July 29, 2012 - Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6:1-15

If someone were to go through the Old Testament and rank people according to how impressive the miracles they did were, the list would probably start with Moses, then Elijah, then Elisha. Elisha was the servant of Elijah, and when Elijah went up into heaven on a chariot of fire, he left Elisha a double portion of his spirit which allowed Elisha to work miracles like Elijah did.

So the contrast today between our first reading and our Gospel is very significant. Elisha fed 100 men with 20 barley loaves. Jesus fed 5000 men with 5 barley loaves, and he provided a fish side dish. He proves thereby that his is greater than Elisha, and not just a little bit greater. Elijah fed 3 people with a little flour and some oil for a couple years, which is impressive, but Jesus still has him beat with this miracle. Now Moses fed 2 million people with bread from heaven for over 40 years, but as we are going to hear over the next few weeks, Jesus has him beat too because he has fed billions of Christians with his Body and Blood for going on 2000 years now.

So Jesus is a bigger deal than anybody in the Old Testament. He is objectively a bigger deal than anybody ever. John Lennon once said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, but by any objective measure he was wrong. If the Beatles all came here to play next year’s block party, a lot of people would show up, but if Jesus were coming to town tomorrow, I can guarantee that he would draw a bigger crowd.

But we all know that Jesus is here. He comes every day in the Eucharist. And hundreds of millions of people come each week to find him, even though we cannot see him. And millions of people come every day to find him whom they cannot see. Because it is not about the miracles. The feeding is a symbol. Yes, Jesus can satisfy the hunger of a crowd, but that is not the point. The point is that Jesus can satisfy a desire deeper than hunger. If Jesus was just a free grocery store, we would not worship him. There is something greater here than loaves and fish.

We humans are just bundles of desire, looking all over the world for satisfaction. Our soul cries out like an infant, unable to put its desire into words. We try to quiet it with pacifiers. There are many pacifiers in this world: food, alcohol, sex, entertainment. Sometimes the pacifier works awhile, but then our soul begins crying out again. Some people try to keep up a variety of these pacifiers, switching whenever one has lost its power. Some people remain bored and unhappy as they continually go to the same pacifier looking for the satisfaction they have never found there.

We, however, know what our soul is crying out for. We want love, and not the imperfect love that any human being can give us. This too can be just another pacifier. We want the perfect love of God. Without a doubt, God does love us. He is love, and he created us. It is left for us to recognize his love.

Once we do, once our greatest desire is satisfied by the love of God, every other desire can fall into place. We will eat what is good for us. We will love other people and be loved by them. We will enjoy the world as God meant us to enjoy it. But so long as our deepest desire goes unsatisfied, our relationship with food and alcohol and other people can never be quite right. First things first and the second things fall into place.

The reason that Jesus is bigger than Moses, Elijah, or anyone else is that he is not providing food or entertainment or freedom. He can easily provide all of this, but what he is offering is so much greater. He is offering us himself. This is why we eat his Body and drink his Blood. What clearer way could he possibly use to express to us that he is giving us himself?

Can you imagine a universe without God? It is an illusion. The reality would be God without a universe. Reality needs a fundamental fact, the one thing that is just there, the essence of reality. The temptation is to think of empty, black space as the fundamental fact, but it is not. What is reality at its most basic? It is just God, existing.

God is not just another character in the play. He is the author whose existence does not depend on the play at all. The truth of reality is that God exists. That is just the way things are. Anything else could have been different, anything else at all, but the existence of God is the one fundamental fact. This is why it makes no sense to ask where God came from: he did not come; he just is the one who is.

This is what St. Paul means when he says “One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Our relationship with God is not something we finish so that we can get back to real life. Our relationship with God is real life. Everything else either contributes to it or is a distraction from it.

It is not easy to live this way. Our surface desires call loudly, insisting that we want the little things. We can only hear our deep desire when we are quiet, when we let the turmoil of this life settle down, and we realize that half of those surface desires were for what we never really wanted anyway, and that there is something we wanted more than anything else.

You have heard the call of this desire. You know that God can offer you more than you can ask or imagine. Every single one of you is called to live forever with God. “Brothers and sisters, I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love.” You don’t want money. You don’t want a double cheeseburger. You don’t want another drink. You want God, and he wants to give himself to you.