As all know all too well, there are good foods and there are bad foods, which mostly taste good. Many of us – not all of us – try to avoid eating too much of the bad food, or all bad food altogether, which means many us try to eat as much good food and settle it into our stomachs, eventually throughout our veins and blood system.
The good food out there for our bodies seems to be limited; fruits, vegetables, some fish maybe. The bad food for our bodies seems to be abundant, beginning with 158 Southbridge Street in Worcester, the address for Coney Island Hot Dogs, as well as all sorts of animals, cheeses, sauces, and all that makes food taste and smell good. There seems to be a wide disparity between the good food for us, of which there is little, and the bad food, of which there is an abundance.
When we move this conversation to the personal words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, we come to see with great wisdom that all food apart from Christ is eventually unsatisfactory, whether it tastes good or not. I don’t think owners of restaurants would enjoy hearing this sort of observation, making their living off of good-tasting food, or any good Italian mother who makes a killer sauce. As I said, there is much food that tastes good, certainly from countless restaurants who rightfully pride themselves in making delicious the many items on their menu, and from countless Italian mothers who make a sauce that draws you into their home. But our Lord, who is the King of the Universe, makes the all-important observation that all manna, which represents all food apart from the Eucharist, will still lead to death.
Importantly, our Lord is not teaching the crowd to not create and enjoy good food. The manna that God sent down from heaven in last week’s first reading in Exodus; it was the most delicious food the Israelites ever ate. It came straight down from God’s oven. How could it not be the most delicious food they ever enjoyed?
Jesus would tell us, “Eat as much good-tasting food as you want, knowing that much of it will hasten your death, and some of it will lengthen your life. Eat as much good food as you want. But when push comes to shove, when time meets eternity, when life meets death, and when death is transformed into eternal life, all that good-tasting food will not make one iota of a difference. When the big show is in town; when death is on the horizon, I truly hope you enjoyed the good food that satisfies for the moment. But I give you,” he says, “the one food that endures to eternal life.”
This incredible contrast that our Lord makes in this section of John, chapter 6, the Bread of Life Discourse, teaches and reminds us that there is only one food that carries over from this world to the next: “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.” It’s the only food we will consume in this life that death cannot overpower. Every other food – good or bad for the human body – will lead eventually – sooner or later – to our physical death. And there’s no reincarnation. We don’t receive a second chance.
This sharp contrast that Jesus enlightens us to is an invitation to be one with him right now in our reception of the Eucharist, over the remainder of our lives. To take full advantage of this food that unites us to God. Many who had the Eucharist at one time have walked away from its weekly reception. The precedent for such walking away will be heard in the Gospel two weeks from now, where many disciples of Christ will return to their former way of life.
There are former Catholics who have become Evangelicals. There are former Catholics who call themselves born-again Christians. There are those who are angry at the Church, justified or not, who stay away. There are those who find the Mass to be boring, looking for a Pastor who is an entertainer. I’m not Rodney Dangerfield up here. This isn’t about being entertained; this is about being touched by God in word and Eucharist. The jokes can wait until after this holy experience. There are many with a lukewarm faith, not drawn to the power of the Holy Liturgy. And, there are those who call the reality of the Eucharist symbolic, which it has never been. Another human invention unknowingly directed at Christ himself.
I mention all these present situations, not with complaint, but with sadness, that so many have walked away from being one with Christ in the most intimate way we will know in this life. They apparently find it too hard to believe that God provides us food that overpowers death, our greatest enemy.
His flesh in the manner of bread and wine is the food that gives life to the world. A world that was dead before Christ has been offered life in him. We accept his generous offer in this Church with graciousness and humility.
“Lord, continue to feed us the good food of heaven, you Yourself, while we enjoy also some of the other good food we’re blessed to consume along the way.”