Thought for the week - 1 August
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
During the current recession people may cut back on many things that they don’t need or cannot afford; but one thing we cannot do without is food and drink. We can reduce it a bit, or buy cheaper and simpler food, but we cannot cut it out completely. We need food: we cannot do without it. And food means much more to us than petrol does to a car. Food and drink are much more than fuel for the body. Our eating and drinking have a greater dimension, a personal, and social and spiritual aspect.
We tend to celebrate anything that is important to us by eating and drinking, by having a party or a meal. Eating together is something important. Meals gather people together, in the family or in other groups. Eating and drinking are not just bodily functions which get in the way of more spiritual things. No, eating and drinking, meals, point beyond themselves to something deeper and indeed spiritual. Eating and drinking give sustenance to the whole person, body and soul.
Often in the Bible this line between nourishment for body and for soul is a narrow one. The manna in the desert, which we heard about in this morning’s Old Testament reading, is a good example. The people were starving and rebellious, and complain to Moses: 'Why did we not stay to die in Egypt? At least we could eat our fill of bread and meat there'. And so, God gave them food plentifully, both meat and manna, because they needed it desperately, both to fill their stomachs and to quieten their angry hearts.
Remember too the story of Elijah. When he was depressed and wished he was dead God gave him bread and water and insisted that he ate enough; and the food sustained him on his forty day journey to Horeb, the mountain of God, so that he could continue to carry out God's purposes.
The Land the children of Israel were promised, the Promised Land, was described as ‘a land flowing with milk and honey', with flocks and herds, crops, vineyards – and all pure gift for they had not worked for it. 'Open your mouth wide and I will fill it', says God. When they had reached the Land and settled in it, these expectations were transferred into the future when God would bring about his final purposes. But for this to take place the People would need to change and live in a right relationship with God and with one another. And this conversion is also described, by Isaiah, in terms of food. 'Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food'.
The final, expected Day of the Lord, the final fulfilment of everything, is described in the Old Testament (and indeed the New) as the greatest of banquets with finest wine and the richest food.
Also, the daily and yearly Temple worship - the equivalent of our liturgical year - always involved food. The Temple sacrifices reaffirmed and built up the covenant between God and his People, reminded them of what God had given and what he still promised them, and consequently of how they ought to live in the here and now. These sacrifices always involved food: animal offerings like the lamb at the Passover, or cereal offerings. The food was sacrificed to God, that is, it was made holy by being handed over to God; and then it was shared between God and those who offered it. It was a real sharing, a communion, between God and his people. It was like giving a special meal to your greatest friend. You share the meal together to express and strengthen your friendship.
With the coming of Jesus, God gives a new kind of food, which even his disciples found hard to recognise. Jesus gently chides the crowd that flocked to him after the feeding of the five thousand. 'You are seeking me because you had all the bread you wanted, not because you understood what that meant'. He is himself the bread which comes down from heaven. As Peter said: 'Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life'.
This is the food we must look for, not just when we celebrate this Eucharist, this sharing of holy food and drink, but whenever we come near to God in prayer, or in the reading of the Bible, or in helping others in need.
The manna which our forefathers ate in the desert was good and strengthened them on their journey. But their generation has passed away, and now Jesus offers us the bread which will last for ever. It is not simply food which strengthens us, body and soul, in the here and now. It is food which is God himself. He does not say: I give you the living bread. He says:
I am the living bread. And this bread comes to us by way of sacrifice, the way of the cross. 'The bread which I will give is my flesh, given for the life of the world'. God does not just give us food: he is our food.
So, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”.