Become What You Eat: A RC Woman Priest’s Homily for the 18th Sunday in OT 8/15
Bread is so important to survival and well being. It is the staff of life. Every culture has a special variety of bread that satisfies the stomach and the soul. It is the top of the food charts and the main staple for survival (along with other whole grains). When I am hungry I want a good, chewy piece of bread. It is painful to think of those who are hungry and have no bread and Jesus thought of them often and provided for them,asking us to do the same.
But “bread” also means other things. In inner-city Brooklyn where I grew up one might ask “You got any bread?” Meaning “Do you have any money?” But this is no longer the slang of the times. In the Aramaic language of Jesus and his Near Eastern culture bread means essential food and bread means essential teaching. Bread is sacred. It is precious because it symbolizes God’s presence, God’s truth and God as Provider. Covenants that are considered sacred and unbreakable are “bread and salt agreements”. ‘Aish, bread in Aramaic, is literally “the life-giver.” ‘Aish was seen as God’s own life made tangible for God’s children to feed upon. In his culture,when Jesus refers to himself as “the bread of life” he refers to the sacredness of his teachings which nourishes the hearts and souls of the human family and connects us to loving relationship with God Who is Life Itself. (Errico Let There Be Light, Noohra foundation, 1994: 74-77).
In our Sunday readings, from last week until August 16th we learn about bread, but not just ordinary bread, bread that comes from God. When Jesus instructed us how to pray (Matt. 6:11) he included: “Give us this day, our daily bread….” An attitude of gratitude is inherent in our prayer for daily sustenance to a God who provides. Walking through the sixth chapter of John we learn about bread that feeds the body and bread that feeds the soul. We are asked in the Gospel today (John 6:24-35) to see ourselves as whole persons who need more than food and material things to really live “…work not for perishable food, but for life-giving food that lasts for all eternity” (John 6:27)
That is not to negate the importance of food for the body or feeding the hungry. In all four Gospels there are accounts of Jesus feeding great numbers of people. In Matthew 15 and Mark 8, for example, Jesus says “I have compassion for the people”-he was worried that they would collapse of hunger if they were not fed. He directly asks the disciples to “feed them” and in Matthew 25 he teaches the importance of feeding the hungry-it is as if we feed Christ himself. In a hierarchy of human needs one does not preach to the hungry, one feeds them and then can teach them. Vatican II and the Social Justice teachings of the church are among the best teachings of the church. This is serious instruction. When we consider this we are bound to save lives:
Since there are so many people in this world afflicted with hunger, this sacred Council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the saying of the Fathers: “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him you have killed him.”
Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
In the Hebrew Scriptures reading for last week( 2 Kings 4: 42-44) we have the prophet Elisha feeding bread to the people. It is in abundance. This week we see God feeding the people of Israel in the desert with a natural substance that falls like dew in the morning and hardens to a nourishing substance. When they ask “Man hu”? What is this? Moses answers that it is God sending bread from heaven. It too is in abundance (Exodus 16:2-4,12-15). Next week we will see the importance of the prophet Elijah eating before he takes to the road on his prophetic journey(1 Kings 19:4-8). We can take this on both the physical and spiritual levels, and they are, after all, intertwined. We need nourishment to be ready for the prophetic journey. It is available from God in abundance. When Jesus feeds the thousands of people the supply is abundant. Whether this feeding is by people sharing all they have or by a sheer miracle, is not important. Last week Rev. Roberta Meehan pointed out that selfless sharing is indeed a miracle. God provides in abundance.
In our regular ministry we feed the hungry and that is one of the most important things we do. No one need come to church to join us for a meal. Some come for both types of nourishment and some come later, just for the meal. Most also enjoy fellowship and friendship with the meal.
But Jesus put it on the line in John 6:26 when he says that many people are following him for a meal and need to see that there is more to him than that, his teachings are the bread of life that people are truly seeking and needing. To go beyond physical and material sustenance, to be nourished spiritually, we must eat the Bread of Life that Jesus is, and take in the bread that Jesus gives us-eat-take in what Jesus teaches and IS. For us that means also to partake in the Eucharist-to take in the bread and wine that is Jesus the Christ. To share this holy communion with Christ who is on the table, at the table and all around the table where all are welcome, both now and throughout all enduring time. But as we digest the bread we need also to Digest his words, his essence, his very Self. We need to become what we eat. Like Jesus, the Christ, we are to become the bread of life for one another. That is life.