Last Sunday, the Scripture readings in Catholic churches had in common that the people wanted something for themselves but God wanted more for them. In the first reading from Exodus, the Israelites wanted food. They were hungry. They were even willing to give up their freedom and go back to Egypt to ease their hunger. They were willing to sacrifice their long-term good for a short-term gain. Having been slaves all their lives, they didn't know better. God saves them once again by sending manna from heaven.
Likewise, the Ephesians wanted to go back to living their old lives, being their old selves, believing in "deceitful desires." Being Christ like is too much work. Paul tells them to put on the new self, be renewed in the spirit of your minds. And the crowd that follows Jesus in Matthew's Gospel follows him because he has fed them. They want signs and wonders, they want bread. But he wants to give them the bread of life.
The conclusion of all three readings is that human beings don't want what is good for them, especially if it means sacrificing short-term pleasures for long-term gains. We would rather follow our deceitful desires.
This, of course, is the problem with post-war Americans, the baby boomers and their children. Our parents learned about sacrifice and postponed gratification because of the depression and Second World War. But we have been taught to believe that we can have it all. We spent as fast as the money came in and we borrowed if we wanted more. "Charge it," became a way of having it all now and postponing the day of reckoning.
We also did it with our world, burning oil as if it would never run out, consuming throwaway products that overwhelm and pollute landfills, and wiping out species of fish, animals and plants with no thought of tomorrow. If global warming is even half as bad as predicted, our generation will go down in history as the most irresponsible and destructive generation of all time.
The bill finally came due with the current recession. The recession is not simply the result of economic mismanagement. At heart, it is the result of a moral failure, our failure as consumers and a country to live within our means.
We believed snake oil salesmen who told us we could go to war and cut taxes at the same time. We believed those who want to put the blame on the very rich when there is lots of blame to be shared by everyone. We wanted to believe the false prophets who promised perpetual profits; we wanted to believe the credit card companies; we wanted to believe that the risks were minimal. Like Eve, we wanted to believe the snake.
Pope Benedict argues in his new encyclical, Caritas in veritate, that an economy based on greed and self-interest will ultimately destroy itself. Without a concern for the common good, without a concern for future generations, we run off the cliff like bunch of lemmings.
"You must no longer live as the Gentiles do," writes St. Paul, "that is not how you learned Christ."
Jesus calls us to generosity, to forgiveness, to sacrifice. This message does not compete well against the messages of Madison Avenue and Hollywood. But Jesus gives us more than just a message. He gives us himself. "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." Jesus is the ultimate comfort food. When times are bad, we can turn to him and be embraced by his love. When we feel overwhelmed by events that are out of our control, he comforts us. He accepts us as we are and is there for us.
The bread he gives us is his word and himself. In the Eucharist, we listen to his word and we break bread together. We receive the bread of life and by it are filled with his Spirit, which makes us one body, one spirit in Christ. This Spirit gives us hope because it tells us of God's love for us.