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.