18 April 2010

Working for food that endures

3rd Week of Easter (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma


When an organization loses sight of its purpose, its leadership will come together and hammer out a mission statement, a declaration of the institution's goals, a description of its overall reason for being. More often than not, these statements are packed full of vague verbiage, lofty rhetoric, and completely unrealistic, if not outright unachievable, objectives. If the mission statement isn't simply ignored by the worker-bees of the organization, it is usually mocked or only quoted in the breach. Human resource trainers take it very seriously, but not many others do. The lesson for all involved is that refocusing the machinery of any organization to achieve its basic mission is tough work. The Easter season is not only a time for the Church to celebrate our Risen Lord, it is also a time for us to reconsider our mission as the Body of Christ and focus again on essentials. The crowd surrounding Jesus asks him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” That's our mission: to believe in the One God sent to us.

All that we do, say, think, feel, everything that we are flows out of our belief in Christ Jesus as the One sent by God to grace us with eternal life. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in their teaching on divine revelation, Dei verbum, tell us that God reveals Himself to us in scripture, through created realities, and, perfectly, in the words and deeds of Christ. They also tell us why He revealed Himself. Our Father unveils Himself for us in order to proclaim to us that "[He] is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal”(4). To put this another way: the purpose of scripture, of creation, and of Christ himself is to show us, uncover for us, our Creator's mission among us: our freedom from sin and our lives with Him for eternity. Our mission is to believe His revelation and carry on doing the good works of God according to His will.

How do we do this? How do we carry on with God's work? Jesus says first we must believe in him. Why? How does believing in him first change the character of our good works? Good works are good works, right? Yes and no. Good works are good works. True. But note what Jesus says to the crowd: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life. . .” So, what distinguishes between “working for food that perishes” and “working for food that endures”? The distinction is made real when we believe that the work we do enacts God's revelation to His creation; when we think, act, feel in ways that show that God is working out our redemption through Christ Jesus. This is how we know and all who see and hear us know that the food we work for is food that endures, food given to us by the Son of Man for our eternal lives. If our good works are done for prestige, political advantage, public reputation, or money; if our good works are done out of any motivation but the working-out of God's revelation to us, then we work for food that perishes. 

Luke tells us in his Acts that “Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people.” Those who opposed his work could not withstand his wisdom b/c the Spirit was with him. When they brought him before the men of the Sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy, the men “saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” Stephen did not work great wonders and signs on his own. He didn't perform tricks to impress the gullible, or to build a profitable reputation for himself as a prophet. He worked as one who embodied divine revelation; he showed out God's holy purpose for His creation. Like Stephen, our mission, our goal is straightforwardly simple: show everyone that God is with us to free us from sin and death and to bring us all to eternal life. This is food that endures.

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