Reflections on the Readings
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 5, 2012 - Year B
The Imperishable Food
Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal." (John 6:26-27)
I really do enjoy eating. My affinity for food is no secret. My wife's Grandpa McCollum enjoyed eating and really enjoyed eating desserts. If you asked Grandpa what desserts he liked, he responded without a hint of shame, "Round ones and square ones!" It is too many 'round ones and square ones' that recently sparked the concern of my doctor. My feeding times now require greater discipline. And my menu has less fat and sugar and carbohydrates. But the repetition of eating reveals to us that the food we eat throughout the day does not last. It perishes in our stomachs as it gives us energy and sustains us with vital nutrients and protein.
Food also creates opportunities for getting together with family and friends. For example, a favorite meal is served at birthdays. Just mention Thanksgiving and familiar aromas of that festive occasion seem to swirl around us. I remember spending Thanksgiving with my siblings a few years back. My sister, Rachel, and all the women of our families followed mom's recipes in preparing the Turkey and all of the trimmings. Mashed potatoes, dressing, and green beans were all prepared mom's way. The pecan pie and pumpkin pie and more desserts than I can remember were all made just the way mommy made them.
Words fail me to adequately convey the emotions in me as I sat down at that table full of food. The only people missing were mom and dad. But after the first bite of food I could almost see them sitting at the table with us. Everything tasted as if it came from mom's kitchen. I was a kid again for a little while. The feast before us that Thanksgiving day made present all of the memorable days of Thanksgivings back home at 215 Second Street, Huntingburg, IN.
There is another home. Today's readings remind us of our true home and of that true food that is for our soul. The food we eat for our daily bread perishes with the using. The bread which is his body and the wine which is his blood is imperishable. And rather than our digestive systems changing it into the energy we need, this food changes us into the persons we can't become any other way.
So our stomachs must not be our god. (Phil. 3:19) Our deepest needs and longings are not satisfied with the food we eat or the house we live in or the career we pursue or the newest car we drive. Jesus invites us not to be anxious about life or what we shall eat or drink or wear. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Seeking these things makes us a slave to our appetites. (Matt. 6:25-34) TV commercials exploit our appetites and deceptively try to convince us that happiness and life come when our every whim is fed. Jesus boldly declares that the Father is aware of everything we need. And all the things we need, he provides. But we are challenged to put first things first. St. Augustine reminds us, "If you love the earth you will become dirt. If you love God you will become God." That's something to think on.
Jesus says that Gentiles are preoccupied with things. In our second reading, St. Paul reminds us, however, that we must no longer live nor think the way Gentiles do. Their powerless souls reflect their impotent thinking about life and the life to come. Following Christ means walking a different direction. A Christian no longer is under the power of deceitful desires. Through Christ the very way we think and view the world around us is renewed. A new energy helps us to seek what is above - even Christ our Lord. We have a new self, a new mind, and a new spirit created in God's love. We possess a new desire for what Paul tells us is righteousness and holiness of truth.
The miraculous feeding of the five thousand is a sign; a sign revealing another kind of food; the bread of life personified in Jesus, the true manna from heaven. Jesus is the food that does not perish. The great promise of Christ is that whoever eats this bread will not hunger, and he who believes in him will not thirst. No one else and nothing else can give us what only Christ gives. Lesser things will not do, no matter how updated they may be. If you should lose all of your stuff and things, will you have that sure and unfailing anchor of faith in Jesus Christ? The good life is knowing Jesus Christ as the creator of every breath we take and the giver of the deepest love our soul is made to know. Only Jesus comes to us that we might have life and have it abundantly. Jesus is not stingy about giving us his life. He invites us into his life, the life he and the Father share. It is an irrevocable invitation. It is the power of an imperishable life he offers you and me.
Eternal life is about becoming a new person. Or perhaps a better-version-of-ourselves as Matthew Kelly at dynamiccatholic.com likes to say. This extreme makeover is an interior work that began with our baptism and confirmation. And our life in Christ is sustained by Jesus who is the bread sent down from heaven. For the true bread from heaven is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world. It is this imperishable bread for which the world hungers.
They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always." Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com