18th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
The crowd following Jesus across the sea is hungry. Sure, he's just fed all 5,000 of them with a few fish and five barley loaves, but they want more. Not more fish and bread but more signs of his power. They want more proof that he's really who he says he is. When he tells me that they do the works of God by believing in the one God sent, they demand a sign, “What can you do?” It's like they're strolling around a county fair going from stage to stage asking the performers, “So, what's your act?” Instead of turning them all into possums, Jesus teaches them a saving truth, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Whether or not they understand this truth is debatable. But they do get the reference – Moses, manna in the desert, bread from heaven. So, while they are demanding a miraculous sign – like manna from heaven –, Jesus gives them a glimpse into their salvation – he is their manna. Do they see it? Are they listening? The more basic question is: what are they hungry for? Miracles or eternal life? Bread or the Bread of Life?
We can ask ourselves the same questions. What are we hungry for? There's natural hunger and supernatural hunger. We shouldn't confuse the two, though we often do. Paul tells the Ephesians, “...you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires...” These deceitful desires have convinced many that fulfilling them will lead to happiness. A new car. A bigger house. A prettier wife. A better-looking husband. A promotion. Getting into the right college. All of these are desires. And all of them are deceitful if we believe that fulfilling them will make us happy. The crowd pestering Jesus with questions believe they will be satisfied with a few signs of Jesus' power. They weren't satisfied with the miracle of the fishes and loaves. Why would they be satisfied with another miracle? They won't be. And that's Jesus' point. What we can eat and drink here and now is always temporary, always fleeting. That crawfish boil we devoured yesterday is gone. That nice bottle of wine we drank Friday night is gone. We're hungry and thirsty again. Nothing created, nothing temporary can permanently satisfy. Only the Bread of Life can give us eternal life. The only manna from heaven we need is Christ.
So, what do you hunger for? I'm not asking for our dinner order. I'm asking: what is it that you need to be most deeply satisfied with your life? Family? Friends? Productive work? Good health? Family and friends die. Jobs end. People get sick. All temporary. Maybe a fulfilling hobby? A fashionable wardrobe? Your guy or gal in the White House? Hobbies come and go. Fashions change. Elections have consequences. All temporary. All perfectly fine in themselves but all temporary. What we hunger for most is union with God. We were created by God and re-created in Christ to be guests at the eternal wedding feast. We were created by God and re-created in Christ to be heirs to the Kingdom. We were created by God and re-created in Christ to become Christs for the world. To achieve these ends, becoming Christs and enjoying the feast as heirs, we need food and drink now that will never pass away. We need our hungers and our thirsts properly satisfied by the Body and Blood of Christ. Not magic-tricks, or signs and wonders, or conspiracy theories, or Utopian philosophies. We need Christ. His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Received while properly disposed. And duly grateful. He promises: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Our challenge, as bodies and souls living in the world, is to keep our hungers and thirsts focused on the eternal. This doesn't mean that we don't eat or drink when we need to. It means that we never confuse our natural hungers with our supernatural hunger. We never allow those deceitful desires to convince us that possessing This and That will make us happy. We never allows ourselves to be deceived into believing that sin is not sin, or that the revealed Truth is just an opinion, or that we are less than creatures created in the image and likeness of God. We are temporary residents, merely pilgrims on the way through this world. Our true home is in heaven. But while we are in the world, it's our duty to be as much like Christ as we can be. We can't replace him or his work. But we can do a pretty good job of imitation. That's why we are here this evening. To make of ourselves an oblation, an offering, to God the Father. To eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, and to become him whom we consume. And we do all this to satisfy our deepest longing – union with God for the salvation of the world.