Eight years ago, the Mars Chocolate North America company wanted to rejuvenate their product line of candy bars. Their creative partner, the global firm BBDO, helped them to launch a national campaign with the basic message: “you are not you when you’re hungry.” The television advertisements were wildly popular with stars such as Betty White and Aretha Franklin appearing in them. In all the tv spots the person just wasn’t themselves until a concerned fried offered them a candy bar. The Aretha Franklin spot always cracked me up. On a long cross-country drive one of the backseat passengers is complaining about everything – and while doing so appears to be Ms. Franklin. The backseat companion encourages the complainer to eat a candy bar because “When you’re hungry you turn into a diva.”
After eating a candy bar provided by the concerned friend, the diva is transformed back into themselves and announces that they are “better.” But are they? The candy bar is a quick and very temporary fix. The person in the backseat is still their old self, just one not complaining at the moment.
In the first reading, the Israelites are in the backseat on their long cross-country trip of the Exodus. They are moaning about everything. “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, [at least] 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!” I guess they are not themselves when they are hungry. Enter the “concerned friend,” God, who provides the manna to satisfy them. They stopped complaining, but only for a while. Turn a few pages in the Book of Exodus and the Israelites are again their old selves and complain and moan about one thing or another.
They continue to look over their shoulder to their enslaved life in Egypt. And they lost sight of journey’s end: the promised land. They lost sight of God’s blessings in the here and now – and God’s promise in the land that awaited them. They could not see that the manna in the desert was only the grace of the moment to persevere in order to inherit the promise. It was the grace to let them put aside their old life and let a new-self emerge. But they just keep complaining never seeing the fullness of freedom that awaits them in the promised land.
The same goes for us. Are we aware of the great grace that God gives us in our Faith, our Church, and especially in the Eucharist? Grace to let us put on a new self – or as St. Paul would say, to put on Christ? Grace to help persevere in order to inherit the promise to life eternal with God? Or are we the diva in the backseat that will settle for the quick fix – but one that does not satisfy or last?
Here’s the deal: if you want to get to the promised land you have to leave your personal Egypt behind. St. Paul, in his own way, points out the same thing in the second reading. “I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds;” St. Paul is saying that there are folks out there the think if I do A or B or C then everything will be OK, I won’t have the gnawing hunger, that emptiness in life. Such thoughts are futile. You are Aretha Franklin in the backseat. Plan A, B or C is just the quick fix candy bar. It might work for a while, but you are still the old you, soon to reappear as a diva.
St. Paul urges us to “put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
Put on the new self, created in God’s way, according to God’s plans – plans that are not quick fixes, but plans that endure – and in the end are “diva-proof.” Put away the old self. So… if you could just pick one thing, just one thing about yourself to put away, what would it be? And to be clear, I am not just asking what you want to go away… I am also asking what will take its place. When you take off the old, the new takes its place less that old return. That is going to take thought, prayer, and reflection. Tough stuff to become a new self in Christ. We will need grace for all this!
Are we aware of the great grace that God gives us in our Faith, our Church, and especially in the Eucharist? Grace to let us put on a new self – or as St. Paul would say, to put on Christ? Grace to help persevere in order to inherit the promise to life eternal with God? Or are we the diva in the backseat that will settle for the quick fix – but one that does not satisfy or last?
We can keep eating the same quick fix candy bar, keeping dressing in the same clothing of our old self, and keep waking up in our own personal Egypt enslaved to some futile thing. Or we can seek the real food of Christ and believe in Him, the one God sent to be the Bread of Life. We can partake of the life in Christ, put on Christ, come to the table of the Eucharist for the real food that makes lasting change – and accept the grace to persevere.
Because we may make this commitment today to believe in and follow Christ. But tomorrow morning we may again wake up in Egypt. That is OK because we believe in Christ and so have the grace to persevere. And so, we again seek the real food of Christ. We again set out on the road to the Promised Land. We again receive the grace to endure, to persevere.
The Israelites persevered and reached the Promise Land across the Jordan River.
The people in the Gospel persevered, put on the new self of Faith, and, in time, joined the heavenly banquet table in Heaven.
Today, begin your journey out of the backseat, away from your personal Egypt. Come to the table of the Eucharist. Be fed for the journey. Come receive the Bread of Life. Receive the grace of God.