One of our most basic human needs is for food. Within moments of birth the healthy new-born cries out for this nourishment, and her hunger is satisfied only by finding milk at the breast and embrace of her mother.
Within a few months milk is no longer enough for the baby and solid foods gradually become a part of the daily diet. By the time children begin school they are able to join the family at the table for a meal (at least for a few minutes) and to use a knife and fork to get (at least some) food into their mouths. At this stage though, the child’s eating preferences will be immature and a parent will resort to bribery to teach good eating habits: “if you don’t eat your greens, you will get no ice-cream.”
Gradually a child learns that the food that was satisfying when they were very small, is no longer enough. Hopefully by the time the child is a teenager, they will begin to make their own wise decisions about what to eat as they notice that their minds and bodies function more effectively on a balanced and healthy diet. This is a growth toward adult maturity, and by the time the young adult leaves home the hope is that their daily diet is not limited to fast food prepared on an assembly line.
One of the life’s great pleasures is to sit with friends at a well-laid table for a relaxed meal of lovingly prepared food. Sadly in our busy days of food-on-the-run it is too rare to have this two or three hour dining pleasure with pauses between courses, accompanied by abundant good conversation and laughter, and an etiquette that makes the table a comfortable place for everyone. Such dining is not an expensive extravagance. Instead it is a time-tested response to the basic human need that appreciates that while a snack on the run is necessary at times, it does not answer the human need for food and drink savoured in a relaxed environment in the company of good friends.
It is a delight to see our own Hurunui master-chefs at work in these weeks. Richard and Leo are reminding us that the preparation of food is an art. They are taking the raw produce of the earth, and with their considerable knowledge and experience creating dishes that far transcend the apparent potential of the pig, cow. rice, or salad greens and vegetables. The food they prepare will taste divine since their work is also a participation in God’s creative activity. This is why we in the Hurunui rejoice in their efforts and pray for their continued success. Leo and Richard are showing us how humans can take a disordered basket of raw food, and reorder this to remind us that both food and human existence are about more than the quick-fixes and oppressive routines that most of us settle for as a daily oppression.
food and life
The kind of food we eat and the way we eat it is very important. Bread alone is not sufficient for a healthy life, and even a balanced diet always eaten in isolation without friendship and love will never satisfy the deep and persistent hunger that a healthy human feels.
This hunger can only be satisfied by God.
There is a remarkable miracle in today’s first reading. To appreciate it, we have to understand a bit of the background…
from slavery to freedom
The Hebrew people, while initially welcome in Egypt because they were descendants of Joseph and his brothers – remember the amazing technicolour dream-coat (video summary for children at this link) , now find themselves in slavery. Moses, in response to God’s call, leads them from this captivity to freedom, to a land that promises “milk and honey.” However this journey was a long and arduous one (40 years) through the desert where the people struggled from lack of food and water. So in today’s reading we hear them ready to give up, blaming Moses for leading them away from imprisonment: “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”
…He answers all our needs
Without hesitation God responds and rains quail and bread from heaven. The people are fed and satisfied (for a while at least) until in the following chapter (Exodus 17) they cry out to Moses using the same accusation because now they are thirsty! Earthly water and food only satisfies for a few hours. A banquet prepared by master chefs will satisfy us for a bit longer. But always, before long, we are hungry and thirsty again. Remember last Sunday’s gospel when Jesus feeds several thousand people with an abundant feast of bread and fish, and we prayed in the psalm “The hand of the Lord feeds, us. He answers all our needs.” Today and on each of the four Sundays of this month the gospel readings are from the “bread of life” chapter of John’s gospel. (Ch.6) No longer are we longing for the bread and quail that the Old Testament travellers fed on, nor for the bread and fish that Jesus fed to those who came to hear him preach. In the “bread of life” discourse Jesus is speaking about real nourishment that is even more satisfying than a banquet that Richard and Leo might prepare.
Jesus is giving us Himself and in this way He is the ONE who answers all our needs. Without a relationship with God in Jesus no earthly food, experience, relationship or success is satisfying enough. With Jesus, even life’s many hungers and sufferings become an opportunity to experience his love more deeply and so live more abundantly.
In this divine relationship of communion we find communion with God, within ourselves, and even with the people we find most difficult.