On Our Hungers & Our Leftovers

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time


I don’t cook often, but when I do, I only cook food I like to eat. Makes absolute sense to me. And the main reason, of course, is leftovers. Sometimes I will cook more food than I need for one meal, so I can enjoy it again, and yet again. Since it’s something I already like, I won’t mind having it five, even six meals in a row, except for breakfast. Breakfast is its own adventure. And if I want a little variety, I will probably have other leftovers in the fridge to choose from, leftovers of meals I already like to begin with. So, it’s all good. And my fridge will only contain food that I already like. So you won’t ever find liver and onions in there, or Brussel sprouts, or lima beans. If it’s there, it’s because I put it there, which means I won’t mind having it again.

When hunger strikes, we typically will want something specific. Maybe, you’re in the mood for Italian or Thai or tacos or sushi. We are fortunate to live where we have access to such a wide variety of food. Your favorite sandwich place may only be a few minutes away. If you want pizza, it’s on speed dial. If you crave a nice quiet elegant dinner, you have a short list of places that will fit the bill. If you want loud and raucous and peanut shells on the floor, or if you want live music and beer on tap, or if you want to hang out late into the night with friends who love to laugh and sing karaoke and eat nothing but wings, I’m sure you know exactly where that is. It’s not my style, so I have no recommendations. Now elsewhere in the world, most people have fewer options. There’s fish, and there’s fish, and there’s more fish. And if you’re not in the mood for fish, tough luck. Have some fish. And if you’d rather come back tomorrow, the menu will be pretty much the same. It’s up to you. Now I’m not knocking fish. I like fish.

No one can truly know our hunger better than ourselves. So if we do not know what to ask for, to truly satisfy our hunger, we can end up filling up on junk. And we will still be hungry. Now if we have known good nourishing food because we were fed by people who know good nourishing food, we might then have some idea what will best nourish our hunger. We’ve had it before. If we paid attention, we can have it again.

People who followed Jesus all across the countryside during his active ministry did so for different reasons. Some of them were just going along with the popular trend. Some just went where everyone else was going, to hear him speak, to see him perform wonderful signs, and maybe get a bite to eat. Some were just looking to be entertained, or they had a free afternoon, or they were curious. Some among them were probably moved by what they had heard him say or do, and they experienced a hunger for something much deeper. Jesus understood exactly the hungers they felt, and he would offer them nourishment as only he could.

When Jesus told his disciples to give the crowd something to eat, we should note that no one had even mentioned they were hungry. He anticipated their hunger even before they knew it. It’s not rocket science. He knew no one would hear a word he said if their stomachs were growling. By his words he would nourish their spirits, just as the bread and fish would nourish their bodies. They didn’t see the connection then. But if they missed out on the spiritual food, maybe the material food might give them enough reason to keep coming back. And if there’s a next time, it can always be better.

Like the people who followed Jesus across the countryside in his day, we also have our own reasons for showing up to church on Sunday. Some of us come to church because it’s what we’ve been taught, others because it makes people we love happy, and still others because it gives us a sense of fulfillment, or an experience of forgiveness, or joy, or peace. Some are satisfied just to know they had spent time in the building, never mind that they didn’t get anything out of the experience. Others come primarily to visit with their friends. And still others come to get their bread. We don’t all have the best reasons for being here, but Jesus still understands our hungers better than we do, and he desires to truly nourish us deeply with his very own life.

The next four weekends we will read from the sixth chapter of the gospel of John, exploring what Jesus means by offering us food to nourish us unto eternal life. So don’t be surprised if you hear more homilies on food in the weeks ahead. Hopefully we will better grasp our own hungers, and recognize what God is doing to nourish us truly. It helps that we first understand the reason we come looking for him. So when we find even better reasons than the ones we came with, our minds can be enlightened and our hungers satisfied. We know our hungers better than anyone else. But will we be honest?

To set-up, we come upon this random gathering of people on the mountainside who came to hear Jesus speak. What ultimately holds them together is Jesus. But their connection one to another is shaky at best. It makes no difference to most everyone who else might be there. Now their time with Jesus would be well spent if they at least came away content on some level. So when we come to church for whatever reason, we want to come away with a good experience, that we were welcomed, that we experienced genuine fellowship with those around us, that we felt closer to God, that we resolved to change for the better, that we can take this spiritual experience home to sustain us for the coming week. It is all food for our spirit. And Jesus wants us to keep coming back so he can nourish us more deeply each time.

Now the whole discussion between Jesus and his disciples about how to feed the crowd is something that goes on all the time among pastors, lay leaders, and volunteers. Jesus already knew ahead of time what he would do, but he involved them anyway. So they found a young boy who had brought five loaves and two fish, a perfect image of the meager resources that we usually have for Jesus to work with. And with those five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds a crowd none of us could have ever provided for on our own. And on top of that, they collected leftovers! But that’s all insider information. Nobody knows about it but the apostles. So the closer we are to the internal workings of God’s plan, the more wonders we witness. You want to see wonders? Get involved.

Jesus calls us to himself. He wants to nourish our hunger. And he invites us deeper with each encounter. When we are more consciously involved in God’s plan, we become partners and collaborators with him. We welcome as he would welcome. We help distribute food. We help gather the leftovers. And we invite others to come back next time. As much as God desires to nourish our spirits when we gather in this place each weekend, some will only remember the bread and fish. But if it was good, maybe they will come back. And if they come back, maybe the next time can be even better.

Rolo B Castillo © 2018