Psalms 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
What would life be like without food? This sounds like a foolish question, but it is something worth pondering on. Although food is a necessity for human existence, food has become part of the very fabric of life, entertainment, and society. Our meetings at work are accompanied by coffee and doughnuts, we can’t go to a ball game without having a “ballpark frank,” and our movie-going enjoyment is somewhat unsatisfied unless it is accompanied with a tub of popcorn. Even as we watch television, we are bombarded with jingles telling us: “I want my baby back ribs,” “find true love with the Western Whopper,” and on and on. It is not surprising, then, to discover that a central theme of today’s readings is food.
Jesus, truly human and truly divine, needed food as much as you and I. Embracing our human condition completely, Jesus experienced hunger, thirst, and fatigue. In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus revealing to us once again his ‘humanness’: seeking sustenance and rest. Jesus chose not to be a savior who would save from above our human weakness and neediness. Rather, he walked in our shoes. He is blamed for breaking the Mosaic Law regarding the Sabbath, by picking grains of wheat on the holy day. Jesus reminds his own accusers of his Father’s reasoning for giving us this law. God did not give laws for the sake of giving laws. Rather, the laws were to lead us into safety and freedom. It was God’s desire for human beings to have rest and sustenance that led God to give us a law of Sabbath. This is precisely what Jesus was seeking, and therefore he was breaking no law whatsoever. Jesus challenged the leaders of his day to remember the spirit of the law, rather than to get caught up in a legalistic observance of each precept, without recognition of its true purpose.
Jesus reminded his accusers of King David’s breach of the same law, and that Jesus and his disciples are less bound to this law because they are part of the messianic community. Jesus, the Messiah, had come to reveal in the flesh the love, compassion, and providence God had always had for his people. The love which inspired God to give commandments to his people would now be seen and experienced through the words and deeds of Jesus. As Jesus himself knew hunger and thirst, he would spend his life in this world, and lay down his life so that people could have ‘the bread that lasts forever.’
The Hebrew people shared the bread and wine of the Passover meal, as a sign of God’s covenant with them. They ate in haste, knowing that God would liberate them from their home of slavery in Egypt, and lead them into their promised land: a land “flowing with milk and honey.” They knew that their God was not distant to them, but had heard their cries of oppression and pain. It was because of God’s deep compassion for them that God raised up one from among them to be their deliverer. A slave from among them, Moses, would lead them out of their captivity. Their Passover meal was a celebration of what God had already done for them, and an acknowledgment of all that God would do for them in their future.
Reflecting upon the food of our readings, and the sign it is of God’s providence and solidarity with us, leads us to reflect upon God’s call to us to be in solidarity with the hungry. So many of us in North America are surrounded by food every day. Yet an even greater number of us in our global community have so little of the basic necessities of life: nutritious food, clean water, and safe shelter. As God has shown compassion by setting the people of Israel free, and as Jesus walked among us and laid down his life so that we can have eternal life, we are called to live in compassionate solidarity with those who are in need in our midst. Gustavo Gutierrez said: “The poverty of the poor is not a summons to alleviate their plight with acts of generosity, but rather a compelling obligation to fashion an entirely different social order.” God has given us a new order: abundant life that will never end. Let us each do our part to build a new order for those who hunger for compassion and justice.
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