Immersed in Christ: August 2, 2020
Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)
Give the Gift You Have Received
Do you think of God as the provider of all that is good, or just as the alternative to something worse? Do you come to him out of fear, obligation or desire? Do you serve him out of duty or out of expectation? What do you expect from God? Is your habitual attitude what the Psalm in this Mass proclaims: “You satisfy the desire of every living thing”?
This Mass could change our whole perception of God. The Responsorial Psalm establishes the theme: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs” (Psalm 145). That is why in the Entrance Antiphon we reach out to him with desire: “Lord, do not be long in coming!” In the Opening Prayer(s) we ask God to “be close to us… restore us to life… keep us safe.” And we declare, “Gifts without measure flow from your goodness to bring us your peace… Our life is your gift… Only your love makes us whole.” The God the Church presents to us here is a God to be desired, to be sought, a God to get as much of as we can — in short, a God who “answers all our needs.” This is the God we will know and enjoy in heaven. Why not begin now?
The Free Gift:
In Isaiah 55: 1-3 the Lord says, “Come to me, all you who are thirsty, who have no money; come without paying and without cost. Why spend your money for what fails to satisfy?” This is a God who gives and who wants to give. Why don’t we want to receive?
It is basically because we don’t believe him. We don’t believe that what he offers is what we really desire. We don’t believe that God “satisfies the desire of every living thing.” We have some desires we don’t think we will satisfy through deeper relationship with God. In fact, we are not sure that a deeper relationship with him will give us anything we actually desire. Some of us may believe this as adults, but how many teenagers do? Ask any teenager in church, “What do you expect to get out of Mass?” and see what answer you get. We don’t have to ask; it is written in their body language.
Or we don’t think we will get anything from God “without paying and without cost.” And Jesus seems to back us up in this. He says we have to give all for All, sell everything we have for the treasure buried in the field, be willing to lose our lives in order to find Life. This doesn’t sound like a free lunch.
There are two answers to this. The first addresses the level of gift or of life that we want. On the lower levels, all of God’s gifts are free. What do we pay for our existence? For the air we breathe, the sun and the moon, the beauty of nature, the fruits of the earth? What does it cost us to talk to God? We don’t “pay by the hour” for interviews with him. What does it cost us to read his words? There is no tuition at all for the most life-enhancing education on earth. What does it cost us to receive Communion? To be nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ? To those who accept this free gift Jesus promises two others: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and they abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:54). This isn’t a free lunch; it’s a free luau — with no end and no hangover!
The second answer takes up the meaning of “free.” Is food free if you have to reach up and pluck the fruit off the tree? Is money still free if you have to lean over and pick it up off the ground? By this relative standard, what God gives to those who choose him is free even if it costs us our life. This brings us back to our original question: Do we really believe God “answers all our needs,” that he “satisfies the desire of every living thing”?
“For I am convinced…”
St. Paul did. In Romans 8: 35-39 he declares himself “convinced” that the gift of Christ’s love is so overwhelmingly satisfying for those who experience it, that nothing could ever persuade them to relinquish it.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This makes us ask whether we are living our “religion” in a way that lets us experience this love. If we are, then we will say that what God has given us is “free” at any price.
“One does not live on…”
The Alleluia verse recalls the first temptation of Jesus, which was to give people what they thought would satisfy them instead of what really does: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (see Matthew 4;4). Now in Matthew 14: 13-21, Jesus gives a preview of the bread that does satisfy. The “multiplication of the loaves” was a preview of Eucharist, the living Bread, the gift of Jesus himself. Here bread and word are combined: Jesus is the Word of God made flesh; the Word of knowledge uttered by the Father from all eternity (see John 1: 1-18). And he said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”(John 6: 35-51). Truly, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs
Has this Mass converted me to a different understanding of God? Do I see him as fulfilling all my desires? What choices of mine express this conversion?
Be a priest. Give God to others as a gift.