‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6:35)
Anyone who’s ever given food and water to a stray dog or cat knows the immediate gratitude that’s invariably shown by the animal. A dog will wag its tail, and a cat may well start purring and rubbing against one’s leg. A basic sort of friendship begins. Should the feeding continue for any length of time, a strong bond can quickly develop between human and animal. Characterized by mutual trust, it expresses itself in affection, devotion, and even mutual delight. Some might call it love.
Shared food and drink are the basis and sustenance of purely human relationships as well. An infant and mother bond through repeated acts of feeding. Children are connected to parents through the latter’s regular preparation and provision of food. Couples are formed and sustained on the basis of daily shared meals. People “do lunch” to establish and nurture trust and connectedness. The regular sharing of food and drink is fundamental to our emotional well-being, and there’s evidence that the custom of kissing to express affection has its roots in primal food sharing.
We’re told that the Hebrews established themselves as a people through sharing the Passover meal of roasted lamb and unleavened bread (Exod. 12:1-13). As they made their way through the desert toward freedom, however, their solidarity became weakened through dissension, and eventually it shattered. So, quite obviously, did their trust in God and his goodness. It was precisely for this reason that God himself provided them with bread from heaven. That this food was given from above renewed the bonds of friendship and love between the people and their Lord. That the manna was shared among the Israelites themselves re-established their social solidarity.
In today’s gospel, Jesus establishes a bond of love between God and human beings through identifying himself as food from heaven. “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat,'” the people point out to Jesus. “What work are you performing?” they ask him. “[T]he bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” Jesus responds. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:33, 35). And in the Eucharist, Christ becomes the food and drink that binds Christians to God, as well as to one another.
Look it Up
How many places can you find in the scriptures where the sharing of food and drink produces strong interpersonal bonds of affection?
Think About It
What roles do potluck suppers play in the life of a local congregation?