8/2/15 No More Hunger, No More Thirst

Homily: August 2, 2015 : “No More Hunger, No More Thirst”  Exodus. 16:2-4, Ephesians 4:17,20-24, John 6:24-25

When you eat bread and drink wine in the company of family and friends: what does that mean to you? 

A common experience of humanity revolves around the matter of eating.   We all need to eat on a regular basis.   Food is important to each human being.  It’s a means of sustaining our bodies and sustaining community.  Because of this universal importance, it also takes on symbolic meaning beyond the simple act of eating.  The lectionary readings during the month of August present to us with an opportunity to thinking again and perhaps in a new way about the meaning of “breaking bread together.”  What exactly is it we are doing in the Eucharistic celebration that we as Catholics count as a central experience in our faith?

If you were to attend Mass for each of the Sundays between August 2 and August 23, you would notice that the Gospel readings all come from the 6th chapter of John.  The Catholic Church points to this chapter as being Jesus’ definitive teaching on the significance of sharing the bread and wine.  Last week’s reading described the feeding of the 5000 with the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  Today’s reading finds that huge crowd having followed Jesus and his disciples around to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Here Jesus talks to them about their motivations in seeking him out.  He says they are not so interested in the MEANING of the signs he has been giving them in previous stories told by John’s gospel (feeding, healing, changing water into wine) as they are in getting more of those material goods for free.

 And then he begins his long teaching on his identity as the bread of life.  In the rest of this chapter we will see the temple authorities take issue with this teaching and we will also see people begin to make choices about continuing to follow this radical teacher.  I encourage you to take this month of August and read the sixth chapter of John over and over again.  Perhaps at our August Agape Feast we’ll share together what Spirit has shown us.

Another interesting thing in the lectionary readings is to notice how the Old Testament selections also have something to do with eating. Last week, Elisha fed a large crowd of people with 20 small barley loaves.  This week, Moses prays to God on behalf of the Israelites in the wilderness and God provides manna and quail.  Next week, a depressed and suicidal Elijah will be encouraged by an angel who comes to him with bread and water and instructs him to eat.  On August 16, the book of Proverbs describes Lady Wisdom instructing people to leave their own foolishness and eat bread and wine she provides.  

 

The Gospel of John often shares common stories with Matthew, Mark and Luke but it does uncommon things with those stories. It interprets them in a particular way.  In chapter 6 of John, the miracle of feeding is remarkably similar to that found in the other gospels, but John deliberately calls what Jesus does a "sign."  A sign is an act or a gesture or an object that points to the reality of something else. The real meaning of Jesus' activity isn't simply to feed those who are hungry but to reveal something vital about Jesus. In this case of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus is the One who can satisfy every human need.  The connection to the Old Testament readings is simply that the feeding of various people in various circumstances also pointed to God as the one who sees human needs and provides what is necessary to fulfill them. In today’s reading, God provides food despite the grumbling, ungrateful attitudes Hebrew people.  It was a sign of mercy in action: God’s loving kindness keeping up God’s end of the covenant even when it is undeserved by the objects of his love.

We should keep in mind that the Gospel of John is not meant to be a literal account of Jesus’ life and actions.  It is a LATE first century theological interpretation of the life and meaning of Jesus.  Religiously speaking, Jesus himself was a faithful Jew with a passionate desire to see renewal in the religion of his own culture.  From what we know of the very early church, the religious expression of its faith was very Jewish in form and practical in lifestyle. Jesus’ followers were determined to live as he had lived. He shared in the community synagogue worship.  There the Old Testament history and prophets and psalms were read over and over. Sometimes Jesus himself was the reader of these scriptures.

Then he went out and showed people by his lifestyle what God was saying about true justice and peace and mercy and faith. For Jesus, it wasn’t about right belief.  It was about right living. As time went on, political and religious persecution forced the Jewish followers of Christ to clarify their beliefs.  Theologies and doctrines began to grow up around the stories of Jesus’ life, efforts to explain who he was and what he had done.  Beginning with the books of the New Testament we see this increasing complexity of interpretation.  We also see the developing institution of Christianity that has become more and more complicated over 2000 years.  No wonder we have the issues we do in the 21st Century.

For today, I am going to leave you with a question to ponder for the month of August: Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  No one who comes to me will ever be hungry or thirsty.”  What does this mean to you?  How does it shape your life today and how should it shape the life of this community as we move forward with hope and a passionate desire to see renewal in the Catholic religion of our culture?                  

For these questions and the opportunity to ponder them, we say: Thanks be to God!

by Sandi DeMaster