RC Diocese of Aberdeen

Homily for 18th Sunday of the Year, B

‘Lord, give us this bread always’.

Brothers and Sisters, for a few Sundays in this Year B, the Liturgy turns away from the Gospel of Mark and back to the Gospel of John, the Easter Gospel. It makes a detour to John Ch. 6, the chapter on the Bread of Life. One could say much about the context. Briefly, we’re in springtime, close to Passover. We’re in the synagogue in Capernaum, with Jesus, the disciples and a crowd. Probably, it’s the Sabbath. Probably, what we’re hearing is a dialogue homily of Jesus in the midst of a service. Possibly, the reading from the Law was our first reading today, Exodus 16, the story of the manna in the desert.

Today’s Gospel is a dialogue, an exchange, quite fierce at times. The people put questions, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here…what must we do?’ etc. Jesus gives answers. There’s statement and counter-statement. But there is a movement. Jesus is leading them on and almost without realising they get to a very good point. Later, things go wrong. But here, today, at their fourth intervention, the people suddenly say: ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ They’ve listened. They’ve connected. The Lord is speaking of the ‘true bread, the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’, and they are interested. They’ve gone through the spiritual ‘revolution’ St Paul mentions in the 2nd reading. Till then, they had been treating Jesus as a food bank or as the SVDP. They just wanted more bread and fish. But now they understand he’s offering something more. ‘Lord, they say, give us the bread always.’ It’s an echo of what the Samaritan woman had said to Jesus two chapters before, in the conversation about water: ‘Sir, give me this water…’ Then it was water; now it is bread. In fact, Jesus has led the people to prayer. Our translation reads, ‘Kyrie, they say, give us this bread always.’ ‘Kyrie’ can mean ‘Sir’, but it can mean ‘Lord’. First, they had called him ‘Rabbi’. Now they’re beginning to realise he’s something more. And their prayer is almost the prayer Jesus left us in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’

‘Lord, give us this bread always’.

Isn’t this where the Lord wants to lead us: beyond the fascination of our immediate needs, beyond short-term satisfactions. He wants us to hunger for the Bread of Life. We are creatures full of hungers, surface ones and deep ones, bad ones, good ones, often mixed up. And Christ leads us on. He wants our humanity, our hearts, our longings to expand. We all have an inner wilderness. We all have inner complaints like the people in the desert. We are all at some level unhappy, incomplete, wanting. Christ says to us: don’t feed that hunger or quench that thirst with cheap stuff, with constant entertainment or excitements or easy thrills or porn or drink or drugs or whatever. ‘Lord, give us THIS bread always.’ We know we don’t live by food alone. We all long for the bread of enduring friendship, not just passing relationships; the bread of understanding, not just more information; the bread of worthwhile work, not just a higher salary; the bread of real love given and received over the long haul, taking root in our hearts. This is what nourishes us, keeps us alive. ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ This is a beautiful moment in the Gospel. And it’s a beautiful moment when that desire becomes prayer in us.  And the Lord replis: ‘I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger; whoever believes in me will never thirst.’ What’s he saying? I bring all these good things you long for. I keep them safe for you. They hold together in me. And I bring you even more. I think of what Jesus said to Bl. Julian of Norwich: ‘It is I, it is I; it is I who am highest; it is I you love; it is I who delight you; it is I you serve; it is I you long for; it is I you desire; it is I who am your purpose; it is I who am all; it is I that Holy Church preaches and teaches; it is I who showed myself to you here’ (Revelations of Divine Love, Long Text 26). ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ This is what Jesus is saying to the people: ‘I’m the manna; I’m the nourishing Word and Wisdom of God. And I will even give you – he goes on to say – my flesh to eat and my blood to drink, so that we can live in one another and rise from death’. So too, he speaks to us. All the good things in our lives: the things that make sense and bring peace, the good relationships and all the rest, all come from him. And still more: the vision of a Father, the companionship of the Son, the secret energy of the Holy Spirit; the divine embrace.

‘Lord, give us this bread always.’

Where do we find it? When we want bread, we go to a bakery or the bakery counter in a supermarket. The fire of the Holy Spirit ‘baked’ the holy bread of Christ’s humanity in the oven of Mary’s womb and heart, and she passed it on to us. And holy Mother Church does the same. She hands us, day after day, Sunday after Sunday, the fresh bread of forgiveness and fellowship, of the word, of the Sacraments, the holy Bread of the Eucharist above all. ‘It is I whom holy Church preaches and teaches,’ says Jesus. And so this bread enters our lives. And though there’s much that remains inexplicable, though there are wounds which seem to take ever to heal, though there are always stretches of wilderness, though we’re not in heaven,  there is too a hidden manna, a way-bread, a viaticum, a companionship, a secret nourishment, a steadying, strengthening presence, and a sure and certain hope. We are fed.

‘Lord, give us this bread always.’