There was a custodian in a parish I once ministered at that was a veritable wonder. Hank could fix anything. In fact the more bizarre the mechanical breakdown, the more creative Hank became. It was a cliché to say that a particularly puzzling problem once solved was “hanked.” And when anyone would match his kind of skill in any endeavor, that person was said to have “hanked” the job.
That’s what being a Christian is supposed to be like. We do the work of the Christ so well that we are known by his name.
The crowds following Jesus in today’s Gospel want to know “What is the work of God?” Though their motivation may be somewhat misguided—they seem to want more miracles like the multiplication of loaves and fishes—the question is nonetheless a valid one. There may have been a desire on the part of the people to emulate the power Jesus had demonstrated.
Jesus answers their question not on their terms, but on his. "Believe in the one the Father sent." He brings the work back to his person. St. Paul reinforces this idea when he calls on us to
… put away the old self of your former way of life,...
and put on the new self,
created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
In other words we must “put on Christ.”
It’s clear that both Jesus and the crowds have the feeding of the 5,000 on their minds. The crowd seems not to have really gotten the point and are looking for some sort of clarification. Jesus wants the event to be an occasion for acquiring a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. The crowds turn the feeding into a call for more manna, food for the body; Jesus turns the event to a vision of his body and blood becoming the source radical transformation.
This fresh way of seeing things begins at the Eucharist. The late scripture scholar Blessed Sacrament Father Eugene LaVerdiere, offered an intriguing question about the institution narrative of the Eucharistic Prayer which retells the story of the Last Supper. He asked if Jesus might have been saying more than we normally accept in the words “Do this in memory of me.” He asked whether Jesus meant more than repeating this particular ritual. Might he have been going further than that? Might he have been asking his disciples, and you and me, to break our bodies, pour out our blood for the sake of the world? Was the work of Jesus—that willing sacrifice of self—was that what he was calling on us to?
The “work” of God that the crowds ask for is actually the giving of self. Just as Jesus said “This is my Body which is given for you,” so too does he call on us in each Eucharist to say to one another, “This is my body which is given for you.” That’s the “work” of God because it was the work of the Son of God. That’s what Paul calls us to when he asks us to “put on the new self;" it's all about a radical transformation.
Doing the work of Christ means allowing ourselves to be made over in such a way that when we see others we see Christ and when others see us they see Christ. When the child looks at the parent, the child sees Christ. When the parent looks at the child, the parent sees Christ. When we look at our spouse, when we look at our neighbor, we see Christ. When we see a stranger, we see Christ. When a stranger sees us, she or he sees Christ. When we see an immigrant, we see Christ. Doing the work of Jesus is risky business; it isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s all about putting others before self.
This makes the Eucharist more than a celebration of remembrance. It projects the memory of Christ’s saving act from our worship into our daily lives where Christ’s self-sacrifice for others becomes the work we do. As we celebrate the Eucharist this week, we embrace this view of our celebration and see in it the fullness of being called by his name. Today we consciously celebrate the memory by living the name, making it our own.