Today we honor the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We begin with ideas about hunger. There are many different kinds of hunger. Look at today’s gospel. (For the words of the gospel, click here.) It is in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, a very special chapter.
Jesus is with a big crowd of people in an empty place. He knows them and feels compassion for them; the heart of Jesus knows the people and their needs; he knows they are poor and hungry so he asks his friends, “Do you have any food to give these people?” They look around and find a boy with a little food. They tell Jesus, “We found a boy here with a few loaves of bread and some fish, but it is very little for so many people.” They bring the boy to Jesus, and He asks the boy, “Will you give me your bread so I can give food to all these people?” The boy maybe thinks, “This is food I need for tonight and tomorrow; I have nothing more. I give it away, then I will be hungry tonight, and tomorrow I will have nothing and be hungry.” What does the boy do? He gives the food to Jesus. Why? Because Jesus asks; the boy accepts the risk; doing what Jesus wants is the right thing to do now. The future he does not know. But he knows Jesus and trusts him and gives Jesus all his food. His wants, he sets aside. He looks at Jesus and trusts him; Jesus wants, the boy accepts. Often we are the same; the right thing, we know; what Jesus wants for us, we know; but we hesitate; we are afraid to do what Jesus wants. Maybe we must change ourselves too much. Something is comfortable; let go, I do not know. I am afraid to let go, to trust the Lord, trust that the Lord is leading me the right way. The boy with the food was willing to be hungry and do what Jesus asked and help Jesus. The boy gave the food.
Jesus thanks him and accepts the little food, a few loaves of bread and a few fish, raises the food to his Father in heaven, thanking Him and praising Him. Then Jesus breaks the bread and gives it to all the people there. (Notice: Jesus did the same at the Last Supper; he took the bread, blessed and gave it to his friends. Feeding all the people prepared for the gift of Jesus’s Body and Blood at the Last Supper and today in the Eucharist, the Mass, Holy Communion.)
The people feel hungry in their body and Jesus feeds them. We should also remember all the people in the world who are hungry everyday. We have enough food; many people in America eat too much. All over the world so many people, so many children, do not have enough to eat; we need to feel responsible for them. To help them may not be easy, but we know we have a responsibility for them.
The people hunger for bread for their body, and Jesus helps them. But Jesus knows too that people have other hungers, other wants. Sometimes people are hungry for love; they want to know that they are important, that they are worth something, that someone loves them; someone respects them. So many people wonder, “I am alive, why? My life means what?” Jesus teaches them that they are precious children of God, made like God, made in the image of God. God deeply cares for each one of them. Each person is valuable for God. Jesus the Second Person of the Trinity came down from heaven, why? To show each person is very important to God. They listen to Jesus the Son of God; then they see Jesus is the perfect proof of the great God’s knowledge and love for each one.
People see each one is valuable; then maybe they think, ”Okay, I am worthwhile; God loves me, but where am I going? This life here on earth, that is all? I live 50, 60, 70, 80 years, then that’s the end? I die and dissolve? My goal in life is only to continue living and then become sick, old, weak and die?” Jesus says, “No. Your Father in heaven plans for you to come to eternal life and live with God and with Jesus in perfect happiness forever and ever. I Jesus am here to give you life forever. Accept me, love me, believe in me, then you live always with perfect happiness, you will.”
People hear that and think, “Wow, that is a beautiful idea, a beautiful goal, something I want very much, but how accomplish it?” Jesus says, “My special food I give you to help you on your journey to eternal life to life in heaven; and I promise you will succeed. The special food is what? My Flesh and my Blood.” In Greek language “flesh” is a strong word; it is not a weak symbol, “I will give you something and you imagine it is my flesh? No, it is my flesh. I give you something and you use your imagination that this is my blood? No, it is really my blood. My Flesh is bread from heaven; my Blood is drink from heaven.”
How can bread become the Flesh of Jesus? How can wine become the Blood of Jesus? How? I do not know how it can happen. I know Jesus and I trust him; I trust his power makes it happen; I trust his words are true. I understand how it can happen? I do not understand. I just know Jesus and trust that his promise is true; his promise of what? The bread becomes his Body and the wine becomes his Blood.
We have the promise of Jesus; “The person eating my flesh and drinking my blood has life forever.” Jesus made the promise 2000 years ago and He makes the same promise now. He gives us his Body to eat and his Blood to drink in Mass. We receive Holy Communion, Jesus comes to be in us.
We hunger for food for our body; Jesus gives us bread. We hunger for a reason why we are important; Jesus tells us we are images of God. We hunger for love; Jesus proves He and God His Father in heaven love us, how? We look at the cross and we see Jesus suffered all that for love of us. We hunger for a long life; Jesus gives us life forever. We hunger to be closer to Jesus, more like Jesus; He gives us his Body and Blood to eat and drink. He promises to live in us always.
Because of the virus we cannot receive the Body of Jesus in Holy Communion now but we know his promise is true: He lives in us and we live in Him. We are hungry and Jesus fills us with His love. He takes away our hunger with His Body and Blood.
Maybe you ask: Jesus gave us his Body in the form of bread to be united to us, why bread? Jesus could choose other ways to show his deep union with us, Why bread? Why wine? Why food? Remember, food means many things: Food is necessary to keep us healthy. Hunger for a long time, starvation, hurts us in body, mind and spirit. Eating and sharing food mean we are united with other people and show love for them. You cook for your family, why? Because you love your family and want to keep them strong and safe and healthy. The right food can be healing for people. Food is for healing, loving, uniting, helping and many other reasons. All these are reasons why Jesus Himself became food for us to eat.
Let me end with a story: A man was in the hospital weak because of the chemotherapy for his cancer; he did not eat anything. He was depressed. One night a new nurse came in and said, “I am Hannah, and I am now your nurse.” She checked his blood pressure and temperature and asked, “Do you want anything more?” He said, “No, leave me alone.” She came back later to give him medicine and asked, “Do you want a paper to read?” He said, “No, I want to sleep.” The nurse left and felt she failed; she did not take care of the man right. She went to the cafeteria to get some tea; then she had an idea. She got a tray and two cups and a pot of tea and went back to the man’s room. She asked, “Do you mind if I sit here and watch the news on your television?” He was surprised, but he said, “Okay.” She said, “I have another cup; do you want some tea?” He said, “Maybe a half cup.” The nurse asked, “Can I come back tomorrow night with the tea and watch television with you.” The man said, “Okay.” The next night she came back with tea and some toast and asked the man, “Do you want some toast with the tea?” He accepted and ate the toast, the first solid food he ate in many weeks. The nurse came back the next night with tea and toast and now the two talked about themselves, their families, their lives. The fourth night the nurse came and now the man was sitting in a chair while the two of them talked. A few days later the nurse came back and found the room empty; the man became much better and went home. Some weeks later the nurse was in town shopping and she heard a voice, “Hannah, it is good to see you.” The man gave her a big hug and said to his wife, “This is Hannah the nurse; she saved my life with a cup of tea.”
Food saves; it gives healing; it unites; it gives hope; it gives strength. Jesus gives us his Body as bread and his Blood as wine to save us, heal us, strengthen us for our life journey and unite us to Him now and always.