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The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 19, 2018


    
One of the novels of the celebrated 20th century American writer, Flannery O’Connor, has a title she borrowed from Matthew’s gospel: The Violent Bear It Away. You could hardly call the novel uplifting - it’s too full of darkness and spiritual conflict for that - but like all of O’Connor’s novels, it has a message. In one memorable passage, a very eccentric old man tries to drive home some religion to his great-nephew who’s not the least bit interested.  The old man tells the boy: “You were born into bondage and baptized into freedom, into the death of the Lord, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ!”

     The boy isn’t buying it. It makes no sense to him that his freedom might have anything at all to do with Jesus.  But the old man persists: “Jesus is the Bread of Life,” he tells him.  But the boy has no interest in the Bread of Life. He’s not hungry for it and he doesn’t want it. In fact, he senses – and here I quote – “that the heart of his great uncle’s madness is this very hunger, and…he’s afraid that it might be passed down, might be hidden in his blood and might strike some day in him and then he, too, would be torn by hunger like the old man and nothing would heal or fill him but the Bread of Life….”

     The young boy’s reaction may seem extreme but it raises a question we might well consider. How much do we hunger for the Bread of Life?  Are we ever “torn by hunger” to use the novelist’s expression? Seldom, I think. Too seldom. Think of all the hungers we have in our lives: hunger for acceptance, hunger for autonomy, hunger for security; hunger for success, for popularity; hunger for things to make us feel good, or look good. None of these have anything to do with the Bread of Life. They are hungers for passing things, things that promise diversion and delight, that promise happiness, but end up only dulling our senses and wearying our souls. They are things that insidiously trick us into believing that even though the last thing didn’t satisfy, the next thing will.  It never does, of course – not the shiny new SUV or the sleek sports car; not the latest in high-tech wizardry or the giant high-resolution TV; not the designer clothes, or the remodeled kitchen or the bigger and better house.  Not sex, or a promotion, or personal prominence.  No one of these things - or even all of them taken together - can satisfy the real hunger of the human heart.

     But that doesn’t keep us from our restless searching, does it? – from our deep-down fear that if we were to take Jesus at his word and really let him be the Bread to satisfy our deepest hunger, he might not be enough.  So we hedge our bets.  We give a nod to Jesus but we continue to load up on things, just in case.

     We’re not a lot different from the people of Jesus’ time who were far more taken by his multiplication of the loaves and fishes (there was food you could sink your teeth into, after all!) – they were far more taken by his feeding of the five-thousand than by his claim to be the Bread of Life.

     Dostoevsky once wrote, “We humans seek not so much the holy as the miraculous.”  Now, certainly, the miraculous can be holy, but the point stands.  We can be much more taken with the startling and the astonishing than with the common and the everyday. Weeping statues and dubious visions, some of them pretty questionable or even rather bizarre, quickly gain a following as if they were somehow more important than the daily appearances of Jesus in sister or brother, in bread and wine, in healing oil, flowing water, and saving Word.

     Too often we do prefer the miraculous to the holy.  The holy can seem dull and not very exciting, whereas miracles are anything but dull and absolutely exciting.  Miracles are, by definition, extraordinary; the holy is often just ordinary.  Miracles tend to be flashy; the holy tends to be quiet.  Miracles are marvels; the holy is mystery.  Miracles are a bolt of lightning; the holy is a gentle, refreshing dew.  The holy is God becoming one of us, fishermen becoming Apostles, sinners becoming saints, you and I being transformed by grace, bread and wine offering communion in the Body and Blood of Christ.

     My friends, Jesus calls us to be holy.  He promises no miracles.  That is not to say he never does them, but it is to say that he favors the ordinary.  And in doing so he makes the ordinary holy in the same way God did when he took on our flesh and blood, in the same way Jesus does when he becomes our food and drink in the Eucharist.

     “Jesus is the bread of life,” said Flannery O’Connor’s old man.  And so he is.  Without him there is no life.  So seek him.  Seek the Bread of Life.  Seek the holy.  Hunger for the holy.  And a miracle will happen. It will. Because “the one who eats this bread will live forever!”

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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