Graphic by David Chen

Faith: There is a hunger only God can feed

  • June 8, 2017

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 18 (Year A) Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-59

What is the most important thing for human survival?

Psychologists and scientists would probably compile a “hierarchy of needs” pyramid with food and water as the foundational requirement for human life. On the physical level, they would be absolutely right. One does not survive long without these things, especially in a hostile environment like the desert. Deuteronomy takes it a step higher, insisting that there is a higher level of existence and sustenance that trumps all others.

According to the Deuteronomist, the Israelites were led into the desert and made to experience hunger and lack to teach them a valuable lesson. The surprising lesson that they had to learn was, “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because Jesus quoted this line in reply to the devil’s taunting challenge to command stones to become bread. Jesus affirmed His total, absolute trust in the loving power and fidelity of God.

Deuteronomy also warned the people not to let all the wonderful events of the Exodus go to their heads, for these were not their accomplishments. God cared for them and protected them every step of the way. Without God, they would have perished. They were to acknowledge their limitations and dependence on God’s kindness and mercy.

In our own time, people become more nervous and fearful in the face of dwindling resources of all sorts. We constantly ask ourselves if there will be enough for us and those we care for. Demagogues and dictators exploit these concerns. Fear of lack often provokes conflict and competition, even leading to wars.

These are certainly important issues, but we are challenged to seek an authentic relationship with God before anything else. This will give us the wisdom to make correct decisions, as well as the grace to share what we have. God first, all else second.

One way in which we are fed and sustained by God is through the Eucharist. By sharing in the bread and the cup, we share in the Body and Blood of Christ, and are made one people, bound heart, mind and soul with one another.

Gone is the illusion of separation from others and from God; we are all one. This is the greatest form of nourishment and sustenance we can receive, for when this illusion evaporates, so does our fear and tendency to clutch and hoard what is ours. We will realize that God cares for all and there is more than enough for all.

God provided manna for the Israelites during their wilderness journey, enabling them to survive. But Jesus pointed out that the effects of this manna were temporary — they grew hungry again and had to continue eating. He provides a different sort of nourishment.

Using the metaphor of living bread, He promised that the sort of sustenance He offers will last forever. Jesus gave Himself for the life of the entire world and sustains it in ways of which we are unaware. Not only is He the source of living water, which will quench spiritual thirst permanently, but He is the heavenly bread that will satisfy all spiritual hunger.

Just as in the first reading, we are warned that any other source but Jesus will eventually fail and let us down. Jesus went even further — it is not enough merely to follow or imitate Him, we need to become part of Him and He part of us.

We nourish ourselves with the Lord with the same regularity and urgency as we take food and drink, and He becomes part of who and what we are. He becomes part of us in many ways, among them the Eucharist, prayer, meditation, acts of kindness and mercy, spiritual study and reflection, and a life of service. We can be renewed and transformed in ways that we never imagined.

People still frantically fill their inner emptiness with things that are either of little use or even harmful. Sooner or later, but preferably sooner, humanity must learn how fragile and dependent on God we really are, and the extent of the blessings, sustenance and life that God is willing to share with us.