Give Them Some Food Yourselves

breadIt is ironic in a sense that one of the greater divides between Catholic and Protestant is over the issue of the Eucharist. Here, Catholics are most literal, taking the “institution of the Eucharist” to be the actual eating of the blood and flesh of Christ, while most Protestants see it as a symbolic act of remembrance.

To be honest, the Protestants are closer to the mark exegetically. While Matthew relates the story of the Last Supper in a “bread = body” fashion, Luke and Paul frame it as a “remembrance”. Quite frankly it should not matter at all, since if we wish to talk about the mystery of Christ’s presence to us as Christians, the how is singularly not important.

What is important is the stage being set. The table was a place where differences were set aside, weapons left at the door, where people were in a sense forced to confront each others as equals–nourishing the body.

The history of table hospitality in the Middle East is well-known. In such a harsh environment, even enemies broke bread together as a means of survival. It was not all equality of course, there were heads of the tables often, and women and children were separated, eating after the men were through. Food was life at its most basic, and Jesus spared no opportunity to connect food and eating with teaching.

When people are chewing, they can listen.

I see the Eucharist as a time when for a few moments my thoughts are utterly aligned with my God. I choose to believe that God comes to me in some precious way through the bread and wine. I do not examine that process for the process doesn’t actually matter. Is this not why we pause, (those of us who do) at the beginning of a meal to silently or otherwise, give praise to God for what we are about to consume?  We have internalized the importance of meal, of table fellowship, even if that fellowship only includes ourselves and the Lord.

When Jesus has been teaching and the disciples urge him to send people away to find something to eat, he teaches an important lesson: give them some food yourselves. In this salient sentence, Jesus draws us together as community, making us each responsible for all, including feeding each other.

For in the feeding of others, we feed ourselves.

When the disciples answer Jesus’ directive, they say what we are wont to say: “Five loaves and two fishes are all we have.

We rebel. We start by turning inward, counting what we have, and finding we don’t have enough to share. We look about as dumb animals. What to do now?

Do with what you have! Amazing things happen when you just start doing, without fretting about how little you have.

Every revolution starts with the desire of one person to take one step in a new direction.

One in five humans is hungry in the world. One in five children in this country doesn’t get enough to eat. Our food banks are stretched to their limits every week. Men and women sit along our roadsides, along our city streets, hungry. Twenty-five percent of our veterans are homeless, living on the streets, unable to work and dependent upon soup kitchens, garbage receptacles, and the largess of passerby’s.

Food is life. All our actions regarding food can be and should be a Eucharistic event for us. The gardening we so love, the shopping and choosing of just the right melon, the careful preparation, presentation, all these are Eucharistic moments. We can treat these times as Holy deliberately and prayerfully, opening our hearts and minds to God’s presence.  Food can continue to teach us.

With each can of soup, we realize that it would feed another. Is it so much to ask that we save aside a few cans a week and once a month deliver them to a pantry? Is it too much to send a monthly check of a few dollars to your local mission or shelter?

And if I may ask you, please, please, when you do such things, hold them in your own heart. Your God knows, and that is all that need know. Only the Pharisees find the need to tell others of their giving. For no matter how much you give, others give more, and others are prevented from giving as much only because they have even less than you claim to have. You shame them, and yourself when you brag of your offerings.

Give them some food yourselves.

Amen.

 

 

Choice, It’s Always About Choice

 

 

One of the lesser known facts of the history of the Hebrew Scriptures is that it took a very long time to divorce the Israelites from other gods to the one God, Yahweh. As they moved and lived among others of different faiths, they too usually found themselves “hedging” their bets with monuments and oblations to the local deities.

So in Joshua, poised at the entrance to the Promised Land, we find the people being asked to choose, something they will be asked again and again in the coming generations. Joshua makes a bold statement, one that all of us know well:

As for me and my household, we shall serve the LORD.

This question comes back again at the end of the bread discourse when Jesus, aware that many of his followers are most uncomfortable with his admonition to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. He sees many of then shaking their heads in disbelief and returning to home and life as they had known it before they met him. What he announced was just too much for them to accept.

I am told that it was even more harsh than we may realize. We translate the word esthio as “eat”. But I am told a more literal translation of the Greek is “gnaw”. Jesus actually suggests that if we are true disciples, we must work hard at ingesting his teachings and understanding them and him.

Clearly a good many of his followers cannot do this, and they slip away to their old way of life.

In an odd way, one surely not meant by those in the Church who determined the scriptural arrangement, Paul in Ephesians can be seen as an example of this difficulty.

Often used as a means of assuring men that they are in fact the “heads” of their homes and that women have no place in the Church, Ephesians 5:21-32 claims that “women should be subordinate to their husbands.” Men in return are to “love their wives as their own flesh.” Notice how the one requires actual physical response. To be subordinate is not a thing you do in you mind, but a thing you do by ACTING. How much easier for the man who must only “in his heart” love his wife.

The point is, Paul (or the one writing as Paul) means for there to be a certain equality but he himself misses that the lot of the woman is by far the harder and the man may proclaim his job complete by mouthing the words. It is sort of like the beloved claim of right wing religious that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Most of the “sinners” would argue that little if any love is shown them at all.

But Jesus recognizes that simple formulaic responses are not true discipleship. Dainty eating is not requested. Gnawing is.

And the choice is real. Choose life or choose nothing.

The nothing can be dressed up in finery. It can be mansions or expense accounts, fancy offices and titles. But in the end, these choices provide no sustenance that gives life. They only cover up the dying that is going on inside. Only Christ provides the true food that not only sustains us but brings us everlasting life.

That is why, at the end in Jn 6:68, Peter rather plaintively replies: “Master, to whom shall we go?”

Indeed Peter speaks for us all. We recognize the difficulty of this discipleship. We know it is not easy. We know there are much easier roads to transverse and ones that are undoubtedly filled with more pleasures, but only one gives us the sustenance we need for eternity. Only one.

Which one will you choose?

Amen.

 

 

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