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The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Corpus Christi

May 29, 2016

      From start to finish, the scriptures are full of stories about food as a gift from God, a sign of God’s blessing.  In the first of the two creation stories in Genesis, God plants a garden with trees beautiful to look at and good for food: fruit-bearing trees and seed-bearing plants.  In the Exodus story of the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land, God sustains them by raining down bread from heaven in the form of mysterious manna that appears on the desert floor each morning.  In the days of the prophets, when the land is ravaged by drought, God marvelously provides for Elijah, sending ravens that bring him bread and meat to eat, and Elijah, in turn, saves the poor widow and her son with a jar of flour that never empties and a jug of oil that never runs dry.  In Isaiah’s glorious vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, God provides for all the peoples of the earth “a feast of rich food and pure, choice wines.”

     Food is clearly a significant sign of God’s favor, God’s blessing, and it becomes even more significant in the ministry of Jesus as we see in today’s gospel -- Luke’s version of the story of Jesus feeding the multitude.  This story is told by all four gospel writers, and that in itself is noteworthy because there aren’t very many stories that appear in all four gospels. Only Matthew tells about the Magi, for instance; only Luke tells about the shepherds; only John tells about the wedding at Cana and the raising of Lazarus, but all four evangelists tell the story of a large crowd of hungry people out in the wilderness whose only available food is a little bread and a couple of fish.  Clearly, from the earliest days of the Church, this was an important story, a very important story.

     Why?  I can think of two good reasons. The story says a lot about who Jesus was, and it also says something about us: who we are called to be and what we are called to do.

     First: about Jesus. It says that he is the living embodiment of the compassionate God who feeds people in their need. It says that Jesus knows people’s needs and hungers in a very personal way, and not from a distance. When his disciples counsel him to send the hungry crowds away to the surrounding villages and farms to look for food and lodging, Jesus will have none of it.  He knows what these people are feeling.  He has known hunger himself and may even be hungry himself. He will not send them away.

     The story also says something about us – about who we are called to be and what we are called to do. Notice the response Jesus gives to his disciples when they tell him to dismiss the crowds so they can go find something to eat. “Give them some food yourselves,” he says.  Really?  With a few loaves and a couple of fish, and a crowd of more than 5,000?  Feed them ourselves?

     But, wondrously, Jesus takes what little they have, gives thanks to God for it, and then tells his disciples to give it to the people.  “They all ate,” we are told, and “were satisfied.”  And there was a lot left over.

     “Give them some food yourselves.”  My friends, I believe Jesus says the same to us in a world where there is so much hunger both physical and spiritual. He wants us to know that God can work wonders with even the little we have.  If we will but let go of whatever it is we are holding onto, or grasping, or hoarding, there will be more than enough to go around because there is godliness in giving, and wherever God is, there will be wonders, there will be abundance!

     The story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish is a story of how we are called to be like God and to do like Jesus.  But it is even more.  Jesus not only fed the multitude with bread and fish, he later fed them – and he now feeds us – with his very self: his body broken and his blood poured out.  The Eucharist is the feeding of the 5000 writ large, the meal abundant beyond all others.  The Eucharist is Jesus’ personal response to what he told his disciples to do, “give them some food yourselves.”

     And, my friends in Christ, what Jesus did is what we, too, must do.  For it is one thing – and a good thing – to give what we have to feed a hungry sister or brother or to help feed a starving world.  But it is quite another to give ourselves as Jesus did -- to allow our own bodies to be broken and our blood to be drained in the loving service of others.

     This great feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is a ringing call for us do just that.  Our procession out on the streets is not just a colorful religious pageant, it is a statement -- a stirring statement to a hungry world that we who are nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ are willing to be for others their food and drink, their sustenance and nourishment for life’s journey, the bread of their hope, the wine of their joy.

     “Give them some food yourselves.”  My friends, we are not only to give bread to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, we are also to do as Jesus did.  We are to hand ourselves over so that we can become bread for the hungry and drink for the thirsty.  And if we do this, and as often as we do this, we will be doing exactly what St. Paul told us to do: we will be “proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes….” And in proclaiming that death we will, at the same time, be bringing life!        

Father Michael G. Ryan




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