YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: ANOTHER KIND OF FOOD
BY: Fr. Gerald Musa
We are always hungry and working hard to satisfy our hunger. We work day and night, spending time and expending energy as we struggle to place food on the table, to eat well. Several organizations and programmes today focus on providing food for the hungry. We have small, medium and large charitable organizations that are distributing food aid to the needy and to fight hunger. The World Food Programme (WFP), a branch of the United Nations, is one of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies addressing the challenge of hunger. This organization caters for the most vulnerable in the society, especially places where there is famine, other natural disasters, war and economic distress. Most charitable organisations identify women, children, the sick and elderly as among the most vulnerable.
In fact, we all have a physiological need to eat food and to avoid any unpleasant experience of hunger. Therefore, we spend more time working to satisfy the different forms of human hunger – for food, sex, wealth, knowledge, power, comfort and all the material things the world can offer. No wonder George Bernard Shaw says, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” The people of Israel experienced physical hunger in their long journey from the land of captivity to the Promised Land and in their hunger they expressed deep anger against Moses. There was a delay in the supply of food, perhaps for just one day and they began to complain and murmur vehemently against Moses and by extension, against God. As if this was not enough, they also began to glorify the past days of slavery and they spoke with nostalgia about the fleshpots of meat, which the Egyptians served them. Their memory was too short to remember that in the days of slavery they could not sing the Lord’s song and were deeply sad in those days because they lacked freedom and lack of fulfilment. In their anger, they forgot the two ultimate reasons for their journey:
1. To establish an intimate relationship with his people
2. To bring them to a land and an environment where they will be free to worship Him freed from fear and saved from the prying eyes of their foes. Afterwards, the Lord listened to all their complaints and provided them with abundance of special diet of manna and quails.
Many years after the exodus experience, Jesus came to live and preach to the people of Israel. Jesus was sensitive to their physical hunger and so he multiplied bread and fish for them to eat.
The people enjoyed the physical bread he provided that they began to follow Him, not so much for his teaching but for the bread they could eat. Jesus was smart to notice that his followers saw Him as the leader of a charitable organisation that provides food aid and so he quickly corrected this wrong impression. He did not want to be reduced to a magician, a mere wonder worker, but as one who nourishes and refreshes the soul. This explains why He spoke to his followers about extraordinary bread – Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels) that gives eternal life and is greater than the manna their ancestors ate in the desert.
Jesus read the hearts of his listeners and advised them not to crave for the bread that will perish but for that which endures forever.
Surprisingly, they too had short memories like their ancestors and began to ask Jesus to show them a sign to believe in Him after they had just been fed with bread. You can imagine how they put in their hands in their pockets and proudly asked Him, “What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you?” “What work will you do?” Jesus saw these questions not just as a challenge but an opportunity to speak to them about a different kind of Manna (food), which has the power to give eternal life. He responded: “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. The bread God gives is the One who comes from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The people having realised they have a need for something more than physical bread, quickly requested: “Give us this bread always” (John 6:32-34). Thereafter Jesus made a definitive statement: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall never be hungry, and he who believes in me shall never be thirsty” (John 6:35). By these words, Jesus meant to offer Himself and his life to those who believe in Him. He demonstrated this act of self-giving on the day of the Last Supper when He took the bread and said to his disciples, ‘Take and eat, this is my body’ and when he gave them the wine and said, ‘Take and eat, this is my blood.’ Psalm 77 (78) tells us that we are lucky to share in the bread of angels (Panis Angelicus), which God offers to us. It is this bread that gives peace and joy, which the world cannot give to us. It is a kind of bread that sustains eternally. The spiritual hunger that Jesus talks about is the yearning of the spirit in each person to have a deeper union and intimacy with God. It is the hunger for truth, for righteousness, for love, peace, holiness and only the bread he offers can satisfy this inner and deep hunger. The bread that satisfies this hunger is Communion and intimacy with God. A Ghanaian proverb says, “The grasshopper which is always near its mother eats the best food.” Therefore, those who enjoy communion with God enjoy the best food.