3rd Sunday in Lent
March 27, 2011
Every week we gather around a table and taste bread and wine. We come because we are invited to this table by God’s invitation, to participate in Jesus’ presence with us. We come for many reasons, but I doubt that hunger is among the reasons why we come.
My Roman Catholic grandmother always went to Mass early because you were expected to fast before you came. You were hungry. I was never sure what the actual reason was, but it had the effect of reminding me that there were many people in the world who woke up hungry, and made me grateful that I was not among them.
The use and abuse of food in our Western, technical society is not something we usually bring to the Communion table with us, but it is no accident that Jesus uses the ordinary elements of bread and wine to feed us with himself. In our own country there is a great divide between those who eat well and those who do not. In our own county, more than half of the school children qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch. Many of them only eat what they eat at school.
Until I worked in the Free Health Clinic in Post-Katrina Biloxi, I never realized that there are diseases that are associated with poverty: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic foot and tooth infections. Most of these diseases are caused by the lack of nutritious food available to people whose eating is subsidized: food stamps go further with processed foods that have coupons and low prices. Fresh meat and vegetables are much more expensive. Right here in our own country are people whose lives are consumed with the process of providing real food for their children and themselves. You don’t even have to look to Africa and China where your mother told you children were starving.
Not only does hunger rob you of your health, it robs you of your dignity, it robs you of employability and education, as you cannot work or concentrate if you are consumed by hunger.
Images of feasts as God’s blessing abound in the Bible. When God’s people are in the wilderness, God gave them quail in the evening and manna every morning. They had to learn to trust that God would provide, as manna could not be kept overnight without rotting.
“Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost,” says the prophet Isaiah.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is always eating with the wrong people – outcasts and sinners. Who he eats with is part of what irritated the religious authorities who couldn’t wait to get rid of him. In John’s Gospel Jesus refers to himself as the Bread of Life. All the Gospels tell the story of Jesus providing for a crowd of 5,000 with the tiniest resources. Many modern scholars wonder if Jesus’ willingness to share the little he was offered compelled everyone else to pull out whatever they had to share with all. Was it a miracle of creating food, or a miracle of creating a caring community, they ask?
In her book “The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World,” Monika Hellwig (Lanham, Maryland, Sheed & Ward, 1992) says that we cannot really understand the fullness of the gift of bread and wine as Jesus body and blood if we have not been hungry. Jesus’ presence is the answer to all our hungers. In using the elements of real food, Jesus tells us that he wants us, and all people to be fed. In proclaiming his presence among us, he welcomes us, and all, preventing any of us from putting ourselves in a position to judge who is worthy or not. In his promise of the new covenant, he tells us that we are the people who carry on his ministry here on earth.
Recognizing the hungers of the world becomes our work: the hunger for fair distribution of resources, the hunger for justice, the hunger for healthy food, a healthy planet to provide it, a healthy system of agriculture to supply it. Jesus’ call to people did not stress his difference from them, rather, it emphasized how much he was like them. He invites all he calls to participate with him in changing the world, instead of just getting something from him. This is our call as well. It takes a village, the saying goes….it is not individual work. When we come to this table, we are participating in a banquet that includes all who have hungered and thirsted through the ages, and all who have given themselves to the work of feeding and healing. Our self-centeredness and fear of scarcity are forgiven. Our need for control and security is healed. Our ability to see peace and wholeness is waking up to God’s presence among us, and our call to bless as we have been blessed.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
This series was inspired by Barbara Brown Taylor’s “An Altar In the World: A Geography of Faith” (NY, HarperCollins, 2009)