(For the first time in nearly seven months, I celebrated the Sunday Masses at Holy Name on 29 July. As my health improves, I hope to resume doing so by the end of August. ~ MJC)
I don’t know whether it is true or not but the story is told that when Peter, now Lord, Mandelson was first canvassing in Hartlepool to become the town’s new MP, local members of the Labour Party took him to a Fish N’ Chip shop one Friday evening. It was part of the effort to present the ‘London boy’ as a man of the people. It’s said that when he was asked in the shop if he wanted cod or haddock with his chips, he asked for the haddock and, pointing to the mushy peas, added ‘and I’ll have some of your lovely guacamole as well’.
Embarrassing, to say the least …
It’s claimed by some commentators that the disciples accompanying Jesus when he fed the 5,000 had a similar experience of embarrassment when Jesus asked the apostle Philip: “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?” One commentator, John J Pilch, claims that Jesus’ “apparent ignorance about this was embarrassing to the early Christians”. Thus, he says, the later comment was added to the text: “He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do”.
If it’s true, why would Jesus be ignorant of such a basic thing of knowing where to buy bread. Although John does not mention it here, in the other Gospels we are told that several women, not just men, were disciples (and supporters) of Jesus and that they provided for him ‘out of their own resources’. So might it be reasonable to wonder if Jesus, an itinerant preacher of the time with ‘nowhere to lay his head’ and with no obvious source of income, was a ‘kept man’ (by these women)?
‘Behind every good man’, it is said, ‘is a good woman’. In this instance, might it be said that behind this good man was a woman rolling her eyes when he did not know where to get bread?
The bread given to Jesus to be blessed was made from barley. Back then barley was the most common grain used for bread. As a crop it could survive extreme heat and water shortages better than wheat (from which most of our bread is made today). It also could ripen quicker. As it was the cheapest and most plentiful form of bread, it was considered to be the bread of the poor, their primary form of daily nourishment. (The same bread was used in the Elisha story in the First Reading.)
This bread was nothing like the slow-fermented sourdough, ciabatta, focaccia, rye, multi-grain, brioche or any of the many other and more expensive forms of bread available to us today. It was the equivalent to today’s cost of a plain white loaf which is the cheapest available for us and, you might say, the ‘bread of the poor’ today.
Starting today and for the next four Sundays, the Gospel at Mass will be reflecting on what this event of Jesus feeding the 5,000 means. It is the fourth of seven ‘signs’ in John’s Gospel that Jesus gives about his identity. In essence, he says that just as bread in his time was the ‘staff of life’ for poor people, their form of daily nourishment, he is now the eternal nourishment God offers to sustain his people. They were to no longer dwell on how God had miraculously fed their ancestors in the past (when caught up in a famine in the time of Moses). From now on, he asked them to see that He was the lasting nourishment that comes to them from God.
The wider point that the Lord makes when he calls himself The Bread of Life is that only He is the ‘food’ or ‘bread’ that will satisfy the eternal hunger inside everyone. This is the deep inner hunger inside all of us that no amount of material or other things can satisfy. It can never be satisfied by how much money we have, the size of our portfolio, the value of our house, the make and model of our car, the size of our TV screen, the number of holidays we have in a year, the number of hours we spend in the gym or standing on the scales wishing the pounds away.
Jesus teaches that only He and no other person or thing can satisfy this hunger.
Holy Name, Jesmond
29 July 2018