Food attests to God’s care

By Fr. Jack Treloar | For The Compass | May 25, 2016

Lumen Gentium Vatican II’s document on the church describes in Chapter VII “The Pilgrim Church.” We are a people on a journey toward our final end: union with God. We know from experience that we must prepare for any journey, much less a pilgrimage, a sacred journey. Food is a central necessity if the trip will last for any length of time. Christ gives us his body and blood as our spiritual food for our pilgrimage toward our final end.

The Hebrew Scriptures tell us the people fled from Egypt with almost nothing to eat; such was the haste with which they departed from that foreign land. As they traveled they grew hungry and fearful about what they would eat. God bestowed on them the manna for physical nourishment. When the manna appeared each day they were to collect only what they needed. This abundance lasted for forty years. When they reached the Promised Land the manna ceased. Since the manna was a miraculous gift from God, it became a tradition that it was God’s prerogative to feed the people.

When we turn to the New Testament Gospels we find something quite similar. Each Gospel narrates one or more events in which Jesus feeds a multitude of people. Once again, like the manna, the meals are simple. In these stories, bread and fish are the only items on the menu. Like the manna, there is enough to feed the crowd with an abundance left over. These stories of multiplication are very subtle ways of telling us that Jesus is God, for it is only God who can feed the people in the wilderness.

The second reading this week comes from the First Letter to the Corinthians, and is the oldest of all the eucharistic formulations in Scripture. Scholars estimate that the letter was written around 54 A.D. This is only around 20 years after the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. In this account, Jesus takes bread and wine and blesses them proclaiming that this food is his own body and blood. Just as with the manna and the multiplications, we find Jesus now providing food for his followers as they make pilgrimage through the world. His body and blood is a gift from God. It is so abundant that we never exhaust it. What is new about the Eucharist as distinct from manna and the multiplied bread is that God is now physically present with us on our journey.

Whether it is manna, or bread and fish, or the Eucharist, this food manifests God’s enduring care for his people. The usual process of nourishment involves food becoming part of us. The Eucharist according the St. Augustine, however, is food in which we become part of Christ. In the words of Isaiah, “Listen to me and you shall eat well. You shall delight in rich fare” (Is. 55:2).

Jesuit Fr. Jack Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

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