The Power of a Good Meal
(Gen.14:18-20; 1Cor.11:23-26; Lk.9:11b-17)
What does food do for us?
Many people think that food simply fills us up, that it stops us feeling hungry. But it does so much more than that. Good food is nourishing; it helps us grow and be healthy. It can be healing, too, and it’s comforting in times of fear, uncertainty and sadness.
But food is also a wonderful way to express love, and it’s often used to seal business deals.
Indeed, food brings people together. We create a family when we share our table, and we create a community when we have a street barbecue!
In every culture, food is always meaningful. That’s because growing, preparing and serving food always involves both sacrifice and heart.
Jesus knows this. He knows how families and communities are formed, and that breaking bread brings people together. That’s why he so often eats with all sorts of people, including social outcasts.
Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners (Mt.9:10–11); with the Pharisees and lawyers (Lk.11:37-54), and with lepers (Mk.14:3). He receives a shady woman at a men’s dinner (Lk.7:36-39), and he invites himself to a meal at Zacchaeus’ place (Lk.19:1-10).
Jesus is criticised for this (Lk.7:34). But he understands the power of food, and that’s why he gave us the Holy Eucharist.
St John Vianney (1786-1859) said that it’s not only our bodies that need food – our souls do, too. ‘But where is this food?’ he asked.
He answered by saying that when God wanted to give us food for our souls, he looked everywhere and found nothing suitable. So, he decided to give himself.
And how does God give himself? Through the Holy Eucharist, which is God’s most precious gift to us.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing the way for this gift. Over 5,000 people have followed him to a place called Tabgha, near the Sea of Galilee. They’re tired and hungry, but he doesn’t turn them away. Rather, he welcomes and teaches them, and cures the sick. Then he asks his disciples to feed them all.
They’re resistant, however, for it’s getting late. But Jesus insists.
He sits them all down and takes the meal of five loaves and two fish. He blesses and breaks the food, and then gives it to them.
This is exactly what Jesus does at the Last Supper, when he institutes the Holy Eucharist (see also Lk.24:13-35). And for all 2,000 years since then, the Church has consistently repeated this action at every Mass.
Our priests, acting ‘in persona Christi’, take the bread, they bless and break it, and then they give it to the faithful, repeating Jesus’ words: ‘This is my body. Take it and eat it … and remember that I’m with you, always.’
Why do we do this? It’s because Jesus told us to (Lk.22:19), and because we know that the Eucharist is not just a sign or a symbol (Jn.6:32). It’s actually Jesus himself. It’s Jesus’ own body and blood we consume, through the consecrated bread and wine. We know this because he said so (Jn.6:51-59).
The Eucharist is God’s special meal, where he invites us all to join together as one Christian family around the table that we call the altar.
Just as we have a dining table at home, so here in this house of Our Lord we have this special table, which at Mass is typically adorned with fine linen, candles and tableware, including a paten and chalice.
And just as we share stories at home when we settle down to eat and drink together, so here at Mass we hear stories about Jesus and our Father God, before sharing the one bread and the one cup.
This eucharistic meal, this food for our souls, is powerful, because Jesus has promised that ‘whoever eats me will draw life from me (and) anyone who eats this bread will live forever’ (Jn.6:57-58).
And who serves this meal to us? It’s Jesus himself, through his ministers. Jesus is the one who waits on us (Lk.12:37, 20:28; 22:27). And he invites everyone to partake, just as he fed everyone in that crowd of over 5,000 at Tabgha, where ‘all ate and were satisfied’ (Lk.9:17; 14:15-24).
In offering this divine meal to us, Jesus is offering sinners forgiveness, acceptance and healing, for Jesus himself is food for our souls.
The purpose of the Holy Eucharist is not simply to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Its purpose is to change us, to reinvigorate us as the Body of Christ, so that we may then go out to nourish the lives of others.