YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
August 02, 2015
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. Dcn. David Justin Lynch
Exodus 16:2-4;12-15 Psalm 75:3-4;23-25;54
Ephesians 4:17-24 John 6:24-35
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Have you ever made bread? I have. One mixes together flour, water, salt, sugar, oil, and yeast to make the dough. One then kneads the dough, shapes it into a loaf, and puts it into a loaf pan, which goes into the oven at a very low temperature to allow the yeast to make the dough rise. The rising takes several hours. Once the bread is risen, one turns up the temperature in the oven to bake the bread until its done, lets it cool a bit, and then cuts the first slice. Fresh bread, still warm, directly from the oven, tastes like heaven.
The process of making bread explains why Jesus is the bread of life. Bread is a common, ordinary food, made from basic ingredients. Jesus, in addition to being our Divine Savior, was made from the same common, ordinary stuff that we are. He was fully human as well as fully God, and because of that, He was able to empathize with our situation, to know life as we experience it. That empathy enables us to know what it means to be human, and therefore, to more effectively author our salvation.
Bread symbolizes life. It is nourishment that sustains life. The manna that rained down from heaven was food that God provided to the nation of Israel, so that their bodies would not starve. But Jesus was more than that. Not only did He come down from Heaven, he arose from the earth as God enfleshed. God formed Jesus into a loaf just like God formed us. Just as bread rises, Jesus rises, and the Bread of His Body is shared with us in Holy Communion, to give us a taste of the heavenly banquet. When something it baked, it is surrounded by heat, and fixed into its final form according to the intention of its creator. What bakes us is God’s love, God surrounding us with warmth, showing God’s intention that we be loving beings, leaving sin behind, and risen with Jesus.
Saint Paul tells us in First Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians, that the we, the church, are the Body of Christ. We are the Bread of Life in the Flesh, as the Body of Jesus here and now, bringing life to others. The question is, “what kind of bread do we want to be?” One of my favorite breads, both to make and to eat, is whole wheat bread. It is made from whole wheat flour, made by grinding the entire wheat berry, not just the endosperm that comprises white refined flour. We are whole wheat bread. God loves all parts of us. God wants all of us as part of the Church, our hands, our feet, our minds, our talents, our ears, our eyes, our souls, and everything else, for the building up of God’s Kingdom.
God chose Jesus as God’s instrument to build up that Kingdom by transforming the world into which God sent Jesus, who, as the Bread of Life, is transformational. When Jesus appeared, Jesus was God’s new program. We can see this in the contrast between today’s Hebrew Bible Lesson and the Gospel. God rained down manna from heaven to satisfy the immediate bodily hunger of the people of the Exodus wandering in the wilderness. The dialogue between Jesus and the crowd occurred just after Jesus had fed them all on five barley loaves and two fishes, as we heard in last week’s Gospel. The crowd equated food with something that satisfied their bodily hunger. Like the manna of the former times, it was food that perishes. But the food which Jesus gives us is eternal, because when we receive the Body of Jesus, we are no longer hungry. We don’t get there by working our tails off for food that satisfies only our bodily hunger and then perishes. We get that eternal food by being open to receiving Jesus, who is the imperishable food of eternal life, that satisfies us forever.
What Jesus has to offer is spiritual food, and that food is Himself. To get the crowd to accept this, Jesus had to sell Himself. If you’ve ever been in a sales job, whether it’s for an employer or your own business, the first step in getting someone to buy anything, is to get that person to trust you. This is particularly important if you are selling a service rather than a product, because what you are selling is yourself. Clients buy your services when they trust you are who you say you are, and that what you say, you will actually do. The crowd that faced Jesus in today’s Gospel was skeptical of Him. To make the sale of Himself to the crowd, Jesus had to overcome that skepticism. He had to get people to trust Him. The Gospel contains a dialogue illustrating that. The people asked Him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in You?” The people were looking for something that would give them the security of a comfort zone, to know Jesus was the real thing. Jesus, however, challenged them to step out of their comfort zone.
In the Exodus story, Moses acted as an intermediary between the people and God. For these people, Moses was everything. Moses and Jesus, however, were like two different software programs. They were Excel and Word. Excel is a spreadsheet that operates by rules to calculate numbers. Moses was Excel. He was the law giver who brought God’s laws. Word, however, is a word-processing program that allows the creation of a narrative. Jesus was Word, the Word of God made Flesh, who brought a narrative of God’s grace and love to supplant the law as a route to oneness with God.
God came into our midst in human form and found people still seeking bread for life, bread which would satisfy their stomachs. The gospel lesson picks up the theme of bread in the wilderness where the Exodus story ends. Jesus told the crowd that it was not Moses who gave their ancestors the bread from heaven, but that God the Father did that, and that bread from God gives eternal life. We can say that Jesus clinched the sale of Himself when He proclaimed that He, Himself, was the Bread of Life. What He was saying is that Jesus is a different kind of bread than that which we make and eat. Jesus is more than food. Jesus is eternal life itself, and it is the life for which we hunger. Jesus was apparently successful in closing the deal to sell Himself, because the people responded, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Bread is a staple food of physical life. Eucharistic bread is the staple food of all spiritual life. Yes, the Israelites in the desert grumbled because they were hungry, and indeed, God, out of compassion, responded to them with food to eat. But human survival requires more than just food to eat. It requires what Jesus has to offer, which Moses did not, and that something is the Eucharist. The manna in the wilderness was offered to particular people at a particular time and place to meet an immediate need for a particular group of people. The Israelites were a nomadic tribe, on the move for several decades. After they left the area where the manna fell, it stopped. It did not last forever. It did not fall everywhere. It was not given to everyone. The Eucharist, however, is for everyone. It is why we practice open communion here at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community. The Eucharist is celebrated everywhere. It has been celebrated for nearly two thousand years, and will be celebrated for millennia to come. As we read in the Acts of the Apostles and the Didache, the celebration of the Eucharist, at least weekly, has been the tradition of the Church since day one.
But the Eucharist is not just the principle act of Christian worship. To quote the late Professor Romano Guardini, one of the architects of the Liturgical Movement, “the Eucharist is the final link in the sacred chain of life-giving nourishment reaching from the remoteness of God into the here and now of human existence." The Eucharist is a celebration of the Bread of life. It is our eternal food for this life, and for the life to come. It is living Bread for the lives of all of us, a Bread that satisfies every hunger. As Pope Francis recently said on Corpus Christi, “Jesus is the living bread that can satisfy a person's deepest yearnings.” The Eucharist is the gift of God for the people of God.
The Eucharist makes us one with Jesus. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the spiritual food of the Eucharist turns the person who eats It into Itself, converting humanity into a manifestation of Jesus, so that we may no longer live for ourselves, but so that Jesus may live in us. We get to that by believing in Jesus. When I say “believe” I am not referring to whether one thinks the bread and cup we share is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus – it is that - but “Believe” means more than the proposition that something might be true. I’m talking about believing in the sense of trusting Jesus, inviting Jesus into your life as your Savior and intimate Friend. The crowd in today’s Gospel was transformed into believing in Jesus, and by the Eucharist, we are, too.
Believing in Jesus is God at work inside us. When we are fed at the Eucharist, Jesus comes to be within us and make us like Himself. Receiving the Eucharist effects within us a transformation. It allows us to put away our old self and be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and allow a spiritual revolution to overtake us. It allows us to put on a new self and live as an instrument of God’s compassionate justice.
The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving”. We give thanks not only here at the Altar for the gift of Jesus, but we show our gratitude by living our lives differently, showing compassion for others, giving of ourselves in the manner God fed the Israelites, not as a value-for-value exchange, but out of love.
The Eucharist invites us to become what we consume. To give you an analogy from the nutrition world, look at what happens to people who subsist on high sugar, high salt and high fat junk food. Those foods are cheap to buy and do taste good, but people who eat them get fat and develop health problems like diabetes and heart trouble, and do not live a long time. Contrast that with people who eat a low fat, low carbohydrate and low salt diet. Their health is better and they live longer. The same is true for your spiritual life. Our sisters and brothers in Bible-only, sola scriptura churches experience spiritual fast food. They experience a short-term spiritual high because those churches present fast and easy answers. Ignoring biblical scholarship and the spiritual senses of scripture, they ask us to pick up the Bible, read it literally, live by it as if it were a rule book, and all will be well. But just like junk food, junk spirituality gives you spiritual indigestion and has long term consequences. The influence on our country of the Bible-only religious institutions have produced intolerant, judgmental individuals now using our political system to shove an agenda down America’s throat that cares more for unborn children than providing a social safety net and proper education for children already here, that promotes justice based on punishment rather than forgiveness and rehabilitation, and wants to arm our country to the teeth instead of promoting peaceful resolution of problems and conflicts.
Both physically and spiritually, you are what you eat. What is lacking at most of these Bible-based churches is they don’t have Mass. In fact, they attack the Eucharist by advancing the notion that the entire Bread of Life discourse in John 6 is merely symbolic. The mere fact they attack it establishes they think the Eucharist is significant. However, their attacks on it also prove they don’t always read the entire Bible literally, but only those passages that support their agenda, such as a few verses in Leviticus and Romans that they use to dump all over our L-G-B-T sisters and brothers. I wonder what the result would be if the Bread of life in the Eucharist became the center of their spiritual endeavors. I predict that at least some of their hatred might go away.
Just as bread nourishes our physical bodies, Jesus gives eternal life to all of us and sustains it within us. Like wholesome food, Jesus heals, unites, and brings joy. Just as the people in today’s Gospel were seeking a sign from Jesus, for us here today, the Eucharist is that sign, a sign that Jesus is here among us, with us, and in us, as the Bread of Life for everyone, everywhere, and forever. AMEN.