19th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 10.
The Christian Gospel is called good news because it reveals to us a God whose nature is “absolute love” revealed in Jesus the complete God and complete Man. However difficult this is, it is at the heart of Christianity and required whenever we reflect on a gospel passage. The two natures of Jesus come together in the passage for this week. The human side of Jesus is easily visible in compassion, feeding the multitude, healing and binding the wounds of the sick, teaching kindness towards neighbours, justice and truth in human interaction, for without these it is not possible to live a godly life. But it is not the whole story! What then is a Godly life?
Jesus came to bring each individual into a relationship with the invisible yet essential divinity of God whom he called “my Father”. It is not difficult to see around us the absence of God, and the result of human lives separated from transcendence. What Solzhenitsyn in 1978 called the “death of the soul” meaning an existence placing too much hope in politics and social reforms only to find that a living at the purely bodily and mental levels renders life deprived and incomplete. Many of the consequences are all around us in mindless and hateful behaviour. More research is also revealing high levels of narcissistic and sociopathic behaviour in many places including the corporate and business world, resulting in fear, loneliness and much that causes life to flounder. It is high time to take into account the consequences of living in a culture that has banished God and the spiritual life is starved.
This is the reason God became man, to grasp the spiritual life experienced at the level of the eternal soul and to move beyond the preoccupation with the self. A healthy soul energises the will to balance body, mind, and psyche. We feed the body, educate the mind; we know the need for psychological health yet neglect the coordinating soul that drives the will.
The Food of Life
With this in mind we reflect on the unique feeding of five thousand and the teaching Our Lord draws out. The crowds were looking for material satisfaction and a national leader with a political agenda rather than the presence of God. Jesus must introduce the other world, explaining that the divine cannot be revealed solely in human and worldly terms; that the presence of God is unveiled only when the human is reduced to silence and the soul opened to the need for transcendence. “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things”? [John 3,12]. These words are said after Jesus witnessed the bickering crowd who had witnessed the multiplication of the barley loaves and fishes, and who were then gossiping together saying, “whose son is he any way? He is just the carpenter from Nazareth! Now Jesus reaches the heart of it all; “Truly I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life – I am the bread of life.” Nothing is more important to us than food of course but “man cannot live by bread alone” so we are to pray “give us this day our daily bread” by which we mean our communion with Christ the one who is from God and through whom we encounter the mystery and divinity of the life-giving God which is the food for the soul. “Just as an acorn has a thirst to be an oak tree”, said Thomas Merton, so the Christian longs for the wholeness for which he is made, becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal