Eat your Spiritual Vegetables. They are Good for You.
First Reading: 1 Kings 19: 4-8
Psalm: Psalm 34: 1-8
Second Reading: Ephesians 4: 25-5:2
Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a young boy, I was not fond of Brussels sprouts. No, that is not strong enough. I hated Brussels sprouts. If I could go back and ask my 8 year old self, I might say, “they’re supposed to be good for you, so they can’t taste good.” Perhaps I might have said they smell funny. There is something just not right about them. They look like little, tiny cabbages, and at the time, I was not so fond of cabbage either. I had a deep distrust of Brussels sprouts.
Of course, with time, my tastes changed. I have even been known to request roasted Brussels sprouts for dinner. It is more than accepting that they are a healthy food and a good choice. It is more than the satisfaction of popping a whole miniature cabbage in your mouth. I have actually come to appreciate Brussels sprouts. I like the taste. I even occasionally crave it. Brussels sprouts and I are reconciled.
Jesus miraculously fed five thousand with five loaves and two fish, and the only result was full bellies. The crowd did not seem impressed with the divine source and abundance of the meal. When they tracked Jesus down and asked for seconds, he was critical of their motivations. As they continue to complain and pitch a tantrum like a bunch of 8 year olds, Jesus could have gone on about how God had been working over a hot stove in the cosmic kitchen all day to prepare this eternal meal, and they should be more appreciative. Jesus might have piled on the Brussels sprouts and demanded they clean their plate. Jesus could have sent them to bed without any supper. But this is not the way of a loving, compassionate God.
Jesus offers this complaining crowd the meal that fully satisfies hunger and forever slakes thirst. “I am the Bread of Life that came down from heaven.” He explains that this meal is good for them, true “soul” food. Jesus invites all to partake of this heavenly banquet, that “whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” Not guilt, invitation. Not compulsion, compassion. Not punishment, sacrifice.
Jesus associates the offering of this meal as coming to Jesus, seeing Jesus, believing in Jesus, and being given to Jesus by God. The crowd says “give us this bread always” because they cannot grasp the concept of an eternal meal, one that so satisfies that they will “never” be hungry or thirsty. And Jesus speaks in the future tense, because this revelation requires belief, hope, and faith.
The complaining and doubt continue as the crowd resists the idea that God may act unexpected ways, that God is always calling and leading humanity to life ... creating, providing, caring, sustaining, redeeming. Jesus offers a pattern of descent and ascent that connects humanity to God, but they cannot overcome their craving for the Law and their familiarity with the human person Jesus. Jesus describes his descent from the Father, but the crowd knows Jesus’ father is Joseph the carpenter. Jesus proclaims he is the Bread come down from heaven, but they expect manna from heaven, and Jesus doesn’t look like manna. Sure, Jesus fed them yesterday, but what has he done for us lately? Jesus states he has seen the Father, an incredible claim from this local boy. The Jewish crowd is asking “who does he think he is?” And Jesus is telling them! Jesus is explaining what they should already know about God, that from our creation, God is working to warm our hearts to the Son incarnate, to share in God’s life! No longer is it the Law that produces and leads to life, it is Jesus! And this will be a definitive nourishment that will forever satisfy all who believe in Jesus.
It is those who are willing to hear and learn who are drawn by God. Jesus reveals who he is, and people either accept or reject this revelation. On this basis people are judged, either reconciled to God or self-alienated. “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” We should remember this as we approach the table at Eucharist, as we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. This gives new meaning to the phrase, “you are what you eat.”
God is calling us to life, and provides the food needed for the journey. Elijah was tired and scared, fleeing for his life from Jezebel. One saying goes, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, nobody wants to go now.” But Elijah is ready to die. He tastes death on his lips and asks God to get it over with. But God offers life, not death, and gives Elijah the sustenance to withstand forty days and nights in strength. Elijah still has work to do. God calls us all to life, and work of the kingdom, and provides what we need.
Paul suggests our response to the Bread of Life in Christian community. We can deduce Paul is not telling the community in Ephesis to do something they are already doing. They are to give up falsehood, hostility, stealing, evil talk, bitterness, wrath, anger, and malice. Remind you of any communities you know? Families? The Church? These are not proper table manners at the kingdom banquet. These have no connection to the food that sustains life in Christ. If we do these things, we reveal that we do not understand God, and completely undermine our witness to God. Our life together shows our family likeness, made in God’s image, and enables others to begin to see what God is like. We are to speak truth, because in the Body of Christ, we are members of each other. We are to build one another up so as to build up the Body. We are to be kind and forgiving. Jesus was certainly able to do this against the pressure of powers and principalities, without asking permission, without requiring others to agree with him, or affirming his way is right. The Bread of Life Jesus offers calls us to put away our “former way of life, our old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and be renewed in the Spirit.” This is the food that sustains us now and forever. If we are willing to warm up to Brussels sprouts, how much more should we long for, crave, and seek out the Bread of Life?
If we are the crowd seeking Jesus, pleading to be fed, what are we craving? What food are we willing to gorge ourselves on? What leaves a bad taste in our mouth? Are we striving to be right, rather than in right relationship? Are we seeking comfort rather than compassion? Are we satisfied with a morsel when the heavenly banquet table has been laid out before us? Are we hoarding the meal for ourselves or are we inviting the world to pull up a chair and partake? Are we feeding our desires or a hungry world that needs justice and mercy? Are we choosing temporary food that will lead to death, or are we choosing the bread that gives eternal life? “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall ever be in my mouth ... Taste and see that the Lord is good, happy are they who trust in him!” Amen.