Let God be God
Eighteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Robert Gay considers how we can properly order our desires.
It’s strange what leaps out at us at times when we read passages of the scriptures which are very familiar to us. With this Sunday’s Gospel, familiarity draws us so easily to the end, and to Our Lord’s great statement that he is the bread of life. What happens towards the beginning seems less noteworthy, and yet is well worth pausing and giving some consideration.
Our Lord and the disciples have escaped the crowd, but they have caught up with him and ask him when he came to the place. Yet it is his response to this question that stands out clearly: ‘I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.’
This response of Our Lord might stand out because it isn’t an answer to the question that was asked. It is one of many examples in the Gospels where Our Lord gets to the heart of the matter where others are concerned with lesser issues. Perhaps the response stands out out because we are struck by how shallow the crowd seem to be. We see they have followed Our Lord because he has provided for their most basic appetite for food, and they want that appetite to continue to be satisfied. In other words, they have been unable to see beyond their own stomachs, and have been blind to the layers of meaning of their being fed. What Our Lord has been pointing to, and has now made explicit, is that he has come to them to offer his own self – the true bread, the one who will ultimately satisfy. And we know that this ultimate satisfaction comes because Our Lord is God himself, and it is in God that all desire finds its ultimate fulfilment.
Yet we should see in the crowd not just a group of people who are chasing after food to satisfy their hunger. We should also see ourselves in that behaviour. Because we all know from our own experience how often our priorities don’t take into full consideration that the fulfilment of our desires can only be found in God. We so often put all kinds of other things – other needs, desires and so on before God, even to the extent that they can take over, even rule our entire lives. That we do this can be for a whole host of reasons, but is very often rooted in the tangible, short term realm of pleasurable things of various kinds, and our struggle to put them in their proper place, so that they can be where they should be – and, most importantly: God can be God. For things to be otherwise is to allow ourselves to go down a path of unhappiness and disappointment; or even worse, self-destruction. So we need to be alert to the ways in which we allow the ordinary things of life to take over to the extent that we can no longer see God as the goal of our lives, or see the signs that he is at work in our daily lives.
As a strategy to avoid such problems, or to set us back on the right path, we should not underestimate the great power that comes to us through prayer and the sacraments. We are refined by God when we spend time with him in prayer – our thoughts, motivations, desires are all laid bare before him. And it is especially powerful when in prayer we can admit to the Lord that things are not as they should be, that we want things to be different, and that we want the help of his grace to desire him above all else. The sacrament of confession gives us the means to renew grace within us when we acknowledge before the Lord those things that we have put before him in our lives; the things which we have valued more than we should have, or which have not been in their proper place. And then of course, we have our reception of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Eucharist, where receive him who is the bread of life, who alone can satisfy our deepest longings.