What can we do to accomplish the works of God? (John 6:28)
This is indeed a strange request. Of course, we would never make such a request ourselves; or we would be much more specific. Having, a priori, excluded divine works such as creating and governing the universe with its myriads of stars, we must wonder to what type of God’s works those people were referring. Even the relatively much smaller realm of manipulating human life, of trying to create a new life form is something from which all sensible people shy away completely because of the sacredness of this type of work reserved for God alone. So, perhaps unwittingly, those people might have been led to wonder, instead, about what kind of work God could perform in the human heart and what works people could perform to be in complete adherence to His will and pleasing to Him. In this case, though, we should all realize that this type of work is strictly the realm of the Holy Spirit and more arduous than the one of governing the whole universe! It is the most difficult domain of them all because it would be directly conditioned and limited by how we respond to divine inspirations in freedom.
Coercion doesn’t work for the simple reason that it would preclude a loving response on our part, which is the only type the Lord desires. Fear too, as the first letter of John points out, is ineffective in the long run because it would indicate that genuine love is still lacking.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)
Yet so many well-intentioned believers insist on fear as motivating factor. They decry that priests do not talk enough about hell and eternal damnation. They do not realize that any external motivation, like fear of punishment, runs out of steam rather quickly and, in many cases, it fails even to get that initial traction needed to reform. Therefore, what the Lord is leading us to ponder instead is, arguably, the most delicate of all of God’s works: to create inner motivation in our hearts.
God’s “ultimate work” has to be the one of making us believe in His Son Jesus as our Bread of Life so that we may work for food that endures for eternal life. (John 6:27) And this divine work of God motivating us from within and of us shaping our life, freely, around imperishable values, is indeed a work in progress with relapses, delays, setbacks, misconceptions and plenty of hesitations.
All three readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time corroborate what is our present day’s predicament. (Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35)
Thus, steaming fleshpots and eating one’s fill of Egyptian bread could be, for many people and for the longest time, what would absorb them completely; surely much more so than freedom from oppression. (Exodus 16:2-4) To make this incident relevant for our age, here you can insert the freedoms that some people are willing to give up in exchange for whatever can be comparable to a full belly.
In his letter St. Paul is vaguer, yet along the same line. [You] must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds Ephesians 4:17;… you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires. ibid. 4:22
A rich person can so very easily be seeking whatever falls into the category of the futility of the mind. The poor and all those hard hit by economic downturns, might dream of attaining those futile things and envy the rich in their pursuits. Yet, both rich and poor alike, must be made aware that their whole life could be easily corrupted through these deceitful desires.
Corruption and death take many dreadful shapes for those who give in to deceitful desires: from sexually transmitted diseases to divorces, lawsuits, murders, incarceration, shameful exposure, losses of all kinds and painful demise. Finally and most importantly, our Gospel passage urges us to pursuit God’s work by believing in Jesus, by believing that Jesus must become EVERYTHING for us, the Bread that the Father sends us from heaven. Today ought, then, to become the first day we, too, repeat this prayer: “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6:34)
Little by little, free from fear, motivated from within by love for Jesus, we would rediscover lost treasures to enrich our lives and those of our family, friends and associates.
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
This heavenly Bread would be most nourishing in the context of silent recollections and moments of resting quietly and trustingly in the Lord.
Thus nourished and enriched, we would give to others of our newly found spiritual wealth such as our time, self-sacrifice, gentle understanding, patient endurance, heartfelt forgiveness, self-discipline, accountability, lasting commitment, joyous service and genuine love.
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, I am deeply convinced that if we concentrate our desires and intentions on making Jesus the true center of our life, there would be a dramatic improvement on all fronts; we wouldn’t be so easily deceived, and we would withstand the worst trials of life with courage and hope.