August 20, 2018 – Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58
I preached at St. Pius X this past weekend. The following is a homily I gave on those very same readings. I delivered this homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis in 2015
Four weeks ago, we heard the story of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. For the last three weeks, we have been reading what is referred to as the Bread of Life Discourse, found in John’s Gospel, Chapter 6, verses 22-58. So for a month, we have been hearing about bread and being fed:
“Bread from heaven”
“I am the bread of life”
“Whoever eats this bread will live forever”
“The one who feeds on me will have life”
“Feed them yourselves”
“All ate and were satisfied”
After four weeks of Gospels about bread, eating, and feeding others, what else can possibly be said?
I couldn’t think of anything, so I have decided to talk instead about my favorite pen.
Not too many people here know this about me, but I can get pretty set in my ways. I like what I like. I get comfortable with certain things.
When I was principal at Guerin Catholic, my assistant, Cathy, took care of purchasing all of the office supplies needed at the school. So, she would purchase pens as I needed them. About 4 years ago, she dropped a package of pens, a 3-pack, on my desk.
When I opened the package for the first time and held one of the pens in my hand, I knew – it was perfect. The cushioned grip fit my hand perfectly. The ink flowed smoothly from its fine point. It was sleek and efficient.
I looked for excuses to write things down. I waited anxiously for people to come to my office to ask me to sign something.
This was to be my pen. From that day forward, I would accept no substitutes.
However, the day came when Cathy set a different pen down on my desk. She reported that the hook at the store was empty, and that this particular pen, my pen, had been discontinued.
She could see the pained look on my face as I stared with disdain at this other pen she brought me. She promised to try some other stores, which she did, but to no avail. The store manager looked up the pen and confirmed that the manufacturer was no longer making that pen.
Not to be denied, I took the search to the internet. After being turned down at numerous sites, I came across one vendor that claimed to still have some in stock. I called them and asked them to confirm that they had my pen.
“How many do you want?” they asked.
“How many do you have?” I replied.
“We have 144 in stock,” they said.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I did. I purchased 144 pens that day. I will never have to write with another type of pen for as long as I live.
I like what I like. I’m set in my ways. I want to be comfortable.
There are a few other things. If I find a shirt that is particularly comfortable, I’ll buy the same shirt in six different colors. Comfortable shoes? I’ll buy three identical pair at a time, maybe four.
Now, when we’re talking about things like pens and shirts and shoes, we can get away with being set in our ways, and being focused only on our own need to be comfortable.
However, there is a danger in taking that same philosophy into our daily interactions with others, or allowing it to impact our ability to accept others for who they are.
But there are some people who make us uncomfortable, aren’t there?
They may have a different faith or value system. They may be a different race or speak a different language. They may be in a different income bracket or travel in different social circles.
Maybe older people or teenagers make us uncomfortable. Perhaps the homeless or addicts.
Maybe someone has hurt us or a former friend seems to be drifting further and further away. We stay hurt and ignore the drifting apart because initiating reconciliation takes us out of our comfort zone.
Being set in our ways and avoiding situations and people that make us uncomfortable may be easier, but it is not what Jesus calls us to do.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: Do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.
To discover His will, we return to what Jesus said to his disciples when 5,000 hungry people sat before Him with nothing to eat: “Feed them yourselves,” He told them.
After the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the people were fed, and we are told: “All ate and were satisfied.” Again, “All ate and were satisfied.”
Jesus didn’t feed half of the 5,000 or most of the people; He fed them all.
He didn’t walk among them, saying “You can eat, but you cannot” or “You will be fed and you will not.”
They all ate and were satisfied.
We are called to nourish everyone we meet, not just those with whom we feel comfortable.
A great example of this is my wife’s recent trip to Tanzania.
When she returned from the trip, I watched a video of Carol teaching an art lesson to students in Tanzania.
Carol – a 50-something year-old white American female who speaks absolutely no Swahili, teaching a group of 40 black 15-year-old Tanzanian males the art of origami. For those who are not familiar with origami, it is a Japanese art form…and no, she doesn’t speak Japanese either.
Carol was smiling and laughing as she spoke with her hands and her facial expressions; they were smiling and laughing along with her. They were all nourished, including Carol. All ate and were satisfied.
In order to feed others, we must explore and embrace our differences. Church cannot be defined by the limitations of this building.
That’s what the Bread of Life Discourse is all about. We turn to Jesus, the bread of life, for nourishment, but that is only the first step. We must then feed others. All must be fed.
So go ahead and hoard your favorite pen and buy six identical shirts if that makes you comfortable.
However, carrying out “the will of the Lord” dictates that we move outside of our comfort zone.
Pope Francis told us recently that if we are truly to make disciples of all men, we must “stop fishing in our own aquarium.”