Backsliders

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Suffering and difficulties are part of our lives. They can be physical, financial, spiritual, psychological or social. They can be full of resentments or can be redemptive. The Israelites failed to trust God fully. God had only one condition for them to reach the Promised Land: to trust in Him at all times. But they were so stubborn. They even wanted to return to the land of slavery, only to eat their fill of bread. They complained: “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine” (Ex 16:3). The Israelites failed to realize that their suffering was nothing compared to the divine promise of freedom from slavery and God’s gift of peace to them.

The letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians shows the same situation:

  1. St. Paul realized that the Ephesians were backsliding (in the faith). He urged them to no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds as that was not the way they learned Christ (cf. Eph 4:17-20).

We are also backsliders. The world teaches us to worship the body that is why there is so much attachment to pleasure, rather than to Jesus who gives joy. It teaches us to worship property, that is why there is so much attachment to worldly wealth, rather than to Jesus from whom flow riches from the Father. It teaches us to own time, that is why we lose sight of eternity, rather than focus on Jesus who is the Eternal Word of the Father. Jesus teaches us that we are one body in Him, that apart from Him we can do nothing. He teaches us that He is our wealth, so that there will be nothing we shall want. He teaches us that time is to be used only to realize our salvation here and now in our relationships and responsibilities.

  1. St. Paul declared that corruption does not come from the outside but from within the self. He urged the Ephesians to put away the old self of their former way of life corrupted by deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds (cf. Eph 4:22-23). Yes, an evil act is a result of a decision which is personal and internal.

In the 6th chapter of his letter to the Ephesians St. Paul says,

draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God…. to stand firm against the tactics of the devil…. stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace…. hold faith as a shield, to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one…. take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…. With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit…. be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones (10-18).

  1. For St. Paul, growth in life of the community and in spiritual life is transformation of the self; as the word suggests from its etymology: trans – to move beyond, and form – what we see, what we touch. He urges us to “put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph 4:24).

Salvation in Jesus is moving beyond our desires and moving beyond the things of this world. Putting on the new self is allowing Jesus to work in us and through us, for we are mere servants and we only do what we are supposed to do. Jesus says, Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:31-33).

God gave the Israelites manna for their sustenance and for their faith in His protection. Elijah was given bread to eat in the desert to do God’s will. Jesus ate His last supper with His disciples to institute the Sacraments of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and He proclaimed that He was the bread come down from heaven and left to His disciples the memorial of that Supper as the food of life and the eternal sign of His presence in the Church until the end of time.

In the celebration of the Eucharist, we are fed and strengthened with the living Bread to renew our commitment to our Lord, to do God’s Will and be His disciples. As we hear His words: “This is my Body…. This is my Blood….” let us confirm our “yes” to love Him in truth, to serve Him in one another and to be faithful to Him despite all the uncertainties of this world. With Mary, our Mother, who always leads us to Her Son Jesus, we won’t ever feel inadequate.

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