The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Homily: 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 16:2-4,12-15; Psalm 78; Eph 4:17,20-24; John 6:24-35

Some years ago – far too many years ago – during one of his vacations, I took one of our sons out to lunch at a local pub in our Cape Cod town. As we chatted over our meal, I couldn’t help but notice how he seemed to be enjoying his food. As I watched him, he looked up at me and said with a big smile, “You know, Dad, there’s only one thing better than food. And that’s free food.” I started to remind him that the food he was consuming with such gusto wasn’t entirely free, at least not from my perspective…but then I thought the better of it. No sense bursting his bubble. He’d learn soon enough that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so tolerant.

Indeed, in today’s passage from chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, we find Jesus speaking about this very thing to the people of Galilee – for they had just received what they thought was a free lunch. As you’ll recall, in last Sunday’s passage Jesus performed the great miracle of the loaves and fishes, feeding a hungry crowd of thousands. The miracle so excited the people they wanted to make Jesus their king, proclaim Him the Messiah, the one sent by God to return Israel to its former glory.

Yes, the only thing better than food is free food. And they want more of the same. They want more miracles, more healings, more food, more of everything. They want it all. If Jesus can feed them all so easily, if Jesus can heal the sick, if He can free the possessed, raise the dead…well, if He can do all these things, what can’t He do? He can do everything. And that’s what they want. Just imagine it. All our troubles, all our drudgery, no more working for our daily bread – all this is over.

But before they can grab Him and proclaim Him their king, he leaves them. But they will not be dissuaded. They track Him down and find Him. Jesus, though, turns the tables on them. He confronts them with the truth about themselves.

You don’t want Me. You just want your bellies filled. You just want the free food that I can give. You just want someone who can miraculously relieve all the hunger in your life.

Can you picture that crowd, brothers and sisters? Can you see them pushing against each other, pressing in on Jesus, not really sure what they want, but knowing somewhere, somewhere deep within their being, that Jesus can provide it? And so they ask Him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”

Yes, indeed, people hunger for food. But humanity’s deepest hungers are not expressed by the rumblings of its collective stomach. We hunger for meaning in our lives: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” We hunger for the hope that comes with the promise of eternal life. We hunger for peace – peace in our world, peace in our families, peace of mind, and the peace that only Jesus can bring: peace of soul – God’s peace.

Do we see ourselves in that crowd? Do we hear those same words come from our lips? Do we realize that even after 2,000 years, we’re still asking the same question? Can we accept the answer?

No, it’s not the bread from the deli, the belly food, that will satisfy our deepest hungers. What we seek, what all humanity seeks, is the food that only God can provide. We seek His very life, His divine life within us. We seek God’s presence, His indwelling in our hearts; for this and only this can give us “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”

Some in the crowd sensed this. Some realized that Jesus spoke of something greater, something beyond their understanding: “bread…which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They begged Him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Yes, they’re thinking…what wonderful bread this must be.

And what is this bread, this gift? The manna in the desert was a mere foreshadowing of God’s greatest gift to His people. For this bread, this gift, is Jesus Himself. You know the words: "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

This is Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, the Bread that comes down from heaven. He showers Himself upon us, multiplying the bread made by human hands, sanctifying it, making it divine, filling it with His own life, His own being, offering us a gift so great it boggles the mind. It is pure grace, food for our souls, food that will never leave us hungry, food that will lead us to holiness despite all that the world can throw at us.

Yes, when the nights are long and painful, and dawn brings only more hardship and hurt, Jesus answers our question not simply with words, but with an act of divine generosity. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” And it remains with us through the gift of the Eucharist.

You see, brothers and sisters, the only free food is the world’s junk food, the food that perishes. Jesus wants us to work for “the food that endures for eternal life” – for we are called to repent and believe in the Gospel. Instead of junk food, we must seek God’s true soul food, the bread of life, the food that always satisfies, always fills, no matter what we encounter in life.

Like the one who pleaded with Jesus, we too can demand, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Did they know what they were asking of Jesus? Do we know? For like the father who takes his son to lunch, Jesus too must pay. But He pays with His very life. He pays for our sins, our hungers, and does so on the Cross.

The result? Well, here it is, brothers and sisters, right here on this altar…the Eucharist, the bread of life, Jesus Christ, true God and true man, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The heart of humanity cries out in hunger and God places His answer right in front of us, a gift from God Himself, of God Himself.

“Sir, give us this bread always.” We sure do demand a lot of the Lord, don’t we? And yet He complies. He gives us this bread. The Father invites us to the living table of His only Son, and at this table, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with the peace that only God can give.

Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. How blessed are we to be called to the supper of the Lamb.

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