We find in the gospels many references to food and eating. In particular, having to do with the miracles that Christ performs, as in today’s Gospel reading where he feeds 5000 people. Other examples are when Christ is visiting the outcasts of society, the publicans and sinners, and dining with them. Elsewhere we see him dining with the religious leaders such as the pharisees. Before his passion, he gathers his disciples for the Passover meal, where he first institutes the sacrament of Holy Communion, offering his own body and blood as the sacrificial lamb. After his resurrection from the dead, he appears to his disciples and again he eats food in their presence to prove that he was truly there in his body and not a ghost. And finally, he appears to the two disciples as their were traveling on the Road to Emmaus and while they at first didn’t recognize him, their eyes were opened when he blessed and broke the bread and gave it to them.
All these examples tell us that the act eating has been transformed by Christ from something base and carnal meant only to satisfy our taste buds and stomachs, to something spiritual through which we experience an intimate encounter and union with the divine and one another. Just as Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree and it led to hostility between themselves and separation from God, physically and spiritually, so the act of eating the Body and Blood of Christ causes us to be reunited to God and renewed physically and spiritually. And since we all received from the one chalice, we also now are joined not only with God, but also with one another so that there is no longer any hostility and separation between us but we are truly one, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:17,
“For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”
But having received this wonderful and life-saving nourishment, we are now responsible and accountable for it. It perfects within us love for God and love for others. In the gospel reading, thousands of people have been following and listening to Christ. They are hungry and thirsty. Christ tells the apostles “You give them something to eat.” St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his Epistle to the Smyrneans dated to about the year 100 AD, makes a connection between faith and love, specifically, how faith and belief that what we eat is truly the Body and Blood of Christ then inspires love and care for others. But how the lack of faith, and disbelief leads to a lack of love. He writes:
“Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love, no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.”
Listen to this episode for the entire meditation on this gospel reading.