A friend of mine once told me, ‘Sin is forgetting; Grace is remembering.’
If we forget our blessings, we can end up with an ungrateful attitude. Or worse, we can become arrogant – perhaps thinking, ‘okay God, you blessed me once upon a time – but what have you done for me lately?’
We have classic examples of the ingratitude of forgetting in our first reading and our Gospel passage today.
In our first reading, we hear from the book of Exodus, the children of Israel complaining at Moses, ‘we’re hungry. Did you bring us out into the desert to die of hunger?’ Then they add, ‘we had lots to eat back in Egypt’ – as if to say, ‘we had it pretty good back there’.
Sure; ‘if we forget we were slaves, bought and sold as property; if we forget we were forced to labor under the rod and whip; if we forget that the previous Pharaoh had tried to exterminate Israel by killing all male children – other than that, we had it pretty good’
They forget the blessing of being delivered from Egypt; of the parting of the Red Sea, when God let them pass through the waters on dry land (while the Egyptian army was again trying to kill them all), or how God led them as a pillar of cloud and of fire.
It sounds very much like, ‘what have you done for us lately God?’
This forgetfulness is reflected in our Gospel passage from St. John. This story picks up from last week, when Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. In between that and this passage, he walked on the Sea of Galilee, saved Peter’s life and got into the boat to travel the rest of the way to Capernaum.
Now at first light, the same crowd from the other side of Galilee meets Jesus on the shore, and among the other things they say in the dialogue that follows, is:
‘what sign will you give us that we might believe in you?’
If it were me, I might be tempted to respond with, ‘seriously? What sign am I going to work for you? I just fed five thousand of you with five loaves and two fish; I walked on water; and you’re asking what sign am I going to work for you?’
Fortunately for the crowd and myself, I am not Jesus.
We see this forgetting of blessings and work of God, this ingratitude,this arrogance met instead with mercy, compassion and charity.
In Exodus, God responds to the complaints and ingratitude with manna and quails to feed the Israelites.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus responds with the words, ‘I am the bread of life’, giving us the promise of the Eucharist; he gives a promise of emptying Himself eternally for them and for us – a promise that He keeps to this day – a promise that we joyfully celebrate each and every time we gather for Mass – to receive this bread from heaven, the Eucharist – a word which actually means , ‘Thanksgiving’;
Each time we celebrate the Eucharist He gives himself to us, body and blood, soul and divinity, allowing us to enter into His very reality, and in turn, to share that reality with everyone around us. Yet for each of us, it seems, this is something that -too often- we can forget. We might recall His presence within us for a period of time after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist…sadly for many of us, it doesn’t last beyond the parking lot of our church.
I would encourage you to read over the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel in your own prayer time during the coming days; to examine how we continue to be blessed by God and how we respond to those blessings; to examine how we respond to the invitation to be a people of gratitude; a people of thanksgiving; a people of the Eucharist.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!