The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization states that about a half billion of the nine billion people who live on earth are at the brink of starvation daily. We are a planet where about two hundred million children are mentally handicapped or blind due to a lack of food. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately one-third of the world’s population is underfed while about four million people die each year of starvation. With a bit of relief food aid we have been able to relieve hung. While such efforts are admirable; relief challenges solely physical hunger. Equally alarming are the three billion human beings who suffer from intellectual hunger and chronic spiritual malnutrition. These hunger pangs must also be tackled since they are as lethal as their physical counterparts.
First reading: 1Kings 19:4-8
In this reading, the spiritually hungry are offered the example of Elijah. Dedication to his prophetic ministry had made him persona non grata at the court of Ahab and his scheming bride Jezebel. Just when Elijah thought all was lost and prayed for death, he was fed by God. His physical hunger was satisfied with a hearth cake and water while his spiritual needs were quenched by the supportive presence of God. It is never the wish of God that any human person should deliberately starve from food or suffer from the despair of abandonment.
Death wish or not, Elijah was to learn that, however burdensome life had become; God was filling him with divine presence. Regardless of how disappointing or unsuccessful God’s efforts appeared, Elijah’s life, like that of every other human person, was valued as a necessary and integral aspect of an inscrutable plan of salvation. Elijah was therefore not permitted to seek escape from death but to find a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in life. Featured frequently in the Scriptures, the angels acted as intermediaries of God. In some instances these messengers were portrayed as hypostatizations of divine activities cf. Genesis 16:7. Strengthened by the food God provided and rested from his nap, Elijah moved on from Beersheba to Horeb/Sinai where he was to be further granted an intimate experience of God and re commissioned for service as prophet to his people cf. 1Kings 19:9-18. Elijah’s experience cautions us not to despair even when under the most wretched and difficult circumstances.
Second reading: Ephesians 4:30-5:2
St Paul reminds all who draw nourishment from the bread of life that there are other hungers which must be sublimated. Rather than seek satisfaction in anger, slander, bitterness and malice, believers are to nourish one another with compassion, kindness and mutual forgiveness. It is true that these gospel demands seem difficult and quite demanding for most of us, yet the same Jesus’ teachings becomes attainable because of the gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul makes it clear that those who have been sealed with the Spirit in baptism are thereby empowered to embrace and overcome all challenges as long as they live a committed life. To that end, bitterness, anger, slander and malice are uprooted as they give way to kindness, compassion and mutual forgiveness/charizomai that signify a quality self-surrendering love and nobility that habitually places the needs of others above ours.
St Paul also refers to the bestowal of the Spirit as being sealed cf. Ephesians 4:30 and reminds us the varying functions of seal in society. Seals originated as flat stones carved with an insignial/ logo symbolizing authority. A seal could be in signet ring used to: 1- legally signifies ownership of objects or to conclude contracts. An official seal was equivalent to a signature. 2- Artistically it could represent jewelry; 3- cultically it could be left in shrines as votive offerings to a deity; 4- A seal could present the status of whatever it was placed upon. Given these varying functions of seals, Christians understand their baptismal sealing with holy oils as being: legally bound by a covenant to God in Christ; identified as a believer and child of God. They viewed themselves as beautiful/artistic temples of God who shared the victory of Jesus over sin. St Paul exhorts them to “be imitators of God” Ephesians 5:1. St. Clement of Alexandria picked the same exhortation proclaiming daringly that the ‘true wise Christian person practices being God’!
Gospel: John 6:41-51
Murmuring is a frequent motif woven insidiously throughout Scriptures. The Israelites murmured against God and Moses in the wilderness when their hungers and expectations were not met. Similarly, the crowd that followed Jesus to Capernaum murmured when he disappointed their hungering for more bread. They further murmured when Jesus attempted to challenge their messianic expectations in order to find their satisfaction in him as the way and giver of the bread of everlasting life. Call it what you will – murmuring, groaning, complaining, grumbling or just plain griping, this human foible springs form a basic lack of faith. Murmuring is a refusal to allow God to be God by distrusting divine leadership, providence and constancy.
Rather than allowing his critics to continue murmuring against him and against God, Jesus challenged them to move beyond their disappointed expectations by believing. He offered a further assurance that everyone who comes to him will be raised up on the last day cf. John 6:44 and that whoever believes has eternal life cf. John 6: 47. No one, explained Jesus, can come or believe in him without being drawn by the Father. The rabbis used a similar expression of drawing near to the Torah as a process of conversion thus equating the Torah with bread which nourishes, gives life and reveals God. As Jesus’ offer of himself as bread that nourishes and gives life he reveals that he is the true knowledge of God whereby replacing the Torah. To accept to be fed by the bread that Jesus offered required stimulation from God “no one comes to me unless the Father draws him, everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” John 6:44-45.
When we surrender to God, he will always provide for our needs, thus no matter how desperate the situation is, we need to restrain ourselves from giving up and abandoning our good mission. As we experience so many types of demands and needs; we need to be aware that God who is the master of the impossible is able to settle all in the best way possible because he has sealed us with his Spirit. Our murmuring and complaining, though at times justified, is not called for. Jesus challenges us to look beyond the bread and fish which fills our stomachs by opting for the bread of his teaching in order to nourish our hearts and minds. Breaking open the Barley loaves, nourishes our bodies; but by breaking the bread of his teaching, Jesus feeds us holistically. Today God invites us to hear, to learn, to come to him, to eat and to believe so as to live forever.