HOMILY for the 19th Sunday per annum (B)
How would you describe the taste of asparagus? Or explain how an exotic fruit like the South-East Asian durian tastes? How do you share a sensory experience with someone else except by engaging their senses so that they can experience it for themselves? I recall, as a child, being repelled by some of the foods my mother loved, and she’d insist I try them before I said ‘no’. Because unless we taste something, we can’t really decide if they’re good or not. And sometimes we have to return to it later in life. So, some things I loved immediately, such as croissants, and others I acquired a taste for, like blue cheese and wine. And, I must admit, there are somethings I’ve still never tried, such as oysters! Because trying new foods involves trust, whether in my mother’s offer or just what the supermarket offers, and some foods just look untrustworthy!
There’s a sense in today’s readings that faith is somewhat like a gastronomic experience. It takes trust to believe in the Lord, and to reach out to taste and see his goodness. Because faith in God is not something we can just describe, talk about, or explain. Catechesis and theological study, or watching our parents and grandparents only gives us a whiff and a vision of faith, but for that faith to be ours too, we have to taste it. We need to take the risk of actually getting our teeth into it, to bite, chew and swallow, and so, experience our faith.
Because we’re not called to have faith in propositions, or intellectual arguments, or books. We’re invited to have faith, to trust in a person. It is in God that we trust, and God has reached out to us human beings in the person of his divine Son, a human being like us, Jesus Christ. So that, through him, we might taste and see, i.e., experience, God’s goodness.
When Jesus comes along and says he is the “bread from heaven”, it’s rather like a new food we’re being asked to taste. And our response is, naturally, to be wary, like a child being asked to eat broccoli and just being told it’s good for him. This is the kind of sceptical response the Jews have to Jesus‘ declaration that he is the “bread that has come down from heaven”. And I suppose it is a response many people have when we tell them we’re Christians and that Jesus is God incarnate. And this is to be expected because faith in Christ requires a belief in something that is quite out of this world, and beyond our day-to-day experiences. Faith in Christ takes us beyond the natural into the realm of God, who is outside his creation, who is Other from us, who is beyond the natural created order, hence, super-natural. No wonder, then, that the Jews murmured because they wonder how this supernatural thing that Jesus speaks of is possible. So, we see them speculate about his origins, and they draw on what they do know, which is of the natural order, concerning Jesus’ origins as they know and see it.
But although we are creatures grounded in the natural order, we do have spiritual capacities, and indeed, a hunger for the supernatural, for the divine. Hence we have a fundamental desire for God, manifested as a thirst for truth, a longing for goodness and justice, and a delight in beauty – so evident these days in music, art and sport and the enjoyment we derive from their beauty. It is because we’re spiritual creatures that we love. So, when Jesus says he is the “bread from heaven”, he is offering himself as the satisfaction of all our deepest longings for truth, goodness, and beauty. He is the food that feeds our spiritual yearnings, and, because he is God – Love itself – he alone can fulfil our desire for love. No matter how hard we try, then, no earthly food – no matter how exquisitely cooked and Michelin-starred – no worldly pleasure, or drug or thrill, no natural good, can ever stem our fundamental desire for love, i.e., our human longing for God.
Which is why Jesus who as St Paul says, “loved us and gave himself up for us”, also offers himself to us in the form of bread to satisfy our hunger for love. But it takes trust to risk tasting this new food, this unheard-of delicacy of incarnate Love. It takes faith to taste and see that the Lord is good. But like ordinary food, we have to try it for ourselves, we have to experience and taste God’s nourishing love by coming into contact with Jesus. This means chewing over the Scriptures, the Word of God, as well as encountering Christ active in the sacraments, and above all in the Eucharist. And because faith is a gift from the Father, for “no one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father draws him”, so we need to ask for that gift – we need to pray. So, it is through prayer, attention to the Scriptures, and to the action of the Liturgy, that we begin to taste the Lord’s goodness, and sometimes, these are acquired tastes. If we’re patient and open enough to return to them, to try them again, we grow to love them. So, as we mature and when the time is right, we develop an appetite for God, a taste for the Living Bread.
However, many of us might be struggling to get to this point, we find it hard just to believe, and our faith feels flabby and heavy like dough. And that dough is kneaded, pounded, and stretched by life’s trials and challenges. But… anyone who’s made bread will tell you how important this process of challenge and trial is. And God grace acts on our faith just as the yeast acts in the dough to prove it. So, if we’re patient, the Breath of God, his Holy Spirit, will cause the dough of our faith to rise and become light. But this takes time, and it happens in God’s good time. The result is a good nourishing bread, a faith that sustains us for the journey of life. God will provide this, just as he provided bread for Elijah. And he says to us, just as the angel said to Elijah: “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.”
So, let us arise from our scepticism, wariness and distrust, and let’s eat the bread from heaven. Let us receive the Eucharist prayerfully and ruminate over Christ’s teachings, for it is thus that we eat, taste, and experience the goodness of God. And it is only with the Lord that we have strength for the journey: a journey that takes us to heaven itself.