Sunday: The Gift That Changes Everything
This Sunday, the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B), reminds me of a story from a family we know.
An oldest child in a large family tells the story of how surprised by a gift he got for his 11th birthday. He had asked for the usual: Legos, football cards, books. He got some of that — but he also got his own bed.
“We had always lived in apartments or a small house, and I always either shared a bed or slept on a mattress. I had never even imagined the possibility of having my own bed,” he said.
His parents knew better, of course. They knew something he didn’t know: He was destined for greater responsibility in life, and needed to have space to be the person he needed to be.
He was shocked by the gift — and changed by it. “I suddenly thought of myself a little differently,” he said.
That’s what happens in today’s readings, too. God doesn’t just give his people what they want; he gives us something unexpected that shifts our very understanding of ourselves.
This happens dramatically in the first reading. The Israelites have followed Moses into the desert, but now they are having second thoughts about ever leaving Egypt. Sure, they were slaves there. But they were also fed.
God gives them something unexpected: They are willing to trade freedom for food; he gives them both. They thought of themselves as slaves and beggars; that day they realized that they really were God’s Chosen People.
The same thing happens in the Gospel.
Today’s Gospel follows last Sunday’s. In that one, Jesus multiplies the bread and fish and feeds the people. Then he has to hide because he “knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king.” They didn’t have a pious devotion to them, rather, they loved him because they “ate the loaves and were filled.”
Like the Israelites, they are so focused on the material things they need, they are willing to become subject to whoever is willing to give them those things, be it slave-master or king.
Jesus gives them something superior: “the food that endures for eternal life.” They wanted a king who would feed them on earth; he gave them the Eucharistic Lord whose food would give them eternal life.
St. Paul explains more about this tension between the earthly longings of humanity and the eternal urgings of God.
“You must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” Instead, he said, “be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”
He is telling Christians that one of the key changes in their lives after their baptism should be a Resurrection mindset. He contrasts it again by saying, “you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires.” Instead, “put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
He’s saying: No longer be satisfied with merely earthly things. Do eternal things.
We have been given a great gift in the Eucharist — something so great we would never have even expected to be worthy of it. We thought we were just God’s worshippers. Now we know we are his closest friends, entrusted with his body and blood, called to share in his very life.
The Eucharist changes everything.