St. Paul counsels the Ephesian Christians to dissociate themselves completely from the pagan ways of the Gentiles in these words, “I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” What is it about the pagan ways of the Gentiles that the Christians are to dissociate from completely? We Christians ought to reflect on what aspects of such pagan attitude have crept into our own Christian life.
Reflecting on pagan religions, two main features come to mind. First, they have many gods. Secondly, they approach the gods based on what they need from the gods. There is a god for fertility needs, a god for those in search of spouses, a god for abundant harvest, a god for good health, etc. The pagan gods are abundant and they primarily serve the purpose of meeting the needs of the worshippers.
Christianity is a starkly different from paganism in this sense. In Christianity, we have one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we approach this Triune God not primarily because of what we can get from Him but because we know that He has made us for Himself and the only thing that satisfies us is our relationship with Him. It is this relationship of dependence as His creatures that we have in God that moves us to seek out all our needs in Him alone with confidence, all the while knowing that nothing we receive from Him will satisfy us apart from our relationship with Him. St. Augustine affirmed this in his timeless quote, “Lord, you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
The entire Old Testament is a training in and preparation for monotheism and a personal relationship with God. The Israelites in today’s First Reading have just experienced God’s miraculous liberation from the bondage of Egypt after many years of slavery. They are obviously not satisfied with that show of divine omnipotence in the deliverance from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. They begin to reminisce on their past experiences in the land of bondage when they “sat by their fleshpots and ate their fill of bread.” God still feeds His grumbling people with manna so that they will learn that they cannot depend on many gods but on Him alone, “So that you may know that I, the Lord, am your God.” Neither their pleasurable memories in Egypt nor their full bellies in the present can completely satisfy them. They will find true satisfaction only in being faithful in their relationship with God.
Nothing seems to satisfy the Jews in today’s Gospel either. They had eaten the miraculous bread and fish to their hearts content and came searching for Jesus because they wanted more of the bread. Jesus saw clearly their purpose in searching for Him, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” The signs that Jesus worked were to point them to Him so that by faith they could enter into a truly satisfying relationship with the Father in the Holy Spirit. But they were not satisfied with the sign of the multiplied loaves and fish and demanded more signs, “What sign can you do that we may see and believe in you?” Though sings could not satisfy them, they still continued to pursue signs and not living relationship with God in and through the God-Man Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Christ, God the Father offers us the only thing that will satisfy us in this life and in the next – a graced relationship with Him now that blossoms unto eternal life. Jesus is the one who gives us “that food that endures to eternal life,” and for that reason, “the Father, God, has set His seal on Him.” In His perfect humanity, Jesus grasps fully our deepest desires and needs more than we ever could. Remember, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” (Rom 11:36)” In His divinity, He alone can bring us into that relationship with God for which we were created and for which we knowingly or unknowingly long for by in created things and persons. Nothing can ever satisfy us as long as we are not possessing and growing in this relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul draws a stark contrast between pagans and Christians to remind the Ephesians of the primacy of their new relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Now that they have “learned Christ,” they are to “put away the old self of their former way of life corrupted through sinful desires,” and to “put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” They will find satisfaction now only in the life that flows out of this new relationship with God than in the endless pursuit of their desires.
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are we living as pagans or Christians today? How are we futilely trying to blend both, trying to be Christians with pagan attitude? What are the many gods that we have in our lives today? What are those things that we think we cannot live without today? Wealth, power, fame, pleasures, achievements, relationships? What are the things that we cannot get enough of? What are we pre-occupied with, investing our time, energy and resources in? What are those things that we hope to console us and to fill the hole in our hearts? These are our numerous gods and they will never satisfy us because, being only imperfect reflections of the divine perfection for which we were created, they only have the ability to inflame our desire for more.
And when we do turn to the Triune God in prayer, do we turn to Him like the pagans turn to their idols, only because we are in need and want something from Him or do we place our needs before Him in the light of our relationship to Him? Do we present our needs before Him with confidence that He will grant them as long as they foster our relationship with Him? What are those needs that we exclusively focus upon till we are completely blind and deaf to the deeper relationship that God is calling us to? God can and He does meet our needs. But as Christians, petition for our needs must be rooted in the reality of our privileged relationship with God as His beloved children in Christ Jesus.
Lastly, if we are Christians in deed, are we striving to use all that the Lord has offered us to grow in our relationship with Him? Or have we become self-complacent, living as if we could never advance further in our love relationship with Him? Are we letting His words in the scriptures and teachings of the Church to challenge us sincerely in our spiritual journey? Are we striving to reflect divine mercy and hope to others who are struggling in this life? Are we serious enough about our relationship with God to honestly confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation so as to gain forgiveness and strength to fight the good fight to the end? Do we prepare ourselves for each Eucharist as if it were the last of our lives, knowing that our relationships with Him is being nurtured in each Holy Communion? Do we let God nurture our relationship with Him through regular prayer?
Are we looking to Mary most holy, the person who had a singularly unique relationship with God to be our guide, mother, support and example in our own relationship with Him? As a passionate mother of the Redeemer and all the redeemed, a mother who willingly went with Jesus to the Cross for our salvation, she knows what it cost to bring us into this relationship with God. That is why Mary will never let us live like pagans in this world but will constantly move us to seek for her Son, Jesus Christ, the only food that satisfies our spiritual hunger in this life and endures for everlasting life.
By approaching Jesus in Holy Communion today, we echo the desires and words of the Jews in today’s Gospel, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus bears in Himself the seal of the Father, a divine guarantee that we will find satisfaction in Him alone. Thus He forever is the “Bread of life,” who alone can satiate our deepest desire – our hunger andthirst for God who made us for Himself alone. It is time to stop living like pagans and start living as the Christians brought into a graced relationship with God even in this world of sin and suffering.
With the aid of Mother Mary, let us seek for the One and only God always and everywhere, whether our needs are met or not, with the firm conviction that our relationship with Him in Jesus Christ is the only thing that satisfies us in this life and in the life to come.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!