Fr David's Sermon
20th August 2006
The obese now outnumber the hungry for the first time in history Ė so claimed a newspaper report last week. In one sense that is a good thing Ė less people are starving although a large minority still are. It is also a bad thing because it suggests the disease in Western Society. We have too much of the wrong kind of food. It is costly to produce. As we are now beginning to realise our lifestyle isnít sustainable in the long term. It would take several planets to meet all our energy needs if everyone in the world consumed as much as we do. Ours then is a world of hunger, of real hunger for the starving and of spiritual hunger in the materialistic West.
At the time of Jesus most people were hungry for food. Life was short and always about the struggle to survive. It is no surprise that Biblical writers often used the image of a feast to put across their message. Thus the writer of proverbs compares wisdom to a banquet of good food and fine wine with plenty of servant-girls. Such things are good, Jewish religion has none of that Christian Puritanism of later centuries. But there is more, the bread and wine of wisdom gives insightfulness, enabling life to be lived to the full.
In todayís gospel, part of one of Jesusí discourses with his disciples that are so much a feature of Johnís gospel we find a crowd listening to Jesus. Like many biblical crowds they were hungry and looked to Jesus for food. Jesus who resisted the temptation to feed the hungry when he was tempted in the wilderness pointed his hearers to their underlying spiritual need. Earthly bread, even the manna from heaven would fill temporarily but hunger would soon return. However much people ate they could not in the end escape death.
Jesus described himself as the living bread, the bread of life. To eat this bread which is his flesh and to drink his blood is to receive eternal life and to abide in Jesus as he abides in us. St. John was writing for his own Christian community. Scholars are divided as to whether this was a Eucharistic, sacramental community. (John remember has no reference to the institution of the Lordís supper.) Either this passage reminded Johnís hearers of their Eucharistic fellowship or they were so spiritual they had no sacraments. We canít know for certain and in the end it doesnít matter.
What is important is that we read St John as a Eucharistic community and it reminds us that when we receive the bread and the wine we receive the body and blood of Christ becoming one with him and receiving the promise of eternal life. It is something very simple that becomes a part of us. It requires an act of faith on our part in the sense that we have to be here. We have to kneel Sunday by Sunday with our hands and hearts open.It does go against the spirit of the age but then it always did. St. Paulís words to the new Church in Ephesus about the importance of worship and thankfulness remind us of that. His new converts were called to a different way of life.
Ours is an age of spiritual hunger. People seek to fill their empty lives in all sorts of ways but remain resistant to the gospel of Jesus Christ with its call to give and to serve. A dry wafer does not promise fulfilment, how could it satisfy. Yet we believe that when we receive the host we receive Christ himself with his gift of life eternal.A common thread running through all our readings is that when we feed on the bread of life, the wisdom of God, Jesus Christ, we regain a sense of balance in our lives. This is badly needed in a world of contrasts between the fat rich and the hungry poor.
Our task then is to feed on Jesus who is the bread of life and then to commend that life to others so that they too may be fed in body and spirit.
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