Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hungry People and the Bread of Life

Homily on the 18th Sunday of Year B
(John 6:24-35)
August 2, 2009

In the June 2009 UN statistical report, we are told that there are 1.02 billion people who are hungry, which is a sixth of the world population, 642 million of whom are from the Asia and Pacific regions. According to the latest data (June 2009) of the pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) in Manila, 3.7 million Filipino families or one in 5 families experience involuntary hunger at least once in the last three months. No wonder that when people in Philippine villages come to know that food is to be distributed after mass, many flock to the church, in much the same way that Jews sought Jesus after the miracle of the loaves (John 6:26). This probably explains why people follow those who can provide them their basic needs; it does not matter to them whether the latter are thieves, bandits, corrupt, usurper or immoral.

But this brings us to the question: in face of so many people going hungry, can one still say that God cares for his people? We ask this question because, in the Old Testament tradition, the Jews look upon the Exodus experience, when God sent manna form heaven to feed his people in the desert journey, as a sign of his care. They did not have to experience hunger. (Exod 16:12-15). Which is why, in today’s Gospel, the Jews thought that, since Jesus claimed to have been sent by God to his people, he should surpass Moses by providing them something like the manna of old (John 6:31). The ability to satisfy their hunger was for them a sign that one is the promised anointed of God (John 6:14).

But Jesus told them not to labor so much about material food: “You should not be working for perishable food” (John 6:27). There are values that are higher than our fundamental needs. The values of truth, justice, peace, mercy—these are values obviously higher than food, shelter and clothing about which most people are concerned. Yet, what do most people hold dear? Just look at where the majority in ordinary towns invest their money in—fabulous residential house, beautiful face and body, vacation villa, jewelries, exotic and exquisite food, fine dining, signatured apparel, latest car model. You can gauge their values from the TV advertisements. And all these perish.

Nonetheless, when one pursues those higher values, one notices that basic needs are set aside, if not forgotten. People who protest against injustice even make their protest real by having a hunger strike! Those who experience love are able to forgo satisfaction of the stomach. In an effort to promote peace, one even sacrifices material possessions. On the other hand, when one’s love is jilted, he or she refuses to eat. One may also give up money if this is an obstacle to healing and reconciliation. All this make it clear that our needs cannot be circumscribed to the basic ones. Precisely because man is not only a bodily being, but also a spiritual one, he has spiritual needs that also have to be satisfied. These spiritual needs are higher than our material needs. In fact, they are imperishable (cf John 6:27).

Which is why, in our present dispensation, God did not send material bread, manna from heaven, as a sign of his care. Rather, he sent spiritual bread in the person of Jesus. If manna was a sign of God’s love for his people in the Old Testament, Jesus is his sign of his love in the New Testament. He is the bread from heaven. It is he who alone can satisfy our hunger for love, mercy, justice, forgiveness, truth. From his experience, St Augustine could say that God made us for him; we continue to experience hunger, we remain restless until the longing of our hearts is satisfied by the Lord himself. Since life is more than food, it cannot be satisfied by the abundance of food, shelter and clothing. Precisely because we are spiritual beings, we need a spiritual food, food that lasts, and that food is no other than Jesus himself. He is thus the bread of life (John 6:35). It is obvious then why, to show his care for his people in our time, God sent not manna, but his Son himself.

It is unfortunate that many people are blind to their real needs. All they see is material needs. Hence, our war for more money, more territory, more business, more arms. Many of us are so blind to our spiritual needs that spiritual values are set aside just come obtain material comfort. We sell our votes, we murder for money, we exchange honor for material rewards, we steal, we manipulate, we crave for power, we fool people in order to accumulate more power and money. But we have to learn from the likes of St Francis of Assisi who, having found Jesus as bread of life, jettisoned all worldly possessions. For Jesus himself promised, “no one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me shall ever thirst” (John 6:35b) In the words of St Teresa of Avila , solo Dios basta! God alone is enough. Truth is, if only people will labor to satisfy their longing for spiritual values and for Jesus himself, the consequence would be the satisfaction of material needs—there would be an end to hunger for food.

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