St Stephen Lewisham
31st July 2011
True and Living Bread
Listen to these two quotations from this morning’s readings and notice the difference between them.
Isaiah says: Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy?
St Matthew tells us that: [Jesus] took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted.
The difference between them can be summed up by the single word ‘Satisfaction’, and its opposite, ‘Dissatisfaction’. All of us know the good feeling we experience when we have just enjoyed a satisfying meal in a restaurant. Equally, all of us must have experienced the opposite feeling when a meal in a restaurant which we have paid for has failed to come up to our expectations. It may be that it tasted bad, that it was supposed to be hot and was in fact lukewarm, or that the service was slow or careless.
The experiences spoken about in this morning’s readings are like that. Isaiah describes people who spent money on bread, which turned out to be stale, or mouldy, or not bread at all, but a lump of trash – and so were deeply dissatisfied. The Second Reading tells us about a crowd of hungry people who had come to listen to Jesus but had brought no food, who, to everyone’s astonishment (including their own) were, in Matthew’s words, given ‘as much as they wanted’, and so were satisfied.
Now, when the Bible talks about food and hunger and eating, it sometimes is simply referring to the things we buy in the shops and consume at mealtimes. When it tells us to ‘feed the hungry’ it means doing something like we do at St Stephen’s two or three evenings a week at the back of the church. We give well over a thousand pounds each year in order to do this, so we can confidently tick the ‘Feed the Hungry’ box on our list of achievements.
But equally often Scripture is talking about a different sort of feeding, feeding a hunger of the mind or of the spirit – as Jesus meant when he said ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled’. Here are three examples, from the Bible and two from our everyday life which help us to understand that ‘feeding’ doesn’t necessarily mean the thing we do at the dinner table
Amos said to those who ignored God and His will for them: ‘The days are coming – it is the ord who speaks – days when I will bring famine on the country, a famine not of bread, a drought not of water but of hearing the word of the Lord’;
Deuteronomy said ’man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’: a passage which Jesus used during his Lenten period in the wilderness;
In St John’s Gospel, (after feeding the 5,000) Jesus said ‘Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you’; and, a few verses later ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst’.
We often say ‘that gives me food for thought’, or ‘I must chew that one over’ and make use of the idea of eating to describe the way we use our minds
Now, although most people we live amongst have enough to eat there are an awful lot of disappointed and dissatisfied people in our world today.
The reason is that, whereas such people feed their bodies, they only feed their minds and souls on things which fail to satisfy. They don’t think for themselves so most of their ideas come ready-made from television or the newspapers. They’ve stopped turning to God in prayer and worship on a regular daily and weekly basis and so, by and large, they don’t have a clue about the purpose of life itself. How could they? ‘For Best Results Follow the Maker’s Instructions’ is a piece of advice they constantly ignore.
The Welfare State makes it its business to care for people’s bodies. But feeding people’s minds and spirits ought to be the job of the Church, which means you and me – and that includes your mind and mine.
In the Mass, God gives us three distinct, but related, types of food which we need for our wellbeing.
First, of course, there is the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ which we receive in the Blessed Sacrament. All that this needs is for us to be present ourselves Sunday by Sunday (or more often if we can manage it) and to approach the Altar of God in a spirit of penitence, reverence, and thankfulness. Mind you, saying ‘all that this needs’ doesn’t mean that it’s easy, and most of us approach it in a way that leaves plenty of scope for improvement. Perhaps if we were in the habit of saying Grace before meals at our own (and other people’s) table, we would find it easier to remember to say ‘Thank You’ to God when we come to His Table!
But secondly, and almost as important as penitence, reverence and gratitude, is the way in which we should feed our minds on the words of Scripture in the Ministry of the Word: the three Readings, the Hymns, the Homily, the Intercessions, and the words of the Liturgy itself. That’s when people’s minds start to wander, with the result that they fail to ingest or digest what God is saying to them. As a result, many churchgoing Christians are seriously under-weight (to continue with our analogy of eating). We just don’t allow ourselves the time, or the opportunity to consider carefully to ‘hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ what ‘we have heard with our ears and our Fathers have told us’.
Take the word ‘communion’ for instance. The Mass isn’t just there to give you and me a chance to communicate with God; it’s a unique opportunity for Him to communicate with us! Well then, just think what it is we use most often to communicate with one another. It’s words, and speech. So what we are hear read and said in the Ministry of the Word is God trying to speak to us. Now although each of us hears the same words spoken and preached, it’s highly unlikely that God is saying exactly the same thing to every one of us. And that’s why it’s so important we should listen carefully. Sometimes it can be just one word or one phrase in a Homily or a reading from the Bible which God intended us to hear or understand individually, or to start a train of thought in our mind and a quite different one in the mind of the person who’s sitting next to us.
Thirdly in the Mass our souls are fed. Like the food we eat, Jesus, the True and Living Bread, works inside us largely without our being aware of it at the time. It’s rather like the process of growing ‘in wisdom and stature’. It’s happening all the time without our being aware of it. It’s only when we look backwards on what we once were, and look presently at what we are, and use our imaginations to envisage what we shall become that we can see that we’re progressing in the way God intended us to do.
Is it any wonder then that the people who choose to ignore God find themselves living unsatisfactory, frustrating and ultimately pointless lives? They’ve been wasting their time and their money on things which can give no lasting satisfaction! But if they only learn to feed on the Bread of Heaven which God alone can provide, they will discover the fulfilment which people so passionately search for, but which, without the grace of God, will for ever elude them.
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