Sunday 20th in Ordinary Time – Year B – 16th August 2015
Hungry for Jesus
Perhaps one of the more significant things that we have to wake up to as the Church in these times, is the realisation that we do not know how to think as Christians. Not that Christians cannot think, but that when they do they largely do so in exactly the same way as people amongst whom they live. Indeed we may well be surprised to hear that their may be such a thing as Christian Thought at all.
To begin to think Christianly is as I suggested a few weeks ago to have our imaginative world Filled by the Reality of Jesus Christ, Crucified, Risen and Ascended. In other words to see Reality only in terms of that which it is, the realm over which we declare Jesus Christ to be Lord to the glory of God the Father.
As I recently pointed out, for many many years this was precisely how the Church did its thinking. And as a result developed ways of speaking of God in Christ, and being the Church. We call these The Tradition – and they include the Catholic Creeds, the teachings of the Church Fathers and certain ways of doing and being church.
As a shadow of the One who was to Come, Solomon, the son of David by Bathsheba, prayed for Wisdom. Christ in his coming IS the embodiment of Wisdom – and the Church as His body, as it grew Grew in Wisdom. The teachings of the Church and the Creeds being the embodiment of that Wisdom, the Holy Spirit leading her into all truth as Jesus said.
A very simple example of that was the way in which the Early Church Fathers understood the significance of our bodies for our Life in Christ. This to us may well sound very strange. We imagine Christian Faith as a set of ideas. That Faith might have a bodily aspect seems a little odd to us. Yes we might be able to understand that we need a body to live out our faith in. After all if you are going to share your bread with the poor, you need hands to do it with – but children of the Enlightenment that we are, we tend to understand that we are chiefly our minds, and that all that is happening when we feed the poor is that our faith – in our head, or brain – directs our inanimate body in a certain way. Now certainly that is in part true, but it is a very shallow understanding of the truth of the matter. Our forebears understood these things far better than we – indeed they understood everything it often seems to me, far better than the best of us ever shall. We have traded Wisdom for the riches of the world, we have eaten afresh of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – and the Church in the West has withered as a result.
But lets come back to that issue – that of the body and its place in our Salvation. A few weeks ago I was with someone who in passing had told me that his life was so full of appointments and busyness, that he had little or no time to be fed – he was not studying the faith, or spending long hours in prayer with the Scriptures. As it happened I spent the morning with this man and later that day something struck me – which was that in the time we were together he had eaten two large meals.
Now we might have thought nothing of this . . . but the Fathers, those early teachers of the Church would have instantly seen a connection, which came to me later that day and which I passed on to him. Which was this – that the Body and the Soul are so intimately connected, that if the body is full of food, the Soul is left hungry – for to be full is to be full, and if we are full of food, there is no room for the Spirit. My friend was substituting bread that perishes for the bread that one may eat and live forever. Having a full belly led to a contentment which made us slothful in prayer – I passed this insight on and told him that in part I recognised it because it was a discovery I’d made about myself. That if I’d had a large meal – my sense of the Spirit of God, my desire for reading the Scriptures, my thirst for study of the Traditions, and above all, my hunger for Christ was blunted at best and all but killed off at worst.
This of course was no news to those of the Old faith – they knew these things intimately, indeed it was my reading the Fathers that alerted me to this and brought me to myself in this respect. Regular, not dramatic, gentle fasting – was a part of their discipline of faith, for they knew that to be physically full led surely to spiritual emptiness . . .
Which of course leads us to the greatest challenge to us as a Church in this place and this time, that we are very comfortable – yes we grumble a little if some suffering common to all people comes our way, but generally we are comfortable. The words of Jesus – ‘woe to you who are well fed now’, at best bounce off deaf ears, at worst are reworked so that they mean something completely different and we don’t have to be discomforted by Jesus himself.
And yes I do mean it that way – it is better not to have heard, than to hear and twist the words of Jesus . . .And if we don’t want to pay attention to Jesus, he will not force himself upon us.
So to return to where I started, thinking Christianly for a start means listening to the Wisdom of the Tradition. Why is the Church falling asleep? Because she is too well fed on food that perishes, and busy lives – and because she is too well fed, too full, she has all she has and imagines, if she would never say it out loud that she has no need to pay attention to Jesus. And he withdraws, he shakes off his sandals – after all, in our words and deeds we are making it clear, ‘We don’t need Jesus’.
As I said last week – I was recently at a Church conference where the Board in charge of this aspect of the Church’s life had produced a list of words to express the heart of what we are about – Jesus was totally absent from that list . . .
We are whole beings – Body, Soul and Spirit. The Spiritual and the Physical are interwoven and affect one another intimately. The Gospel reading today comes towards the end of a lengthy dispute between Jesus and those who have come looking for him. Immediately before it he has fed the five thousand – and now the crowds come after Him, but as Jesus discerns ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’ . . . but that bread perishes – just as your physical body will perish. You eat, you are full, your belly empties, you are hungry, but you keep going back to the bread that does not satisfy – it keeps giving out – and eventually it will give out for good. The sheer fact that physical food keeps giving out on us is a sign that there is some other food!! Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
Like myself and my friend the other day, we fill up over and over with food that perishes – yet we do not work for the food that endures for eternal life. To put it most sharply – we substitute the temporary fulness of food, of busy lives which only serve to bolster our sense of self importance – we substitute these things that are passing away for the very Life that Jesus offers.
And this substitution is a revolt against him. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Whoever eats me will live because of me – Jesus cannot put it more plainly than this
Jesus Christ is our Very Life. What can we say of a Church body which in a hundred separate words does not once mention Jesus when it speaks of ‘the heart of what it is about’? It has surely found some substitute – it is not hungry for the bread that endures to eternal life but satisfied with that which perishes . . . and so it perishes.
God so loved the World that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but should have eternal life. That belief in Jesus goes way beyond thoughts about Him – to believe in Jesus is to Know in our very Souls that Apart from Him we have no Good thing – that in Him is all our Life . . . that we shall refrain from being full physically, or ‘busy’ for we know that to do so weakens our Love for Him
As I said last week, Christian Life is not a ‘way of life’ – nor is it a set of moral ethics or virtues – indeed the Romans saw this clearly and denounced it as not even being a religion! No it is none of these things – it is Life itself in the One who gives himself to us in Word and Sacrament. We feed on Him – He is our Life. This is why we should always come to the Eucharist – not with full bellies as those Corinthians whom St Paul denounced did – but Hungry. Hungry for the Word of Life – This is my Body – This is my Blood.
St Paul’s words as he writes to the Ephesians sound ‘too spiritual’ for our ears Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Giving thanks at all times to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – Giving Thanks – Eucharisteo is the verb – At the Eucharist we give thanks for Everything, for Christ is our Everything and in Bread and wine he gives himself to us
Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
May the LORD awaken the deepest of hungers for him in our hearts that we might make every effort to enter in at the narrow gate