These next several weeks our Gospel readings will be from what is called The Bread of Life discourse of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John. The words of Jesus can seem a bit obscure; yet Jesus as the Bread of Life is core to who we are and whose we can become as Catholics – responding to all our hungers.
The significant question is whether we are hungry for what is on the menu offered by Christ through His Church: the word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ.
Many of us when we are physically hungry tend to mumble and grumble, even talk to ourselves – what shall I eat, why is it taking so long. We can be like the Israelites in the first reading. They were free after years of slavery but unable to trust that the God who had led them to freedom would provide what else they needed for survival. So they mumbled and grumbled among themselves. We can also be like the crowd in the Gospel reading who as last week’s gospel detailed had been miraculously fed from five barley loaves and a couple of fish. Show us more signs, they said; feed us with enough miracles that we can believe in you. That is an appetite that will never be satisfied.
What else do we hunger for? Some hunger for intellectual stimulation, something to interest or entertain us. That hunger shows itself in boredom and lack of concentration. Intellectual hunger can result in our becoming couch potatoes, watching mindless TV, blogging and twittering away our time.
Some hunger for relief from the pressures of life – sickness, economic uncertainty, broken relationships and so much more. It shows itself in stress, anxiety, short tempers and harsh words.
Some hunger for friendship and companionship, someone to talk to, walk with, laugh and cry with. This hunger shows itself in loneliness or isolation. It can lead to giving into peer pressure or overlooking sins and moral failings of others just to remain part of the crowd.
Some hunger for human warmth, the sensation that we count and have worth as individuals. It shows itself in giving in to unchaste relations or dependent relationships.
All of these hungers are real and part of our human condition. How we feed them makes all the difference.
Our greatest hunger, though we may not admit it, is for more than physical or worldly needs. It is a hunger to be one with God, the purpose for which we were created. We hunger for God’s love, for God’s truth, for God’s wisdom, for God’s strength, for God’s forgiveness. We hunger for the freedom that comes with trusting in God in the midst all those competing earthly hungers.
The Father sent His son to respond to this deep hunger. He gave himself on the cross to spiritually feed us and continues to give us himself in the Holy Eucharist and in his word. Christ can help us deal with those other hungers which are a natural part of our lives, keeping them in perspective and in check because he is the bread of real life, the food of a fulfilling life despite the challenges.
There are two teachings Jesus spoke in today’s Gospel that we ought to ponder. The first is “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never hunger; whoever believes in me will never thirst.” It is an invitation to all – “whoever comes”; it is our choice and it is our choice how close we come to him in a personal relationship.
Then Jesus challenges us to believe: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” That is our work as well. When we come to him and believe in him, surrender to him, Jesus will totally satisfy our deepest hunger to know what life means and who we are in God’s creation. It is work because there often is a part of us that wants to control and not let go; the devil whispers in our ear compromise just a little and the world can be yours; the secular culture declares that there is no God so there are no rules and so we can determine for ourselves who we are, what we do, and who has value and who is disposable.
This can be seen in those videos of Planned Parenthood doctors who talked about the body parts of the unborn as waste products to be sold and who threaten the health of mothers by calculating medical procedures for profit. It can be seen in those who view the elderly or the suffering as economic drains or problems to be disposed of not as people of value to be cared for and cared about.
What is the essential ingredient in the Bread of Life? It is love. During the Spanish civil war a soldier was wounded but not with life threatening injuries. The doctors were sure that he would recover, but he would not eat, clearly traumatized. Sadly that is a byproduct of all wars. No matter what the nurses offered he would not eat and grew weaker. Finally one of his buddies went to his family. Perhaps they could get him to eat to save his life. His father came to visit with him. He was happy to see his father but still would not eat. Then his father said, “Son, here is some bread that your mother baked.” “Oh bread mama made,” was the lifesaving response, “give me some.” He inherently knew his mother baked it with love for him in her heart. (Tonne)
We often are wounded and traumatized by the realities of life. We too can lose our taste and wither in our legitimate hungers. But when we come to the Lord and believe in him, when we experience his sacrificial love reflected on the cross and in his Church through the sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist, we then can declare, confident in his love and mercy, “Give me some”; Come Lord Jesus.
“I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Today, at this moment may we come to him and believe that he is the Bread of Real Life who can satisfy our spiritual hunger and thus all others. Then we will have life as God intended, and have it to the full.