages, the Eucharist reminds us of Jesus’s Resurrection, and that death cannot conquer us. More than anything, the Eucharist reminds us and helps us remember that God became a human being to save us. He sent his Son, who was willing to not just die for each person here today, but to become true food and true drink for each of us.
In the Eucharist, we remember God’s love for us and his sacrifice, made for us. We remember our unworthiness of these gifts. We remember that despite our sins, God reaches out to us. We remember that God calls us to repent—to stop forgetting about him during our daily lives! In the Eucharist, we remember that God invites us to join Him in eternal life, to be with him in perfect happiness forever, in Heaven.
Yesterday was the day in which the church remembers St. John Vianney, the great French priest. He once wrote the following: “How often we come to church with no idea of what to do or what to ask for. And yet, whenever we go to any human being, we know well enough why we go. And still worse, there are some who seem to speak to the good God like this: ‘I will only say a couple of things to you, and then I will be rid of you.’ I often think that when we come to adore the Lord, we would receive everything we ask for, if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart.”3 The Jews went to Jesus and asked for bread. What should we ask God when we come to Church to attend Mass?
St. Thomas Aquinas, called the Angelic Doctor, answered this question perfectly. St. Thomas just completed his writing his summary of Eucharistic theology, and he offered it to God in front of an icon of Christ. Christ said to him, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” St. Thomas replied, “Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you.” How fitting is that response? For, it is in the Eucharist that God gives us his own self.
Today, as we gaze upon the crucifix and approach the altar to receive our God in the Eucharist, let us join our voices with St. Thomas’s to ask God for, “Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you.”
August 5, 2018
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-25; Psalms 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35
- See https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Fleshpot-Flesh-Pot
- St. Augustine, In Ioann. Evang., 25, 10 from note on John 6:26 in The Navarre Bible: Saint John’s Gospel, 2nd ed. (New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2005), p. 84
- Catéchisme sur la prière as quoted in the Office for St. John Vianney in Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours.