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The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 1, 2021

Watch this homily! (Begins at 35:20)

   It was wonderful in every way to celebrate the feast of St. James last weekend. The only down side to it is that, because we had special readings for the feast, we missed the regular Sunday reading from John’s gospel – the story of the miraculous feeding of the 5000. We need that story for today’s gospel to make sense. Happily, it’s a story we know well: how with only five barley loaves and a couple of fish a young boy in the crowd happened to have, Jesus fed an immense crowd. And there were even leftovers – lots of them. Twelve large wicker baskets, to be exact!

     After that dazzling miracle, Jesus quietly slipped away from the crowds, aware that they would try to make him king. But when they realized that he had gone, they went looking for him. No surprise there. If Jesus could work a wonder like that, what else might he be able to do? For them. Could he be the one who would liberate them from the hated rule of the Romans?

     So, they get into boats and go searching for Jesus, and when they manage to track him down, Jesus tells them that their motives for seeking him are all wrong. They’re more into magic than mystery. They’ve had a ‘quick fix,’ if you will: their bellies have been filled with bread – free bread, lots of it - “food that perishes,” Jesus calls it. And he tells them that what they should really be looking for is a more lasting kind of bread, bread that only he can give them, bread that “endures for eternal life,” bread that is Himself. In other words, he’s challenging them to get beyond the ‘what’s in it for me?’ mentality and, instead, to come to a personal relationship with him, to place their faith in him, to let him be the one who satisfies their truest and deepest hungers and thirsts.

      And this sets the stage for a contentious exchange between the people and Jesus. If they’re going to place their faith in him, they tell him, they want some kind of sign from him. As if the wondrous multiplication of the loaves and fish wasn’t sign enough! But no, they throw Moses in his face. Moses gave us bread from heaven, they tell him – recalling the mysterious manna that nourished their ancestors during their time of wandering in the desert, the food that appeared each morning on the desert floor and that satisfied their hunger. But Jesus sets the record straight for them: It wasn’t Moses who provided the bread from heaven, the manna, it was God. And now, he tells them, God was offering them a new and even more wondrous bread from heaven. And that bread is Himself. In other words, there’s a new manna now: I am that new manna, he says, “I am the bread of life.”

     But, my friends, that was then. What about now? How does this story intersect with our lives? Where do we fit into it? Well, for one thing, I think we’re not at all unlike the people who, even though they had witnessed something utterly dazzling in the feeding of the 5000, wanted something more from Jesus before they would place their faith in him. They wanted a sign, they told him. And we can be like that. We are surrounded by signs – wondrous signs - each day, if we but have the eyes to see. In fact, the very eyes with which we do see are wonders – miracles - aren’t they! And so is the air we breathe, and the blood that flows in our veins, and the heart that beats within us. Maybe not miracles in the strict sense of the word, but wonders nonetheless. Signs from God. And then there’s the world around us – God’s magnificent creation in all its beauty, glory, and complexity that too often we take for granted. If we want signs, we have them: wonders beyond number. Wonders in the natural world, for starters.

     But the wonders don’t stop there. They are most evident in our faith life. Think of God’s abiding presence within us…. Think, too, of the sacraments that bring us into close union with Jesus: baptism where we began our walk with him, confirmation when we intensified our relationship with him, and reconciliation where we experience a wonderful outpouring of God’s mercy. Think of marriage where human love becomes a mirror and a channel of divine love; think of the sacrament of Holy Orders that raises up servant leaders for the community of faith. Think of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick where Jesus gently offers his healing touch. And then there is the Eucharist, the very pinnacle of all those other sacramental encounters where Jesus himself becomes our food and nourishment, the companion for our journey. If only we stop to think, we are completely surrounded by signs – wonders of grace, God making himself known to us, touching us, loving us, healing us, nourishing us.

     But, my friends, like the Israelites of old, we can be quite blind when it comes to the signs that are all around us. We always seem to want more, don’t we! Or is it that we want the things Jesus can do for us more than we want Jesus himself. There’s a difference. We have Jesus. We do! And shouldn’t that be enough? Shouldn’t all the things we think we need in order to be happy - things we go after to make life better, or easier, or more comfortable - shouldn’t they pale or fade or seem inconsequential when we awaken to the fact that we have Jesus?

     My friends, Jesus is the Bread of Life. He can satisfy all our hungers and quench our deepest thirsts. How much more do we need?

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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