In Father Hanly’s wonderful homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, he looks at the hunger in our hearts and how to satisfy it.
Have you noticed, this is the second Sunday when the gospel continues the chapters of St John’s gospel known as the Bread of Life.
Remember last week, the gospel was all about Jesus coming to the other side, to Capharnaum, and he was there, and there were so many people there, and then there was no place to send them, so he tested his disciples and said to them, “Give them food,” and Philip said, “It’s impossible. There’s too many of them. You should send them away. Send them back to their homes.”
And then Jesus sat down, had them all divided up into groups, and then he took five loaves and two fishes, the offering of a little shepherd boy who happened to be in that great crowd. And then he multiplied them and there was enough bread for all of them to eat and as much fish as they desired.
And then, of course, you remember they saw this and they said, “This is the prophet. This is the one Moses spoke about. This is the Messiah. This is the one who is to come.” And so they were going to make him a king. And Jesus knew this and so he fled from them and he went in to the mountains and hid away because they wanted to make him king.
Today, we know now, from reading this gospel, two things. We know why Jesus ran away from the crowd who were going to make him King, and we know that the people who were fed missed the point of the feeding, they missed the point of why they were fed.
But we know from reading last week’s gospel that they were right. God was feeding his people. This time it wasn’t Moses. This time it was Jesus. He sat them all down in the desert and he fed them.
And every Jew that was a part of that first multiplication of the loaves and fishes, five thousand men, they knew what he was doing, and they knew what he was saying, and they understood something that we sometimes forget.
They understood that the meaning of the loaves that Moses fed the people with when the people rebelled against their freedom and wanted to return to the fleshpots of Egypt and he asked God and God said, “In the morning, they will gather manna, and in the evening, quail, and they shall know that God cares, that God feeds his people, that God nourishes people.”
And so it became a great sign and symbol down through the centuries that the one thing about the God of the Israelites is he cares, he cares for his people and he gives them what they need.
For them it was bread, but, as we can see, what Jesus was saying is, “God is not giving you bread. The bread of life is something much more important than a few loaves and a couple of fish. The bread of life is what you hunger for.”
And then all of us have to ask in our hearts, “What do you really hunger for?” To be a celebrity, to be rich, to live on the Peak, to be helpful, to be content, to be at peace.
The human heart is a hunter and it hunts after food. But the food isn’t always the ordinary food. The food is what the heart hungers for. And, probably, at the bottom of all those hungers that we express, the need to feel accepted, the need to feel wanted, the need to feel loved, the need, sometimes, to feel better than everybody else, or richer than everybody else, or more important that everybody else.
All these hungers are deeper and deeper and deeper until you get to the final hunger and this is what Jesus has come to give. The final hunger is we hunger for God himself.
A saint once said, “If you find God, you will be satisfied. You will be satisfied if you live in splendour on the mountain top or you live in a slum hovel, because you will have the reason why you were born and why you have this hunger.”
But the problem with this hunger is how do you experience it?
Many people feel, “Well, if I’m safe and secure, and I have enough to eat, and a nice family, and a good job, etc, etc, that will be enough.”
But we know it is never enough, for beyond that is the deeper hunger. The hunger is this: we hunger for Christ.
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger again. And I will give him the water of life. And he who drinks of me will never thirst.”
Now this is a very hard lesson to teach a people who are more concerned about the daily necessities. And that is why, in today’s gospel, Jesus lays the foundation of what they missed.
Last time they met him, they were missing the point. The point was that God himself has come to be our bread, to be our life. He has come to make us a people. He has come to bring us together that we might experience not only God, but that we ourselves are children of God, brothers and sisters of God. And until this is realised, we will never understand what the words “bread of life” means.
We have a symbol every Sunday. We give out Holy Communion, and everyone receives the bread of life, Jesus himself.
And we receive it, but very often we forget the next step. And the next step is the vital step. Because we are not to feed on the bread of life for ourselves, we are to feed each other with the bread of life. It is not that I find myself one with Jesus on a Sunday morning as I sit and pray. It is that Jesus has made us one people. One bread, one God, one people. The bread that comes down from heaven must be shared by the people who receive it.
And so what Jesus is saying is, “I shall make of you a community, a people. I shall restore the full meaning of what it means to be a human being. One father. Under God, one people.”
The point was missed, because the people were looking for material things. But Jesus persists. He runs away from the one thing that could destroy what he had come to give. He had come to give peace. He had come to give love. He had come to give all the precious things we hunger for. But he found that, unless we shared them with each other, we would never know what love is, we would never know what these gifts are, we would never know what it means to be a child of God until we reach out to the people around us. We will never know what it means to be one, unless we learn to forgive, unless we learn to share.
Now, I always think of two things.
What Jesus is asking of us is not that we believe that he is the Son of God, that we believe that what he says is true, that we believe all of these things.
He’s looking for our trust.
He’s not saying, “I’ll give you a few sermons and then you’ll see if they are reasonable enough and you follow them and then you will be happy.”
He is saying, “I want your heart. I want your soul. I want to be as close to you as you are the bread you eat. The food you eat is one with you. I want you unconditionally. I want you because I want you to understand that when God loves, God gives, and I give myself to you that you might give yourself to your brothers and sisters. And in giving yourself to your brothers and sisters, then you will understand that the Messiah is the one who gives himself that all people might finally understand and experience the loving God who gives, and to understand what love really means.
The only one at the first multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the only one who understood, or began to understand, what the meaning of that great mystery was when Jesus took this rag-tag gang of people, who are all interested in their own lives and in their own things, and sat them down that they would see each other and talk to each other and share bread together.
The only one whose heart sang, and who understood, even dimly, what Jesus had done, and what he had hoped to do, was the little boy. The little boy, remember the little boy?
When the apostles Philip and Andrew said, “We do not have anything to feed them, send them away,” and then Andrew said, “But there is a little boy here who brought his lunch, a couple of loaves, tiny little loaves, and a few fish, and what are these among so many?” And Jesus took the loaves, he blessed them, raised his eyes to heaven, gave them to his disciples to distribute, and there was enough for everyone.
Without the little boy, there would have been no miracle. Not because loaves couldn’t be bought, five or six. Because Jesus took the loaves from a little boy who gave away his own lunch, everything he had, generously, and largeness of heart, and he gave it and in his naïve way said, “Here is the way that you can feed these people.”
That’s not faith, that’s trust. And this is what Jesus expects. Trust is different from faith. Faith is, “I believe in this, I believe in that,” and, sometimes, of course, it’s a part of trust. But trust means, “I give my life into your hands, and I hold on to you, and I never let you go.”
And I’ll end with a story about Coney Island.
When I was a little boy, I was very, very, ill. I had many illnesses, osteomyelitis and a few other things, and I was kind of very, it made me very angry all the time. And my father one day took me to Coney Island, which is kind of like, it’s the greatest place in the world for kids, in Brookyln, on the shore, with all the rides and the Ferris wheel and Mile Sky Chaser in the sky, and he brought me there one day and he said, “We are going to have a good time together.”
And he took me into Steeplechase Park, which is one of the large amusement parks, and I saw the rollercoaster for the first time. And I said to myself, “I can’t go on this.” And he smiled at me and he says, “Yes, you can.” I said, “No, this is terrorising. You see, it goes way up and falls down and whirls through the sky.” And here I was, only about nine years old, and I said, “No, no, no, no, I can’t go on this.” And he said, “I’ll go with you and I’ll hold you.”
And so we got on to the roller-coaster and sped through the skies. And I was terrorised only until I felt my father’s arms close to me and I held on. And after the first thrill I became an addict for roller-coasters.
The reason was I put my faith, not my faith but my trust, not in the roller-coaster, I put my trust in my father. And I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to say, “Leave all your fears behind, and I will take you riding on a great ride through the sky, and, as long as you hold on to me, you do not have to fear anything.”
This is how you appreciate what happens here, in your life, any place. Jesus gives himself to you, and you hold on, and he will take you to places you’ve never dreamed of.
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This homily was delivered on 2nd August 2009.
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