So for those of us who may have had some difficulty with last week’s Gospel about eating Jesus’s body, we are in good company. The disciples themselves also had trouble with this teaching. Today we hear more of the same conversation as last week from Jesus. The metaphor of bread used last week is extended by Jesus today.
Bread is important not only in understanding the deeper meanings of some biblical texts, but also for us in our world today. Mention bread and we immediately think about hunger and food. This leads us to naturally consider once again the poor and hungry in our neighborhood and streets. Even in a city such as North Vancouver we live amongst people who are hungry. We live amongst people who struggle to make ends meet with barely enough to cover the basic necessities and groceries. The housing and rental market makes it somewhat impossible for people to find accommodation close to their work and school for reasonable rent.
When I was in London I took a day tour to see some of the usual highlights and tourist attractions. I remember the tour guide pointing out a new condo and apartment development. His comment was that here is another example of housing that “no one can afford.” This is a global issue and one that we know all too well in the Lower Mainland where some single bedroom apartments can be listed for over one million dollars. Housing that no one can afford. Like Vancouver, London is a city where people have to commute long distances between work and home.
We see physical hunger every day. We feel guilty about deciding not leave some spare change for the man at the side of the road with his sign. We feel guilty because we are not doing enough or we feel helpless and at a loss as to how to help. And so, like so many, we are tempted to look the other way and walk quickly past, never making eye contact or saying “good morning.”
Because we may feel helpless to help and afraid of what will happen the next time we come across someone asking for food or money we look the other way, focus on other things, look at the view, our phone or almost anything else. Because the issue of homelessness and hunger is too large for us to fully comprehend on our own we become blind to the issue and pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it is something that the government needs to fix or someone else; anyone else so long it is not us. We retreat into the safety of our homes, family and lives and carry on with another day. Much like the people who heard Jesus’s difficult teaching all those years ago did. In many ways we are not too different from them. They left, went away, anywhere else so long as they didn’t have to stay and comprehend fully what Jesus was saying. I wonder how many times we have hidden from and turned away from uncomfortable truths.
The teachings of Jesus are difficult. They are supposed to be. They are supposed to make us feel uncomfortable and compel us into productive action. Jesus did not come into the world to make the rich feel comfortable and for the poor to be reconciled with their lot in life. No, Jesus came to bring a new world order, to turn the tables and say to everyone who came to hear him, “guess what, things are going to be different.” We, all of us here today, all of us who have come to hear Jesus down through the ages have been called to hear and in so doing to participate in this new way of being. We have been called, compelled, or convinced to participate because we are the Church and this is what we do as Church.
Along with physical hunger, there is also a spiritual hunger. We need bread to feed our spiritual lives as well. This is difficult to discern because unlike physical hunger and homelessness we cannot see spiritual hunger in the same way. But it is still there hidden behind the smiles and platitudes we greet one another with in the supermarket, at work or with friends. We live in a world where people keep their eyes glued to phones and screens and earphones without ever really paying attention to where they are or who they are coming across. They, and if we are honest, we go through our daily lives at such a speed with filters we do not realize we have, that we wake up some days and wonder what is the point of all this really. We wonder why we should bother to come to church, return an email, or connect with an old friend. We lose interest in work and relationships begin to fade. We begin to lose the thread of what really is important. This is a problem, a big problem. We live in a world where people yearn to belong somewhere, where their lives have value and meaning. We all yearn to be valued for the contributions we make. We need to be needed and that we matter to our family and friends. Our spiritual hunger is real, and is something that is also all too easy to avoid and push aside because it is too difficult to deal with.
But there is hope. There is hope in difficult teachings such as today’s Gospel and the one we heard last week. There is hope because you are here today, which means that deep down within your being and soul there is a realization that being here today matters and that you matter to the community. The Church is not where we come and gather with likeminded people and feel good about ourselves and our lot in life. No we gather as a church because some way, somehow, we know that we are meant to be here and show the world that things are different now. Whether we came to church for the first time because someone invited us, or going to church is a practice we have always done our whole lives and our parents did for their whole lives; whatever the reason is, we come, from all our different places and situations in life to gather as community, welcome the new person and feed the hungry - whichever hunger this may be. We do this so that we and all who come may feel a sense of belonging and connection to a greater whole and where our lives can find meaning and purpose.
There is hope in our Gospel today because Simon Peter says to Jesus that it is he who has the words to eternal life. He is right, because if it weren’t for Jesus, where would we be? Jesus is the one who has the words to eternal life. It is through Jesus that we have already arrived, that we are already whole as the Body of Christ. It is because of Jesus that we realize with all that we have and all that we are, we have the capacity to make a difference and find meaning and value in our lives and in the people we meet each and every day. This, of course, reminds us of one of our Stewardship Principles, “While we may not have everything for what we want, we have everything we need, with more to share.”