Sunday, March 15, 2009

On Food - Sunday Gospel Reading for the Third Week of Lent

The Gospel reading for today is one that I have grown to love this Lent. It is one of the passages that I had been praying over through lectio divina. It is the one about the Samaritan woman at the well. That story is so rich--it touches on inter-religious dialogue, sin and conversion, material vs. spiritual focus in daily life, the source of salvation, authentic worship, gender relations, and evangelization, just to mention a few.

However, I want to focus on food.

"Rabbi, eat something." But he told them: "I have food to eat of which you do not know." At this the disciples said to one another, "You do not suppose anyone has brought him something to eat?" [The disciples had previously gone to the nearest town to get food.] Jesus explained to them: "Doing the will of him who sent me and bringing his work to completion is my food." (John 4:31-34)

I have used Jesus' reply to help me when fasting becomes difficult. I often joke that my day is "connecting the dots" between meals (I am half Italian, after all). Whether we are fasting or simply focusing too much on our worldly cares that day, it is good for us to remember what Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew:

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matthew 6:25)

"Therefore do not be anxious, saying 'What shall we eat? or "What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." (Matthew 6:31-33)

The disciples, like us, are focused on the material. They had a job to do--get food. Jesus says he has food they do not know about, so they stay at the material level and think someone gave Jesus food before they returned with the food (which probably made them feel irritated, thinking, "Well, why did we trudge all the way to town to get food then!"). This is very much what the Samaritan woman did in her conversation with Jesus, until at the end of their encounter she leaves the water bucket and forgets the material entirely, having been transformed by her encounter with Jesus.

But eventually Jesus gets his message through our rather thick heads: we should derive our spiritual nourishment from helping to bring about the kingdom of God. If we do God's will and and strive to bring his work to completion, we will help further the kingdom of God on earth, and that will be our food. But we need to remember that this meal comes with a drink, and that drink is in a cup that we do not want but nevertheless need to accept:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will drink my cup...." (Matthew 20:20-23)

Then in the Garden of Gethsemane, after Jesus leaves Peter and the same sons of Zebedee (James and John), he prays to the Father:

"My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26:39)

Sobering thoughts for this Lent. But we know that faithfulness leads through death to resurrection. And we have food and drink available to us each day to remind us of our hope: the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

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