18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is said that when Buddha was on his deathbed, his disciple Anand asked him for a memorial. And Buddha gave him a Jasmine flower. But as the flower dried up, the memory of Buddha also dwindled.
Jesus Christ, however, instituted a lasting memorial without anybody asking for it by offering his Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine, and commanding his disciples to share his divinity by repeating the ceremony. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave us the Eucharist, the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, as the memorial of his self-giving.
Today’s gospel reading connects the feeding or multiplication miracle with the Bread of Life discourse in the sixth chapter John’s Gospel. We are dwelling on this for five consecutive Sundays. The mystery of the Bread of Life will be developed. We are invited to consider the nourishment that God offers for human hungers.
According to one commentary on this gospel passage, the people in this gospel narrative were drawn to Jesus. They were driven by a hunger for God. “They followed Jesus into the wilderness because they were aware (or somehow felt) that their own lives were a wilderness.” They hungered for the words Jesus spoke. They wanted more than their ordinary lives were able to offer them.
While they were hungering for God, however, a physical hunger seized them. Hungering for God, they found themselves hungering for earthly food. Jesus, whom they were following and listening to be nourished by the words of life, gave them earthly bread and fish. So, Jesus was not only concerned for their spiritual food but, also, for their physical or temporal nourishment.
However, the crowd got stuck on material food – they came to Jesus looking for more. They were now after the “free lunch” that the king they had in mind could provide for them. What was offered – the Bread of Life – as nourishment to sustain them in their search for God became a temptation to focus on the physical food.
This is often what happens in our lives. In many wonderful ways, the Lord Jesus has provided and even multiplied bread to feed us – to satisfy our physical hunger. God providing us with material food should give us more time to seek for spiritual nourishment, more time for the Bread of Life, that can satisfy our hungers for deeper things. We have to honestly examine ourselves on this matter: Is our having “more than enough” material food for our physical nourishment prompting us or impelling us to spend more time and energy seeking for spiritual nourishment?
Sad to say, like the people in today’s gospel story, we are tempted to get caught up looking for more material food. We are tempted to dwell only on our self-inflicted hunger for material things – money, wealth, and possessions. We are tempted to ignore our deepest huger – our hunger for the Bread of Life, our hunger for God.
We might be trying to satisfy our hunger for happiness by indulging in sensual pleasures and worldly entertainments. We might be trying to satisfy our hunger for security or for a sense of self-worth before other people by striving to win their esteem and admiration. We might be trying to satisfy our hunger for deeper things – for purpose, meaning and fulfillment in life – by trying hard to achieve and accomplish a lot of things, or by working to death to earn more and get rich in order to acquire and accumulate material things. However, we must realize that there is more to life than big bank accounts, beautiful mansions, fancy cars, newest gadgets, and latest fashion.
Today’s readings remind us of the balance that must be struck. If we have been blessed with an abundance of earthly bread, if we have been given enough material and physical blessings, then these gifts are for sharing with the hungry. When physical hungers or basic human needs are satisfied, then we are free to attend to the deeper hungers for happiness and joy, for purpose and meaning for peace of mind and heart, for mercy and forgiveness, for contentment and fulfillment, for friendship and love.
In satisfying these hungers for one another, we realize and deepen our hunger for God. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the only one capable of satisfying the hunger of the human heart and soul.