20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

We have two beautiful homilies by Father Hanly for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: “The Bread of Life” and “Learn To Be Like Jesus.”

Two Homilies:

The Bread of Life

The Bread of Life

In this beautiful homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly gives the most wonderful talk on the Bread of Life.

Readings for Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

  • First Reading: Proverbs 9:1-6
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 34:2-3, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
  • Second Reading: Ephesians 5:15-20
  • Gospel: John 6:51-58



“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

When Jesus said these words, many of his disciples left him.

And yet we can understand maybe a little bit better than those who heard these words for the first time. Because it seemed like a terrible thing to take them literally. And, of course, they were not to be taken literally.

Today, we know the meaning of these words and we have come to love them.

I think I have told this story before, but I will tell it again.

When my mother was sitting in the car with my father and my two sisters and we were coming home from church, she had so many things that she used to criticise about our pastor in the little village church that we belonged to at the time. And rightfully so. He wouldn’t say those words today. But he would bring up things and my mother would get a little angry.

And so, on the way home, she would say, “Why can’t Father…” And “How come he talks like this?”

And, finally, my father said to her, “Sarah Jane, I don’t know why you go to church at all if you are always going to criticise Father’s sermon.”

And she looked at my father and she looked at us and she said, “I go for the Bread.”

Well, that stopped everything. “I go for the Bread.” “I am the Bread of Life,” and that’s why she went to Mass on Sunday, even if Father was giving the sermons.

“I am the Bread of Life.” What does he mean by that?

Well, he certainly doesn’t mean it to be taken literally. But he does mean to take it seriously. Because what he is saying is something that is quite extraordinary.

We think of great teachers. We think of Jesus sitting on the Mount of the Beatitudes and telling the people, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who forgive. Blessed are those who are pure of heart, single minded in following the Kingdom.”

And he’s preaching as everybody preaches, and speaks as every preacher speaks, and he hopes and he does turn the hearts of the people.

But there is only one thing missing. He is on the outside and he is talking to people. And we hope and he hopes, probably, that they take hold of his words and bring them in to their hearts.

But, for Jesus, any preacher can do that. God does not become man and come down from heaven just to do this.

There’s more and something much more important. When we just use words to explain important things in our lives, the words seem a bit hollow and they seem … they have to be written down or they are forgotten.

Jesus is not talking about words. Jesus is talking about himself and how he will be with us and how he will live with us and how we will come to realise that it is not just in words that we serve, but it is in deeds.

Remember at the Last Supper he took the bread and he blessed it and he gave it to his disciples after breaking it and he said to them, “This is my body.”

He didn’t mean body in the sense that we do. For the Hebrew people, if someone said, “This is my body,” they meant, “This is myself.”

And he said, “Take it and eat. This is my body.”

And then he took the chalice. And, of course, the people in the setting of the Last Supper were all Jews and they knew what these symbols meant. And so he took the chalice and they thought …

Usually in the Old Testament they talk of the bitterness of the chalice. “I must drink this cup.”

Jesus said to his disciples, “Can you drink this cup?” And the brothers James and John looked at their mother. And Jesus said, “You will drink this cup. And you will drink it not too long from now.”

To drink the bitterness of the cup means to undergo sacrifice and pain.

And, of course, what he was drinking was the wine. And the wine for the Jew, the wine was the source of life.

And so when he took it and said, “Take this and drink. This is my blood poured out for you tomorrow on the cross, poured out for you that you might live.”

And then he said, “Whenever you do these things, you do them in my memory.”

Not to remember me as we would remember stuff that we put in a drawer and you take it out every Christmas.

“Remember me. Take me with you where you go.”

And now what is he saying? He is saying …

I’ll give an example.

Many years ago, I was in Chinatown, New York, as the pastor there. And my sister Ann, my little sister, was in India with her husband and they were in the foreign service and she fell down one of the mountains, fell off a donkey or a horse and fell down one of the mountains.

And I was in Chinatown, New York, and they called me from the hospital, the army hospital in Washington, and they said, “Your sister is here and she fell down a mountain and we had to evacuate her.”

And so I got the next plane and I was at her side in about an hour, really. And I walked into the room and it was very dark and she was — this person was — at the end of it and she was laying there.

And I couldn’t recognise her. She was all bandaged. She had severe damage to her head. And I must say, I was overcome. And when I’m overcome, I talk too much, you know.

So I went over to her and I started talking to her. And I said, “Ann, I’m here. It’s ok, I’m here,” and this and that and all the rest.

And I could see one eye. And she opens one eye and she says to me, “Will you just shut up and take my hand.”

Think of that, now. “Will you just shut up and take my hand.”

She didn’t want to hear anything wonderful, a sermon or words of comfort. She wanted the presence of her brother and the presence of her family and the presence of everybody she cared for and loved.

Now that’s what Jesus, “When you take that bread … ”

You see? That is what he’s looking for.

It’s not a matter of learning the doctrine. It’s not a matter of understanding transubstantiation. It’s a matter of knowing that “When you take this bread, you take me, and you take an appreciation for the fact that I have poured out my blood for you.”

And that’s why we come together and we sing the songs like, “Amazing Grace! How sweet it is! I once was lost, but now I’m found.”

We say we walk in the grace of God. The grace of God means the presence of God. When someone graces us, it means we are gracing them with our presence.

This is the meaning of Amazing Grace. It is the presence of God, the presence of Jesus, the presence of the Lord within our lives, within our hearts.

But the real presence, incomparable, cannot compare it to any other relationship, for only the Son of God could allow us to experience, not the divinity of God, but the humanity of the Son of God, that we might know that he is one with us in every way.

One with us, not only in love, but one with us in the lives we lead, for he has walked that walk, and he has been where we are afraid to go, and he turns back to us and says, “Do not be afraid. I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”

And this is the presence. We call it the real presence.

But we call it something else and it’s even a better meaning to what Jesus has done and what he is promising because, “If you take this bread and drink this cup, you do have me, as I was then and as I am now, the Risen Lord, not only walking with you on the outside, but part of your inner core.”

You have heard that expression of a proud father about his son. He will say, “He’s flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.” It means there is nothing between us, the great intimacy of he, my son, and the son to his father. That is the kind of intimacy.

But the other word that we use: we call it “Holy Communion.” Holy Communion.

When you say, “Has your child received the sacraments yet?”

You’ll say, “You mean Holy Communion?”

You don’t say, “Has he taken the bread? Has he taken the wine? Has he done this?”

Holy Communion. And this is the word that we all say to receive Holy Communion: “Come up now and receive Holy Communion.”

But we never think of what it means.

It means a total communion with God Himself through Jesus. And a communion, each of us with each other. A communion that is to last for all eternity. And that is the gift that Jesus gives.

It seems to me that when we receive Holy Communion, we sometimes receive it for ourselves and we’re very happy that Jesus comes to us in this way.

I remember, when I was a kid, I was afraid to receive Holy Communion because the Sister said, “If that bread sticks to the top of your palate, then you are really in trouble. And don’t open your mouth too big,” and all the rest of it.

Well, by that time, I had no idea what I was doing, but later I began to understand what Communion meant.

And then one priest stood up one day and he said, “Yes, you people go to Holy Communion all the time, but you do not realise that you are supposed to be in communion with each other and forgive each other.

“And you’re supposed to be in communion with the people outside, especially the hungry people. And you’re supposed to feed them, because Jesus is with you and the things that he did, you must do now.

“It is you who will feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. It is you who will clothe the naked and ransom the captive. It will be you who visit the lonely. This is you.

“But it’s not you. Because you are in communion with Jesus and it is he who is working through you and there is nothing you can do about it.”

I’m going to read the last part, if I can find it. Yes. Holy Communion. Think of this now. These are words of Mother Theresa, lovely Mother Theresa.

“Many today are starving for ordinary bread.
But there is another kind of hunger-
the hunger to be wanted, the hunger to be loved, the hunger to be recognised.
Nakedness too is not just the want of clothes,
but also about the loss of dignity, purity and self-respect.
And homelessness is not just want of a house;
there is the homelessness of being rejected,
of being unwanted in a throwaway society.
The biggest disease in the world today
is the feeling of being unwanted and uncared for.
And the greatest evil in the world is lack of love,
the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbour.
Lord, warm our cold hearts with your grace,

so that we your disciples may produce the fruits of love.”

“He who eats my bread and drinks my blood will have life everlasting.”

Learn To Be Like Jesus

Learn To Be Like Jesus

In this beautiful homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly shows us that the only way to heal the hunger in our hearts is to learn to be like Jesus.

Readings for Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

  • First Reading: Proverbs 9:1-6
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 34:2-3, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
  • Second Reading: Ephesians 5:15-20
  • Gospel: John 6:51-58



“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have life within him.”

This is a very hard Gospel, isn’t it now? Does it puzzle you? Well, it should puzzle you.

Why is Jesus suddenly so fierce saying these things?

We all know he doesn’t mean that we’re going to eat the body, the bones and the marrow of each other. He knows this is not true and yet he insists on this kind of vocabulary.

And why does he insist on this kind of vocabulary?

We don’t know.

And why don’t we know?

Because he is God and we’re just kind of human beings staggering around looking for a little truth here and a little truth there.

And something very strong leaks out. Possibly it’s because of the situation that he finds himself in.

Remember how it all started with a little boy, a little boy who offered up his five loaves and two fishes to feed five thousand people. And it moved him so much, moved Jesus so much, that he told the men to sit down on the grass, told the disciples to now feed them. And somehow or other, and we’re not told how, those people ate the loaves and the fishes.

And, of course, this wonderful thing was not supposed to be a razzle dazzle impressionable thing. This wonderful thing was to salute the little child who, of all these people, was generous enough to give his lunch away.

If one thing was supposed to come out of that long story, it was not how did he do it and which way did he do it and this and that, whatever the explanations. The Gospel is silent on this, it doesn’t tell us.

But it does tell us that of all those people, there was a child that fed five thousand people, because he was going to give up everything he had.

Now, if you keep that in mind, there’s one clue to this whole Gospel: he gave up everything he had, out in the desert, alone and frightened.

Why is it important?

Because the main point of Jesus is, “If you don’t give everything you have to me, I can’t do anything for you. If you think that you can use me and use my talents and use my sermons and use myself so that you will feel better or you will get something out of it when you come to me because you want to get something,” he says you’ll never find him.


Because he didn’t come to teach us how to take. We do that very well. We don’t need people to come down from heaven to teach us how to take things and put things away and save things, and how to help ourselves when we need it — all in a nice family way, of course, we’re not hurting anybody — but that’s within us.

True? Not true?

Of course, it’s true. It’s just hard, it’s very hard, to face the fact that we are not only children of God, heirs of heaven, we are also selfish and thoughtless and unkind in so many ways. We are like a wonderful picture that’s not quite finished yet, might be the best way to say it.

You notice, and I think I’d better read from the book a little bit:

Jesus said to the crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The living bread. You’re used to, before, Jews in the desert wandering around hungry and starving for years, and God provides them each morning with the manna from heaven.

Jesus said, “I am this and I am more. I am here to feed you. I am here to feed your heart. I am here to feed your hunger, your deepest hunger, not the ordinary hunger to get the best meal of the day, whatever it is. I am here to feed that deep hunger.”

And what is that deep hunger?

It’s not food. We hunger for love. We hunger for love, no matter who we are, no matter how old we are, whether we’re little children running into their mother’s arms, whether we’re a man in jail who has no future except one future — to learn that he, too, can be loved by God and God can love him.

And God does love him.

And how does he know that He loves him?

Because the man who told him went on a cross, died on the cross. He poured out his life. And in the pouring out of his life, as every Hebrew knew, the pouring out of one’s life is the pouring out of one’s blood, literally, not figuratively, and so when they looked on the crucifix, they knew he poured out his life that others may live.

And, of course, then things become a little clearer.

He did not come to teach us how to take things in. He came to teach us that the only way to his love, and the only way to heal our hearts, and the only way the hunger of ourselves must be given, is measured by how we give to others.

It is the unselfish who understand true happiness and love in their hearts. There are those who look around in a frightful world and do not give up and do not hide away and do not run away or figure to buy all kinds of things and what we need to make us feel more successful and ahead.

The key to the whole thing, as Jesus knew, was we must become the Living Bread.

Living: this word is used in the Gospels only for God. It is God who gives life. When you pour out your life, it is God who pours out His life with you. And that is the great secret.

And so, whoever eats this bread — and the bread means self-sacrificing love — whoever eats this bread and gives to others and cares for others and reaches out to others and overcomes the deep selfishness in himself, recognising these things, then they are the ones who will understand who God is.

Because God is a giver. He does not take.

Some might think that God gets mad at us. He doesn’t get mad at us. He weeps over us. He cries over us. He wonders why we cannot see something that is so clear.

And God gives and calls us to give. And in the giving to others we are redeemed, we are healed, we are made something different, our fears are taken away from us.

This is a terrible truth and it’s a great truth.

And what happens?

The people listening to this, they make some kind of fun of it: “We can’t follow this man. Why? We can’t follow this man because he’s asking us to eat the flesh, his flesh.”

Now, everybody knows that Jesus doesn’t mean literally, but he is talking about something that he talks about at another moment and that other moment is at the Last Supper.

At the Last Supper, he gets up and he takes the bread and he tells them like this: “Take this and eat it, for this is me. When you take this, I enter you in a very special way, and I carry you and you carry me, and you become a different person and I become a Saviour.”

And then he took the blood, the blood which is a sign of heroism, of heroes who pour out their blood in order that others might live.

And Jesus will do this and so he says, “Take this and drink, for this is my blood poured out for you in a sacrificial way so that you may understand the great truth is that it is in the pouring out of what is within you that you learn what God’s love really means.”

And then it’s not so hard to understand.

He said it a hundred thousand times in so many ways.

When they asked him, “What should I do?” The young man walks up to him, “What should I do? What should I do? How can I solve the hunger of my heart?”

And what does Jesus say?

“Love one another. Love one another as I have loved you. Do not be afraid to give yourself away, to give yourself to healing others and caring for others and being loved by others.”

Because in this you can find the secret that makes today’s Gospel seem so strange.

But it is true. There is only one kind of love in the eyes of God and that is: you must learn to be like Jesus.

Is that hard? No.

Why? Because he is with us. He is with us today. He is with us here.

And what is he with us to do? To make our lives miserable or demanding or that?

No. He’s with us to show us how to love as God loves, to show us how to love as he loves, but, most of all, that we might learn what it really means to become a human being. A human being. Very important lesson to learn.

And so I’m going to end with a nice little poem. I don’t know who wrote this poem, but it’s about Jesus, it’s about hearts. Think about it. To be one with the Lord. And here is the prayer:

Christ be near at either hand,
Christ behind, before me stand;
Christ with me where’er I go,
Christ around, above, below.

Christ be in my heart and mind,
Christ within my soul enshrined;
Christ control my wayward heart;
Christ abide and ne’er depart.

Christ my life and only way,
Christ my lantern night and day;
Christ be my unchanging friend,
guide and shepherd to the end.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

FAQ for Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

When is 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, in 2024?18th August 2024
What is the title of Father Hanly’s homily for Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B?"The Bread of Life" and "Learn To Be Like Jesus"
What is the next homily by Father Hanly in this Liturgical Cycle?
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Who was Father Hanly?Father Denis J. Hanly was a Maryknoll Missionary
How can we find other homilies by Father Hanly?By Liturgical Calendar or by topic or by title

Information about Father Hanly’s homilies for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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If you would like to use our transcripts of either of these sermons (updated 2023), please contact us for permission.

Father Hanly's sermon for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, "The Bread of Life" was delivered on 16th August 2009. Father Hanly's sermon for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, "Learn To Be Like Jesus" was delivered on 19th August 2012. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.

We hope that Father Hanly’s homilies, always kind, always wise, always full of love, will restore you to peace and harmony through a new understanding of what is important in this world. We believe these homilies are inspiring for everyone, not only for Roman Catholics or other Christians.

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21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
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