Homily for July 31, XVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A year I
Sometimes, a preacher has to dig around a little bit to find a coherent message from Sunday Mass readings in order to prepare a homily. Today, on the contrary, the message is not hard to find if we look a little below the surface. Even though the theme is familiar, it’s a very important one, that we can hardly over-emphasize.
The first reading, the Psalm and the Gospel are all centered on the Eucharist. None of them mention it specifically, but they are all preparing for the Sacrament of the Bread of Life, the Body and Blood of Christ. The psalm speaks of how God feeds all of His creatures, and the first reading emphasizes that God gives us sustenance that goes beyond bodily food and drink, because earthly food can never truly satisfy our deepest needs nor last more than a brief time. Instead, He promises to renew us with His word and His covenant. The Eucharist is the last and greatest covenant in the Body and Blood of Christ, that brings together the Word – Who is Christ – and both bodily and spiritual nourishment. This same reading from Isaiah emphasizes that this divine sustenance is given freely, “without paying and without cost”.
We see all of this again in the Gospel, where Jesus feeds the hungry crowd, first with His preaching and then with the fish and loaves. The disciples are worried about the cost, and want the people to go buy their own food. Jesus feeds them for free instead, multiplying the bread and the fish to supply more than enough for them all.
The significance of this miracle goes beyond it’s immediate meaning of feeding the hungry. It demonstrates that Jesus can take one thing and make it many; just as in the Eucharist, the bread becomes the Body of Christ, every time and in every place, even though the Body of Christ is one. The fact that the disciples took the time to gather up all the leftover fragments also suggests a special value to this bread. It is usually seen as an indication of the care that we should take to treat the Eucharist with due respect as the Body of Christ, which we carefully conserve in the tabernacle after Mass until it is eaten.
The Eucharist, then, is the New Covenant, through which God desires to nourish us in body and spirit, freely and abundantly. It is one of the greatest manifestations of that love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord that St Paul describes in the second reading. Jesus wanted to make it easily available to us by giving His apostles the power to celebrate the Eucharist and to pass this power on to others in the priesthood throughout the Church.
May God help us all today to grow in our faith in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, to appreciate this gift more and more, and to do what we can to help more and more people experience God’s never-failing, ever-present love.