13 Aug 2012
Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 12, 2012
By Father J. Daniel Atkins, Holy Family Catholic Church, New Albany, Indiana
My brother Tom is a picky eater. He refuses to eat casseroles. He says, “I won’t eat anything that looks like it has already been eaten.” Likewise, he won’t eat whole wheat or whole grain bread. He calls it “dirty bread.” I don’t know if Tom has ever been hungry enough to eat casserole and dirty bread.
In the gospel today people turn up their noses at the bread set before them. “The Jews started to murmur in protest because Jesus claimed, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They kept saying: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? How can he claim to come down from heaven?” Earlier they had demanded a sign from Jesus. They said, “Moses gave us manna in the desert; what miracle will you work to prove you are from God.”
Jesus was not a bread to their liking. In my brother’s words he was dirty bread. Coarse. Ordinary. Unrefined. “He’s the son of peasants,” they said. And Jesus, in response says, “Stop your murmuring. Murmuring here in Greek is not just the word for “whispering”. It is also the gurgling sound that one makes before he heaves his cookies. Sorry…… Jesus was not just distasteful to them. He made them sick. The way I feel every time I try to eat liver.
“No matter what you may think,” Jesus says, “I am the bread of God. I am all heaven is going to give you. You will die in your hunger if you choke on me.” Now if we were Jewish – as most of the people were for whom the gospel of John was written – we would remember that the Israelites grumbled and complained and nearly died in the desert when they got tired of eating manna. Even “bread from the sky” gets old, I guess, after a while.
When Jesus says “I am the bread of life” he is saying, “I know that I am coarse and ordinary, but I am the bread that keeps you alive. I am the bread that people make when they go on a long journey. I am the bread that women make for their sons and husbands when they go up into the hills to pasture their sheep. I am the bread that will not mold and rot after a few days. I am the bread with a crust so hard it must be broken against a rock. Torn with both hands. I am the bread that must be mauled before I can be swallowed. I am the bread that stays with you.”
Here in this beautiful house, at this beautiful altar, surrounded by beautiful music and polite people, it may be difficult to see what all the fuss is about. “What’s not to like about Jesus?” we ask.
Have we forgotten how this feast was made possible? How any meal is made possible? The Benedictine Aidan Kavanaugh puts it this way: “any meal begins in the soil, in the barnyard, in slaughterhouse; amid the quiet violence of the garden, strangled cries, and fat spitting in the pan. Table manners depend on something being grabbed by the throat…”
Every meal is a sacrifice. Every time we sit down at a table we nourish ourselves with a life sacrificed for us. If we do not pray before taking up the fork and knife it is because we have forgotten the price paid for our meal. If our children play with the food we set before them perhaps it is because they have never seen how the chicken gets from the barnyard to the plate.
The soft white wafer and sweet cup of wine cup come from something’s being crushed, pruned, and harvested. The Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation come to us through Jesus’ life being crushed in the jaws of death for each one of us. And here is something that may be distasteful to us…St. Paul tells us that our eating and drinking is a participation in, a sharing in the death of the Lord. When we eat and drink in here we pledge to become…out there. We promise to let ourselves be crushed, pruned, and harvested for the life of the world. The world will have us for breakfast if we try to live like Christ. Now there’s a cheerful thought as we’re standing in the communion line.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells us. “If you eat this bread you shall live forever; the bread I give is my own flesh and blood for the life of the world.” A coarse, but costly, bread. A bitter, yet precious, cup. Not to everyone’s taste. Are we hungry enough to eat and drink?