In light of what’s been happening in the news this week, we might paraphrase this: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.” You might have seen a few stories in the news about Chick-Fil-A. CEO Dan Cathy, who is a Southern Baptist, made clear his opposition to same-sex marriage based upon his understanding of scripture. Certainly, he is entitled to have his opinions and I respect his right to adhere to a literal/factual interpretation of scripture. If it was only about one man’s personal beliefs, this whole story would have blown over by now, but it hasn’t. The deeper and more troubling issue is about how Mr. Cathy’s corporation gives large multi-million dollar donations to organizations like the Family Research Council who disparages gay and lesbian persons and which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group. There really are two levels to this controversy – one involving the physical consumption of food in support of a person’s beliefs and the other is a deeper spiritual issue of how we live together as the Body of Christ.
This week’s gospel reading speaks to the two levels of feeding – the physical and the spiritual – and is a continuation of last week’s reading. All four gospels tell the story of the feeding of the 5,000 … but John’s version is what I’d call the “extended dance remix version” of this story. We will hear this story spread out over five Sundays! Last week, we heard the story of the actual feeding where Jesus took the five barley loaves and two fish, blessed the bread and fish, broke the bread and fish, and gave it out to the multitude gathered. He took, blessed, broke and gave. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because we hear those same words every week in the Eucharistic prayer: “On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take, eat, this is my Body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” Taking, blessing, breaking and giving … It’s about the Eucharist!
If, however, we connect this story to only the Last Supper, we reduce it to one event in the life of Jesus. I think it’s important to remember that the narrative of the Last Supper is conspicuously absent from John’s gospel: he has Jesus washing the disciple’s feet instead. So by putting this fourfold action of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving into the story of the feeding of the 5,000, John is telling us that Eucharist isn’t just about the Last Supper. Eucharist is really about the entirety of Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus was taken – claimed by God. He was blessed by God. He was broken on the cross for our redemption and he was given for the life of the world.
Not only is this true for Jesus, but it is also true for us. Christians are also to be taken, blessed, broken and given for the sake of the world. But, the problem is, many Christians want to be taken and blessed … and stop right there, thank you very much! That’s the “feel good” part of Christianity. Being claimed by God and blessed by God feels good. But if we stop there, Christianity can become dangerous – even toxic - because if we only accept being taken and blessed, we will continue to encounter Christ on our terms and not on his terms. We will still retain control. This is a sort of spiritual narcissism where I get to be claimed and blessed, but I still hold onto the right to interpret the Bible my way, use the Bible to uphold my own prejudices, and choose who I want to be in relationship with and who I want to exclude. This is the kind of spirituality the crowd exhibits. They want Jesus on their terms. They want to take him by force and make him a king. They want to know what they need to do to perform the works of God. They want this bread always. They like being taken and blessed … but they stop short of broken and given.
And let’s be honest – none of us really wants to be broken do we? We don’t want to face our faults, our defects, our deficiencies, our weaknesses, our hurts, our suffering, our pain, the abuse we’ve suffered and the abuse we have in turn hurled at others. That doesn’t feel good, does it? It’s not fun. We’d rather be smug, self-sufficient, and self-righteous if given our druthers. We’d rather justify, minimize and flee from our brokenness. But that’s not the way of the cross – it is not the way of the Christian.
We cannot be given for the sake of a broken and hurting world unless we allow our own brokenness to be what it is – and to face it honestly. Our brokenness is the place where the crucified One meets us and reminds us that even as we are broken, we are still taken and blessed. We don’t stop being taken and blessed … even when we are broken. It is in our broken state where we can be emptied of our spiritual narcissism and our false ego. It is there where we can find not just serenity but also the ability to connect with the sufferings of others so that we can be given for the sake of God’s people. We cannot be a gift to others until we accept we are broken.
The shape of the Eucharistic life involves all four actions: being taken, blessed, broken and given. It was the pattern of Jesus’ life and ministry and for us to live authentically as Christians it needs to be ours too. We cannot claim to be Christian by having Christ on our terms and avoid being broken and given for others. If we do, our faith remains centered in ourselves and we will succumb to the temptation to harm others and cloak our actions with religiosity and self-righteousness.
When we are taken, blessed, broken and given, we find ourselves able to connect with the Other and see the face of Christ in them and in doing so we will promote the Body’s growth in building itself up in Love.