Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John will be read at Mass over the next month or so. In it Jesus presents himself as bread for the hunger of humanity, the Bread of Life. The miracle of the loaves and fish, the rejection of earthly power, the escape to the solitude of the hills, the walking on water are all part of the mystery of Eucharist. The teaching that follows these events is provocative, demanding an unambiguous response, pushes us to a moment of decision. We cannot be indifferent.
"The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world...I AM the bread of life..." The response of many was to say that this is intolerable language, who could ever accept it? And most of the disciples left him at that stage. "What about you" he asked the twelve "will you go away too?" Where do I stand, with whom do I stand?
Jesus is immediately aware of the people’s hunger, ready to do something about it. He is alert, attentive, listening. He who dwells in the deep silence of the Father listens as the Father listens, is attentive as the Father is attentive. Through the immediate physical hunger He intends to feed the deeper hunger of the human heart.
A lovely line, an encouraging thought is that Jesus himself knew exactly what He was going to do about this great hunger. But He also wants us, the disciples to participate in His response. We as Community, as individuals are called to enter with Him into the profound silence of the Father, to hear the hunger of the people as God hears it. To listen to the cry of others, to listen without prejudice and without any agenda of our own. It is a call to universal listening, to be universal as He is universal and that includes listening to what I do not want to hear.
On a personal level Jesus is alert to the hunger that is in me, in each of us. The question is - am I alert to the hunger that is in me? What is the hunger that is masked by my addictions - the obvious addictions and the more subtle ones. Will I allow God to feed these hungers in a Godly way?
I am called to allow myself to taste and feel my deepest desires, to acknowledge them to God and to myself as a first step towards dealing with them in a life-giving way. It means I have to live in the depths of my own being and not simply continue drifting along the surface of my own reality. To live a real life that is offered to God in the Eucharist, to live a life that is capable of being disturbed, unsettled and ultimately transformed.
We ourselves may think that we do not have what is necessary to deal with our life's hunger, that what we have is clearly not enough. But the response of Jesus is to take these little, inadequate offerings and to find in them reasons for gratitude. He gives thanks and somehow the power of gratitude makes the miracle happen. There is enough, even more than enough.
An aspect of our Eucharist is to allow the inadequacy of our lives to be taken by Jesus, to be held by Him, to be empowered by His gratitude. We need to surrender our lives into His hands. This is not a lifeless, timid surrender, a simple giving up or resignation. It is a surrender born out of struggle, it is the fruit of an honest wrestling with God and myself, wrestling with my deepest desire. And out of all this comes the abundance that is more than enough. Jesus himself is the food for my desire, the abundance for which I yearn.
There's an interesting translation of this passage in which Jesus tells the disciples to gather up what's left over. Most translations talk about gathering up the scraps but this has Jesus telling them to gather up "the broken bits". The broken bits of our lives are collected and saved, saved for another day, another feeding. They are the reserved sacrament by which others will be fed, blessed and saved.