August 5, 2018
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
(Ephesians 4:17-24; John 6:24-35)
A guest in a posh hotel’s restaurant called the headwaiter over one morning and placed his order.
“I’d like one egg undercooked so it’s runny and one egg overcooked so it’s tough and hard to eat,” he said. “And I’d also like grilled bacon that’s a bit on the cold side, burnt toast, butter straight from the freezer so it’s impossible to spread and a pot of very weak, lukewarm coffee.”
“That’s a complicated order, sir,” said the bewildered waiter. “It might be quite difficult.”
The guest replied sarcastically, “It can’t be that difficult — that’s exactly what you brought me yesterday!”
We’ve all probably had situations in which we might have wanted to do what this quest did, but most likely wouldn’t have done so. We can be particular about our food, when we get right down to it.
Are you crazy for cheese curls? Passionate about popcorn? Nuts about nuts?
What you snack on says a lot about who you are.
Alan Hirsch is the neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. Some years back, he had 800 volunteers take personality tests and then asked them to name their favorite snacks. The results were astounding. People who share a personality type choose the same snack 95 percent of the time.
Lovers of cheese curls have a high sense of morals and ethics.
People with a passion for popcorn are the take-charge type.
Folks who are nutty for nuts are even-tempered, easy to get along with and highly empathetic.
While this link might sound like a stretch, Hirsch says it makes perfect sense — biologically. “Food preferences reside in the olfactory lobe,” he says, “the same part of the brain where the personality resides.”
You are what you munch. Gives some truth to the old adage “you are what you eat!”
Jesus runs into some serious snack lovers in the text we’ve looked at the past two Sundays. As the story begins, a large crowd is following him because of the signs that he’s doing for the sick. He feeds this crowd of 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish, and then he withdraws to a mountain because “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king.”
That evening, the disciples set out for the town of Capernaum by boat, and Jesus catches up with them by walking on the water. The next day, the crowd follows him to Capernaum, and Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”
In other words, “You have the munchies.”
So what does this particular craving say about the people of the crowd? They’re enthusiasts — people whose basic desire is to be satisfied and content, to have their needs met. Afraid of being deprived, they want more than anything to maintain their happiness, avoid missing out on worthwhile experiences and keep themselves excited and occupied.
Enthusiasts look for Jesus — why? Because they ate their fill of the loaves.
But there’s a problem with this personality type. “Do not work for the food that perishes,” warns Jesus, “but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” The barley loaves that Jesus used to feed the 5,000 are “food that perishes,” and he tells the people that they shouldn’t focus their enthusiasm on this kind of bread. Instead, they should work for the food that endures for eternal life.
In a nutshell — or one whole loaf — this verse captures the reason that Jesus has such mixed feelings about performing amazing miracles. Any loaves that he multiplies are going to be eaten, and then the people will still be hungry the next day. Any water that he turns into wine is going to be consumed, and then the wedding guests will still want more. Any paralytic that he heals is going to become old and then become crippled again. Any dead child that he raises to new life is going to grow up and then die of natural causes.
Miracles are tricky because they make a big impression and then disappear. In most cases, they don’t last forever.
Jesus doesn’t want us to feast on a steady diet of miracles because these amazing works don’t provide complete nutrition in themselves. They’re the cheese curls, popcorn and potato chips of Christian living — a tasty snack for someone who already has faith, but not a life-changing meal for a nonbeliever.
It’s true — you can look it up. A little later in the same gospel, the Jewish opponents of Jesus are preparing to stone him. “I have shown you many good works from the Father,” says Jesus. “For which of these are you going to stone me?” His opponents answer, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”
No collection of miracles, all by itself, is going to turn a hater of Jesus into a disciple.
This is why Jesus turns the attention of the enthusiastic crowd from miraculous munchies to “the food that endures for eternal life.” Work for this food, says Jesus, the food “which the Son of Man will give you.” Then the hungry people ask, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” And Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
This is the work of God — that you believe in Jesus, whom God has sent.
Believe in Jesus. The bread of God. The bread of life. Living bread. The body of Christ.
That’s good eating.
The problem is, Jesus can be difficult to swallow. We gag on his hard sayings and tough teachings. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Jesus can stick in our throats, no doubt about it.
He would be so much easier to digest if he said, “Love your friends, do good to those who like you, bless those who compliment you, pray for those who help you.” Yes, if Jesus said these things, he would be feeding us spiritual candy bars, doughnuts and french fries — food that isn’t bad in moderation but can hurt us if we overeat it.
And Jesus certainly doesn’t let us snack on the tasty morsels of sin that are always sitting so deliciously in front of us. He won’t let us say, “Well, I’ll taste a little revenge, just this once,” or “I’ll have a helping of unfaithfulness, but just a spoonful” or “I’ll have some of that irresistible gossip-mongering, just a mouthful, but no more.” “I will be just a little negative and disrespectful to my fellow man, but only to a few.”
To all of this, Jesus says, “No. Put down the spoon and walk away.” In an ethical and moral Christian life, some of this stuff we want to feast on is just bad for us. It will cripple us or even kill us. And Jesus knows it.
Jesus wants to feed us the good stuff, the food that endures for eternal life.
So how do we become better eaters? The people of the crowd say to Jesus, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” They fail to see that Jesus has already given them a sign of his power and glory by multiplying the loaves and fishes. Instead, they review the history of God’s work in their lives by saying, “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
Jesus cannot believe that they’re missing the good food that’s standing right in front of them. He shakes his head and says, “I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
I’m the bread of God, says Jesus. The good stuff. Part of a perfectly balanced spiritual diet that gives new and everlasting life. Yes, the law was given through Moses, just like the manna that was given to the people of Israel in the wilderness. But now grace and truth are coming through Jesus Christ, the bread of God.
Slowly, slowly, the lights begin to come on. The people are starting to get it, so they say, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
We shouldn’t be surprised at this. It’s always a challenge to improve eating habits — to turn away from spiritual junk food and turn toward the food that endures for eternal life. Jesus invites us to refocus our attention and see him as “the true bread from heaven,” the one who comes down from heaven to give life to the world. He also invites us to believe in him and trust him to fill us with his grace and his truth.
Seeing and believing. These are the actions that enable us to connect with Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, when we come to the table to eat the meal that he has prepared. We see the bread that is broken for us, an outward and visible sign of Jesus’ inward, invisible grace. We believe that Jesus is present with us, offering his grace and his truth, his forgiveness and his strength.
This is the good stuff. The food that endures for eternal life.
If we’ve been given a warning about bad food today, then we need to hear some words of encouragement and instruction about good food as well. “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus to the crowd, and to each of us. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Let us pray.
We pray today for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are bodily and spiritually hungry, that through the inspiration of Jesus and the generosity and example of Christians, they have food on their tables and love of the Lord in their hearts. We pray to the Lord.
We remember today all those who died this week in the California wildfires and those survivors who are recovering in hospital and for those who lost their homes. We pray also for their families that the Lord console them in their loss and sorrow. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have become discouraged in the face of hardship, that they may know Jesus’ loving care of those in need. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have wandered away from the practice of the faith, that they will be gifted with a new and deeper love of Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick and those who struggle in mind, body or spirit, that they be touched by the healing love of Christ. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
O God, source of all that gives life and hope, you responded to the hunger of your chosen people with manna in the desert. Listen to our needs here today and grant them according to your will. We pray for the grace to be always receptive of that invitation and that we enjoy life everlasting at the table of His heavenly banquet. Blessed are we who see ourselves in the suffering and injustices of this world, and who work to alleviate others’ pain. We entrust these petitions and those we hold in our hearts to God, confident that God will answer our prayers and give us the strength, wisdom and resources we need to respond to our world’s needs. This we ask, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA