I’ve never lived long with hunger. I’ve gone on diets and had to stare at food I was choosing not to eat. I’ve done a lot of physical work and been peckish. I’ve occasionally skipped meals and been extra especially ravenous. But I’ve never lived with ongoing hunger; I’ve never dealt with famine. I may have said, even more than once, “I’m starving,” but that was exaggeration.
The people in today’s Gospel, though, almost certainly lived with hunger as a normal and recurring condition. Archeological evidence, from studies of graves from most of the ancient world, reveals that a majority of peasants, who made up the bulk of the world’s population until relatively recently, lived with hunger and protein deficiency.
Without modern technology and machinery, lacking metal plows and unable to afford beasts of burden, most subsistence farmers produced only enough, when all went well, to feed their families in a hand-to-mouth kind of way. They ate what the earth brought forth soon after it ripened. They then lived with hunger until the next crop came to maturity. Droughts and taxes often stressed the poor farming family to the breaking point.
When we hear of the dogged perseverance of the crowds around Jesus in today’s Gospel, as they sought to encourage him to repeat the wonderful multiplication of the loaves, where everyone had their fill, and there was still food left over, we have to look upon them sympathetically. It also leads us to recognize the point of this passage for us. We’re not desperate about food. Our physical hunger isn’t going to get in the way of our ability to hear what God has to say…but…we have our own blind spots, places where our gaping needs, hurts and anguish overshadows our willingness to attend to what the Lord would be with us and do for us.
There is an implicit invitation for each of us to bring the places of our greatest struggles into dialogue with our communion with our Lord Jesus.
Where can we find companionship in our loneliness? Communion. Where can we find strength to overcome the difficult? Communion. Where can we find comfort in our physical pain? Communion. Where will we find life when we feel like we’re dying inside? Communion.
In receiving the Bread of Life we’re not having God “do it for us,” we’re committing to do all that we do, be all we can be, with Jesus. It takes a conscious act when we receive to make this possible. It requires us to return to our spiritual and physical union with Jesus in the moment of our struggle. We need to remember that we are not alone and that Jesus is working in, with and through us, for our greater good and the building up of the Kingdom
Communing with Jesus is not to be done automatically or unconsciously. Jesus is bringing His whole self to it. We do well to bring our whole heart, body, mind and soul to receiving Him.