John 6: 1-15
I’ve had the chance over the past years in ministry to travel to Haiti twice to participate in mission work with different groups and I often think of that experience when I hear this gospel of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. You know the poverty is extreme there and that in no way diminishes the poverty we face right outside our front door, but the extreme of it in Haiti is hard to imagine especially for us Americans. You know, they can go to grocery stores like we do up the street but they don’t buy the same stuff we do. I’ve tried to bring back a staple item there but it always falls apart on me but the best way to describe it is like when little kids make mud pies. That’s exactly what this food looks like and really is that they eat. It’s hard to imagine! It has absolutely no nutritional value but it does one thing. It gives the person the illusion that they are satisfied and full. That’s it; no value but an illusion of being satisfied.
I dare say we don’t go around eating mud or dirt pies but that’s not to say that we aren’t good at feeding that same illusion in our lives. You know, Pope Francis gets criticized a lot because of what he says about consumerism and capitalism, partially because the system is somewhat based on that very lie and illusion. We all know that we have a deeper need to be fed in relationship but at the same time aren’t and so the system preys on that need and feeds that illusion that somehow and in some way, whatever it is that is being sold is somehow going to do the trick and feed what hurts, only leaving us more empty and hurting, hungering and longing for something more. It says a great deal about the addictive society and world in which we live and how we go about feeding it with dirt and mud patties.
As much as I see that experience in Haiti, I also see the people in today’s gospel, clamoring for an experience of Jesus, trying to fill that deeper hunger and longing in their lives, practically crawling over one another to catch a glimpse, to be fed. I also see the people I see on the news who hurt. I see the people outside our front door who are hurting an looking for someone to acknowledge and reverence. I see the people in this city who continue to hurt and longing for something that will feed and nourish, beyond the mud and dirt that are often thrown at them. It’s an atrocity the number of kids that continue to go hungry in this city and this country while so many of us continue to feed the illusions of our own lives, disconnected from the reality of a people who are hurting and longing. Ironically, or maybe providentially, it’s a little boy that appears on the scene of today’s gospel carrying some bread and fish to be multiplied to feed the those who hunger. A problem that seemed overwhelming to the disciples is diminished by the young boy who then reclines and shares. In what we way are we feeding ourselves these days?
Yet, as soon as they are fed, Jesus scurries off in the gospel, up the mountain alone. As is so often the case in John’s gospel, they talk passed one another or yet, Jesus speaks on a deeper level. They thinking they are being fed physically, and they are; then Jesus speaks and blesses and breaks and they are fed on another level as well. This is no mud or dirt pie, this is what feeds forever, with some left over in the end. He scurries off and once again they will seek him out. The emptiness will once again overwhelm and consume as they try to be fed in other ways but nothing will take the place of that day, of that sign, when they were fed in more ways than one, in relationship with one another and with Christ.
These next weeks now we will find ourselves marching through this one chapter in John’s Gospel, the first fifteen versus being today’s on the sign given of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It’s known as the Bread of Life discourse of this gospel. In the end, some will leave. They won’t like how they are being challenged to think or to question in the way they are being fed and feeding themselves. As is so often the case, we want to maintain the status quo of life; yet, an encounter and relationship with the Bread of life demands something more of us. This relationship is going to demand of us to examine how we are being fed and feeding ourselves. What are the dirt and mud pies in our lives? What has no nutritional and spiritual value, and yet, that longing and hunger within us continues to draw us to other ways and means of satisfying what hurts. Bring it to the table and be healed.
The more we try to feed it with anything else, whatever it may be for us…the latest gadget, alcohol, drugs, the latest and biggest house, money, whatever it may be, if it leads to greater emptiness, it’s time to bring it to the table and let it go. There is but one thing and one person that will sustain us, feed us, nurture us, fill us, and that’s this meal we share and it’s our relationship with Christ in this Eucharist. We all buy into the illusion and will feed the illusion in our lives; we’re human and broken and poured out, but today we pray we may recognize those dirt and mud pies in our lives and demand now something more, something greater, that will sustain and nurture us all the days of our lives.