18th Sunday Year A
August 3, 2014
BEING FED & FULL VERSUS BEING VACUOUS AND VAIN
Everyone loves a good, succulent and tasty meal. Everyone loves to eat, plain and simple … The pleasure attached to eating is a gift from the Creator, and is part of the legitimate natural pleasures that assure the continuance of life – our own, and of everybody else.
The same principle is true for every natural human activity connected with life and its preservation and transmission, and that includes … yes … sexual activity within the right bounds.
But let me get back to food … Food was a major part of what the Jewish exiles in Babylon longed for more than anything else. They missed their spices and home cooking. They missed the sights, sounds and smells of home while exiled in foreign territory. But food was not the only thing they missed. Food was not the only thing they hankered for. Food may have been important for them as it is for us here and now, but we certainly don’t think of ourselves thinking about food every minute of every live-long day. If this is true for us, then, it is true for them as well.
Good news for today? We could use some of it. Just go and read the papers and look at the opinion columns and all. Most of what we see is bad news … the conflict between Israel and Hamas, for one … the ongoing battle royale between pro-Russian rebels and government in the Ukraine … the cruel and systematic persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria … the local political news on the home front … Excuse the pun, but I need to say it … We could be fed-up with all that bad news. We long for peace. We pine for unity and harmony. We hanker for that much sought after place for the Philippines under the sun and be part of the so-called “developed nations.”
Good news for today, you say? Let me start with bad news … We could be fed. We could be full. But that is not the good news I bat for, based on today’s readings. The response we uttered after the first reading says it all: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” True. But let me follow up what I just said. God answers “all our needs.” But “all our needs” does not just pertain to material food, no matter how tasty and good. He gives more than just food, but what food ultimately points out to – “life” in its fullness, not just temporary fullness. “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?”
I have been on this earth for some time now … been there; done that sort of thing. I have been through much. I have been through little. There was a time in my young life I longed for fine food. But in my experience, you could gorge on fine rich food only for so much … After taking delight in them, one realizes that fullness and fulfillment are not guaranteed by simply being filled. Being full and fed, may actually lead to feeling vacuous and vain. And I use “vain” here in its original meaning, that is, empty and meaningless.
Let me tell you now what is the good news hiding behind this apparent bad news. Yes, we can work for being fed and full. But if all we do is aim for that, it ultimately leads to being vacuous and vain.
Let me tell you now what is on offer for us beyond the seeming satiety that the world can offer … Let us try “love” for size today. This is what St. Paul tells the Romans … Nothing, he says, will separate us from the love of Christ … no … not anguish, not distress … neither persecution or famine, or nakedness or the sword. And definitely not hunger from the fine rich food that the world dangles before our eyes each and every single day! Yes, one does not live on bread alone!
But here is the clincher … The story of the Gospel today brings us back to the basics. Food is not the most important thing, but the Lord shows us that it is important. It is necessary. It is not superfluous. He feeds the five thousand people not counting women and children. God knows all our needs and the hand of the Lord feeds us.
Lesson for today for me and for you? Tying up all three readings, these are the few things that stand out:
God knows. God cares. And God nourishes our hunger … for food and for everything else beyond material food. The suffering Christians in Iraq and Syria are devoid of material food right now, and along with it, their freedom and dignity. They are suffering to the hilt. My heart goes out to them, even as the world ignores them and says nothing about their plight.
They are neither full and fed as of this moment. Their lives, in fact, are in mortal danger. But who am I to say that they live lives that are vacuous and vain? I have met up with people who are deep in the throes of suffering … for years, even for decades. But I have seen them talk about the love of God like as if they considered their sufferings as a privilege and a gift. I have seen dying people undergo so much pain and suffering, but in the midst of that hunger, pain and immense earthly sorrow, I saw too that their lives (and ensuing death) were anything but vacuous and vain.
“One does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Believe me. Been there; done that! Praised be the name of the Lord!