We continue with Jesus’ Discourse on the Bread of Life from John ch. 6. Our Lord is saying amazing things.
But, first, a tangent. Here in and around Aberdeen, we have been experiencing a plague of hoverflies, called out by the warm weather. They are intriguing creatures. They have an earlier life as maggots or larvae, as butterflies begin as caterpillars. And the maggots of some hoverfly species are what are called saprotrophs: they eat decaying matter, what’s rotten. Some even specialise in sewage. But then comes the transformation. They become these delicate creatures, with their veined wings and their striped bodies. They become hoverflies or flowerflies as they are also called. And they feed on flowers. They feed on nectar, the sugary fluid secreted in flowers – the very food of the gods in classical mythology. Jesus is the flower of Israel, from the root of Jesse. And in this Discourse he is saying: Don’t be a maggot but a hoverfly; feed on me, drink my nectar and you will live for ever. How many stories there are about the magic food or potion of eternal youth, of immortality! Jesus is the reality behind the myths. In the Jewish context, Jesus is saying: I am the manna, I am the bread in the wilderness, I am the feast, I am the paschal Lamb and the Unleavened Bread. I am the Torah. I am Wisdom. I am the nourishment that comes from above. ‘Anyone who east this bread will live for ever.’
So, let’s not be maggots, let’s be hoverflies. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’
We try to be responsible about what we eat and drink. We worry about what children eat and the outlets that peddle junk food. We can even obsess about our diet. If only we were as careful about our soul-food: what we let in to our imaginations and thoughts, what we open the doors of our senses to! If only we developed some allergies there! Today’s readings offer another take on this. St Paul mentions ‘grudges’, ‘spitefulness’; the Gospel talks of ‘complaining’, murmuring, the sin of Israel in the desert. This is a dark food that something in us loves to feed on: the memory of injustices, our grudges, our grievances, the refusal to forgive, or just gossip or the relishing of bad news. Against all this, Jesus quotes Isaiah: ‘they will all be taught by God’ (Is 54:13). ‘Stop complaining’, if you want to be taught by God. A Psalm says of the people in the desert: ‘They complained inside their tents and did not listen to the voice of the Lord’ (Ps 106:25). Complaining and listening to God are incompatibles. ‘They will all be taught by God.’ This was a prophecy for the time when God would inaugurate his kingdom. By quoting it, Jesus is saying that it’s being fulfilled. It’s fulfilled every time the Spirit of the Father draws us to the Son, elicits our faith.
So, be embraced by the holy Trinity. ‘Stop complaining.’ Don’t be a maggot, be a hoverfly. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’
Elijah did that. It’s a wonderful story: Elijah one day’s journey into the wilderness, wanting to die, exhausted, on the run from Jezebel and Ahab and the prophets of Baal, his mission broken; the Establishment has won. Or if you like, Elijah having a breakdown, a mid-life crisis, depressed. ‘It is enough. Take my life. I’m no better than my forebears.’ ‘I am a worm and no man’, says a Psalm (Ps 22:6). Elijah is a maggot, feeding on his failure. All he can do is seek oblivion in sleep. And then an angel touches him, and a mysterious food appears beside him. He takes some, goes to sleep again. Recovery takes time. But then another touch and more food. New strength and suddenly a new direction. Isn’t this one of the most stirring lines in the Old Testament: ‘So he rose and ate and drank, and strengthened by that food he walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God’? ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ ‘I will fly like a bird to the mountains’ (Ps 11:1). Horeb is Sinai. Horeb is the place of the meeting with God and the covenant, where Israel received the Law and was taught by God. And so for us: touched by the message of faith, strengthened by our mysterious bread and water, strengthened by the Word and the Spirit, strengthened by the grace of Baptism and the Eucharist, we can walk the forty days and forty nights of our lives, the bright times and the dark times, till we come to the place of final meeting: the heavenly mountain and the heavenly banquet. ‘On this mountain, for all peoples, says Isaiah, the Lord of hosts is preparing a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of succulent food, of well-strained wines’ (Is 25:6). There, as Julian of Norwich strikingly says, we will ‘swallow God’, and become what we eat.
‘I am the living bread’, says Jesus. ‘Stop complaining. Be taught by God.’ Don’t be a maggot, be a hoverfly. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Brothers and sisters, let’s eat well, let’s eat wisely. Let’s pray for the opening of our spiritual senses. Let’s pray to have hungering souls. May we know the sweetness of the divine! ‘Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’ Amen.