John 6:24-35, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
That’s what anyone would ask when told that another sort of manna, come down from heaven, would satisfy our hunger for good. For good. For always.
For good sounds too good to be true. What is for always, what never goes away is hunger. We are never satisfied. Enough never seems to be enough.
St Augustine saw the reason for this uneasy bottomlessness inside us. From his own experience of being thrown into fits of gratification and emptiness, he finally confessed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” You have made us in your own image and likeness. If our hearts were vessels that were finite, we would have been brimming over and satisfied before long. But our desires seem to be infinite, if at times disordered. The limitless longings can stretch our souls every which way. Ultimately, the restlessness ends when we rest our hearts in God alone.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
These words of Jesus ring empty if we have never been hungry. Today, we are invited to remember once more the hungers that haunt our souls. Of this infinite set, we can dwell on three: our hunger for consolation, understanding, and love.
We hunger to be consoled in times of loss, sorrow, and desolation. We can be vulnerable to fear and anxiety about many things that we do not know or cannot control. And so we are always seeking shelter in a world that can be numbed by unpredictable storms and unspeakable suffering.
We hunger to be understood in this time of easy judgment and prejudice. In a world of hyperconnection, we suffer the risk of not being connected and seen. And so we are always wanting to belong, to be “liked” and accepted. We are repelled by those who would judge us on the surface and we gravitate toward those who would understand and forgive us.
We hunger to be loved in this period of change and compulsion. In this strange, new world of disruption and obsolescence, we wonder about promises and other such matters that used to last a lifetime. And so we are always longing for love to endure the vagaries of the seasons, for love to stay even a bit longer than a while.
I am bread for these hungers, Jesus tells us today. Believe in me, the Bread of God, come down from heaven, that gives life to the world.
We are taken aback for a moment until we realize that indeed our hunger for consolation is fed by careful words and silent presences that speak to the desolation in our soul. Our hunger for understanding is fed by the acceptance we receive in fellowship and community. And our hunger for love is fed by the enduring sacrifice and compassion of those who choose to stay with us to the very end.
I am bread for your hunger. Indeed, we are fed by words that break the silence, stories of faith in the Scriptures that are God’s very Word. We are fed by community that heals our disconnection, this church of disciples that is his Body. And we are fed by the Eucharist, this wonderful encounter we celebrate between God and his people, mediated through the self-emptying love of Christ, embodied in his life, death, and resurrection.
Ultimately we learn from Word and Body and Eucharist that we are fed not by what enters us but by what goes out of our person. St Francis of Assisi, in his prayer for peace, sensed this intimately:
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.
This is what anyone would pray to quell the hunger for good.
*from God’s Word Today in the Philippine Star