Last week Jesus performed the multiplication of the loaves, and all the people who witnessed the amazing miracle wanted to make Jesus king. Making Jesus king was the same thing as asking Him to lead them in a revolution against the Roman Empire. The Israelites at that period in their history didn't have their own kingdom. They were an occupied territory, ruled by a Roman delegate, who gave them only very limited powers of self-determination. And the massive crowd of would-be revolutionaries was so convinced that Jesus was the perfect revolutionary leader that they followed Him across the Sea of Galilee after He sneaked away in the middle of the night. They finally catch up to Him, gather around Him, and acclaim Him once again. He is surrounded by this huge, adoring crowd of people willing to follow Him to the death if only He will agree to be their king, to bring them political freedom and prosperity.
But Jesus didn't come to earth in order to spark a political revolution. He had a much bigger agenda, and so do His followers. He tries to explain this to them. He says: "Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life." True Christians, in other words, understand that real fulfillment comes from more than just making a living; it comes from making a life.
Many of our Lord's most famous sayings taught the same lesson: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matt 5:4), for example, and "Seek first the Kingdom of God" (Matt 6:33), and “What does a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his soul?" (Matt 16:26). Our life on earth is preparation from something greater; our citizenship is in heaven, and here on earth, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, "We have no lasting city" (Hebrews 13:14).
We all remember Ebenezer Scrooge, the famous protagonist of Charles Dickens's masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge had a very clear goal in life: making money. And as the richest man in the city, he achieved his goal. He made a very good living, but he had a miserable life. The human heart is made for greater things than wealth, prosperity, and pleasure. It is made to love God and love one's neighbor, and that's where true, everlasting happiness comes from.
As soon as Scrooge started to put his wealth at the service of Christian love, he remembered how to smile. Scrooge is a fictional character, but the history of the Church boasts of a few saints who truly made that same discovery.
St. Thomas Becket is one of them. He lived in England in the 1200s. He was best friends with King Henry II; they both were selfish, self-indulgent, and power hungry. They drank together, debauched together, and plotted together. Then King Henry got the idea of appointing Becket to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry thought that having his best friend occupy the highest Church position in the land would give him a chance to control the Church and squeeze money out of it.
But when Thomas Becket was ordained, God's grace touched his heart, and he began to see the folly of living just for earthly goals. He sold his considerable property and gave the money to the poor, stopped his loose living, and dedicated himself to serving Christ and the Church with all his energy and talent. The King wasn't pleased, and ended up having his former best friend murdered during Mass in the Cathedral. Becket traded in temporary earthly glory for a martyr's eternal crown - and you can rest assured that he has no regrets.
It is certainly no sin to desire and to work for happiness here on earth, as long as we have the right expectations. Jesus is very clear in telling us that the complete fulfillment and permanent satisfaction that our hearts long for will never be found here on earth.
All the pains and pleasures of this world, all the accomplishments and achievements that look good on a college application or a résumé - these are all passing things. We were made for greater things, for eternal life with God in heaven. Here is how Pope Benedict explained it just days before he was elected Pope: "All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these things disappear. The only thing that lasts forever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity."
It is a healthy thing for us to ask ourselves where we are looking for our true happiness: from the satisfactions of this world, or from our everlasting friendship with Jesus Christ? One thermometer for this aspect of our spiritual lives is our use of entertainment.
People banking on perfect happiness in this passing world often give top priority to entertainment. They tend to live for the weekend, to live for vacation. They tend to spend all their free time indulging in their favorite hobby. They tend to become easily upset if something prevents them from watching the game or seeing their favorite TV show. But people who are truly working for "food that endures" are more balanced in their use of entertainment.
They more easily recognize that the purpose of entertainment is to help us relax and recreate, restoring our energies so that we can keep on striving to fulfill our life mission. They don't live for the weekends, they use the weekends to help them live life more fully. Let us ask Him to help us renew our commitment to Him, so that while we continue working for a living this coming week, we don't lose sight of what it's really all about.