First Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14B-16A
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
Second Reading: First Corinthians 10: 16-17
Gospel: John 6:57-58
Bread of Life
I have always found the aroma of bread freshly baked very comforting. That smell always makes me feel somehow at home. Perhaps it is because bread is such a staple of life. Furthermore, it is difficult to limit oneself to a single piece of bread that has just been taken out of the oven. It is almost as if a primal craving has been tapped and an overpowering drive unleashed.
There is another kind of craving for bread, one that stems from stark necessity rather than simple or remembered pleasure. In the very country where obesity is one of the most serious health concerns, millions of people go hungry. Most of us do not know this experience. I do not mean the uneasiness we feel when we miss a meal of two. I am talking about genuine hunger, the sensation that the body has begun to feed on itself, and we are being sapped of our energy. This is a true craving for bread.
It is to just such a longing for food that Moses refers in the first reading. He reminds the Israelites, who are about to enter the land of promise, that their ancestors knew real hunger when they were in the wilderness. Their hunger was so intense, that they even pleaded to return to Egypt. Though burdened there with slavery, they at least had food to eat. Moses also reminds them that God provided for those ancestors by sending manna. Scholars tell us that what the people considered miraculous food was probably quite common in that part of the desert. Still, the nature of the food is not the point of the story. What is important is that God provided nourishment when the people could not do so themselves.
Moses clearly states that God did this “in order to show [them] that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.” In other words, there is a hunger that only God can satisfy. The question must be asked: ‘Do we ever experience that hunger?’ Have we ever known a primal craving for God?
I am convinced that the craving for God is more common than one might think. I believe that the frantic search for meaning or for acceptance that consumes so many people today is at the heart a search for God. Furthermore, I think that there are many people who are very much like the Jewish crowds in today’s gospel. They are good people who are not prepared to accept some of the claims made by Jesus but are still searching for God. Jesus declared: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” This is a bold claim indeed. What were they supposed to make of it? What do we today make of it?
Today’s readings are filled with bold claims: Moses claims that we need God’s word as much as we need food; Jesus claims that we must feed on his body and blood if we would have life; Paul claims that when we partake of the one loaf, we are intimately joined to each other. We need faith to accept these claims. We may all experience genuine craving for fulfillment, but only faith can help us recognize what will satisfy that craving. Today’s sequence expresses this succinctly: “Sight has failed, nor thought conceives, but a dauntless faith believes.”
The body and blood of the risen Christ possess extraordinary features. When we eat ordinary food, we turn it into our own being. But when we eat his body and drink his blood, we are transformed into him. A bond is forged that not only grants us life but also endures into eternal life. Furthermore, we are bound together with all others who partake of this food and drink. Those of us who search for meaning can, through faith, find it in the life promised with this food; those of us who search for acceptance can, through faith, find it by common sharing of this one loaf. However, we must remember that in our Eucharist celebration this bread is a body now glorified, but that was once broken, and the drink is the blood of the risen Lord now, but that was once poured out. We are assured life through his death. Once again, only faith can enable us to accept what we cannot fully grasp.
At the heart of the feast that we celebrate today is the fundamental mystery of God’s love for us. We have been created with a craving for God. As St. Augustine said: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” While we await our final fulfillment in God, we have the body and blood of Christ to satisfy our hunger and our thirst. He is the real staple of life. Once we realize this, we will not be satisfied with anything less.
Sr. Dianne Bergant, CSA
Professor Emerita of Old Testament Studies