The Presence of God Among Men
In this beautiful homily for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly shows us how the Bread of Life became the new presence of God among men.
Readings for Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Joshua 24:1-2, 15-17, 18
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21, 22-23
- Second Reading: Ephesians 5:21-32
- Gospel: John 6:60-69
We’ve come to the end of a very important group of readings from the Gospel, and it’s really the end of one thing and the beginning of another.
As you know, five weeks ago we began the five weeks of readings about the Bread, the Bread of Life. As Jesus says, “I have come to give you the Bread of Life.”
And those five weeks were not taken from Mark, who we’ve been following, but they’re taken from John — John the angel-like one who flies to the top of heaven and comes back down.
It is full of words that have meanings upon meanings upon meanings. And if you keep reading him and reading him, he becomes, of course, your favourite Gospel, because it’s full of puzzles and full of honour and full of beauty and full of a whole new vision of life.
And so, in a very short form, if we read just a little piece here and there, we’re only scratching the surface.
It begins, of course, you remember, five weeks ago, it begins with Jesus, who has exhausted himself by preaching and teaching.
And, all of a sudden, he tells the disciples to have them all sit down, because he’s going to feed them, five thousand strong of men only. It didn’t mean the women didn’t sit down, but they only counted the men: five thousand. And they sat on the green grass, as John says, and he divided them into small groups.
And then where would the food come from?
And the disciples were very upset, because they couldn’t afford to feed five thousand people.
And so one of them did say this, he said, “We have a little child here, a little child who has five barley loaves and two fishes.” Five little barley loaves and two fishes — it was his lunch.
And so Jesus must have looked at him and smiled. And he took the five loaves and the two fishes. And then there’s a big silence.
The next thing that is said in the Gospel is, “And they all ate until they were filled.” And they collected, in baskets, all that was left over and there were twelve baskets. Of course, twelve baskets: one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.
And then, of course, the word went out that something wonderful had occurred.
John isn’t particularly concerned about how these things are done. What John wants you to know is, one way or another, those five little loaves and two fishes got around to everybody.
And, of course, one way of explaining it, I suppose, would be to say they came firing down from the sky, but nobody ever recorded it.
But, I think, if you were there and if you knew the situation and you saw this young boy offering up everything he had and you were someone who follows Jesus closely, you know what you would know?
You would know that the only member of this whole crowd, the only one who gave everything he had, is blessed.
And God Himself will take the offering of this little boy and say to the whole world, “Take and eat, for this is my body and this is my blood.”
It’s really a wonderful, wonderful thing.
But people being people, they just moved on and that, and they wanted to make Jesus a king.
You see, because — we don’t realise this — Jesus had worked this wonderful miracle so that everybody would know that the bread of God, God who fed the people in the desert has once again moved.
And they have chosen a little child. Because without the child there’s no bread, and without the child there’s no fish, and without the child there’s no miracle. It’s because of the child we receive the Blessed Sacrament.
So it is the first mention that God would find a way that the whole world would take this bread and eat of it (inaudible) and it would become the new presence of God among men.
Now we know that, way centuries ahead of time, we know that what was in God’s mind and what was in Jesus’ mind — but not in the little boy’s mind — were two things.
Number one is: without the little boy, there’s no bread. And that tells us God needs men. God does not do anything in a funny way suddenly operating from heaven. It is through the hands of men and women and children that everything is done.
We are the ones who feed with the Bread of Life, just as we are the ones that feed each other in the ordinary way of going through life together, dependent, not on God, but dependent upon each other.
And so the meaning of this miracle is that God blesses us, but we are the ones who are allowed to work in the name and for the good that God expects us to work and to bring about in other people, so that they should have all gone home with just one feeling: I am here to serve.
I am here to serve my brothers and sisters, and when I am serving, God is serving. And the miracle that happens of my giving of myself, and not selfishly hoarding everything for myself, is it is the gift of God among men.
The second thing we learn from the five weeks is this: we learn of the presence of God.
Everybody wants to know, “Where is God? Is He up in heaven? Is He down here?” The presence of God.
“In the bread,” Jesus says. “God is in the Bread of Life.”
I’ll tell you a story now. Hopefully you haven’t heard it before.
“Presence” is more important than anything else in the Bible. When people say, “God was present,” the Bible chimes, “If God is not present, nothing is worthwhile.”
Now here’s a story that has nothing to do with that. The story is this:
In the United States, the American Indian tribes, especially the northern tribes, had the custom of initiating their sons.
Boys would be about eleven years old and what they were to do is their father would take their hand and bring them out into a forest, a deep and dense forest.
And he would have a little opening in the forest and he would sit his son down and he’d give him a shield. And he gave him a sword and he gave him nothing else.
And he said, “Now, you are about to become a man and this is where you’re going to defend. With your shield and your sword, you will defend us from all the evil things that live in this forest and all the terrible things that can happen with wild animals overrunning the Indian reservation,” and going on and on in this way.
And the little boy would be looking back into his father’s face.
And his father would leave him.
And then the little boy would sit down and he’d keep watch.
And the minutes passed and the hours passed and the darkness deepened and the howling of wild animals all around him, and he would sit there and he would look.
And then he would get up. And he paced back and forth. And he would be frightened, but he was a man now, he was not allowed to cry for help.
And so he did all night long until finally the sun goes up and his father came back.
And his father took him in his arms — and the little boy was so happy — and he said, “Now, my child, you are now a man. You have stood up to defend your people in the terrible darkness and did not run away.”
Nice story, huh?
It’s not over.
Where was the father?
The father was about thirty feet away from the boy all through the night. He was in the forest, next to trees that sheltered him, and he watched his son, but he would not leave his son, because he knew the great danger and he knew that his boy could really have been destroyed by the wild animals in the forest.
But he stayed with him, but the boy never knew it, never thought of it.
And so, when the little boy came home, he bragged to his brothers and sisters, “Yes, I have done this wonderful thing and it’s my honour and now I am a man in the tribe.” And they gave him a sword and they gave him a shield and everything.
Why do I tell that story?
What saved that little boy?
The presence of his father. The presence of his father shielded him, took care of him, without him even knowing it.
But if it wasn’t for the presence of the father, terrible things could have happened to that child, and yet he himself never knew it.
Now, if you think of that, you must remember that this is the presence of God among us. God is hidden, in a way, but not hidden. He is always there when we open our hearts to Him and ask.
But it is we who must search and we who must find and we who must strive with great honour and fall into the arms of a God who has always, always, taken care of us and will continue to take care of us all our lives.
Those are just two little examples. And what does it mean?
It means that we are not alone, that God is with us and it is the presence of God that is with us.
And then, one day in the not too distant future, Jesus will give us a sign and symbol that will be the best of all.
And he will bring them, his little disciples, into the room and he will bless the bread and say, “This is me. This is myself. I give it to you. Take it and eat it.”
And he will bless the wine and say, “This is my blood poured out for your healing and your salvation.
“Never again must you be afraid of the darkness. Never again must you walk away from what is your responsibility. Never again.
“Because I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
And that is why we come here.
And I say it once again: when my mother would be complaining about our parish priest and his terrible homilies, my father would tease her and say, “Sarah Jane, you complain so much about Father, I don’t know why you go to church at all.”
And she’d smile and say, “I go for the Bread.”
That’s probably the best answer you would ever have.
Why do you come here each week? Why do you sing the songs and all the rest?
Basically, you come for the bread.
And the bread is given.
And the bread is not just bread, but it is the body and blood and soul and divinity of Jesus, who poured out his heart on a cross and brought to us the possibility that we, too, will be resurrected as he is now.