Taste and See

07-29-2018Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian F. Manning

Summer time is here with its wonderful sunlight and warmth. This season allows all of us to use our decks and patios and also cook all sorts of food out on the grill. The gas grills of today have sure made life easier for outdoor cooking. I can remember when I was quite young my father’s many attempts to light the bag of charcoal. It usually meant finally putting too much starter fluid on the briquettes and then standing back from the giant whoosh of fire and heat. Then we had to patiently wait for the coals to all get red and a little grey and hot for cooking.

Now the outdoor grilling which can actually go on almost the whole year has changed our dietary habits. My childhood memories are of hamburgers and hot dogs, not of the great variety of food we now grill from chicken to pork to all sorts of sausages and beef and lamb. A lot of this food is marinated or stuffed and then cooked. What a change from burnt hot dogs and overcooked hamburgers! Today’s cooking outdoors is not like yesteryear’s when usually healthy and nutritious cooking was only done in the kitchen inside. Food, cooking and life is far different. I can also remember my mother often saying to us, “Taste and see,” if she was serving a vegetable or item we did not know or was new. Do you realize that the Church, also, often says this to us: “Taste and see!” Our first reading informs us that Elijah is at the end of his rope. Our famous prophet Elijah had the role of confronting King Ahab about the worship of Baal, a Canaanite deity. To make matters worse, Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, was responsible for the king’s great tolerance of this false worship. Elijah knew of the weak leadership of Ahab and the prophet revealed the unusual strong influence of his wife in the affairs of state and of religion. In the end, Jewish worship was purified of false gods, but Jezebel’s influence continued. She had power at the king’s palace and as a result Elijah was exiled. Thus in today’s passage we view him all alone and discouraged enough to pray to be released from this life. God’s caring angel, however, provides just the right kind of food for the long journey Elijah must still take to the mountain, where God will comfort him.

In today’s Gospel, we rejoin Jesus and the “difficult” crowd. We learn that this crowd almost understands Jesus. The people get that Jesus is saying that he is the heavenly bread, but they just cannot believe it. As the wisdom statement says “understanding is not the same as believing.” Jesus himself explains this by saying that faith is not a rational quality but a divine gift. We can often forget this clear simple truth. However, for Jesus, faith or lack of faith in him does have eternal consequences.

Jesus goes on to explain to the crowd that, as living bread, he, himself, will be broken for them so that they all might eat and partake. Jesus points out to the people that those who ate manna and those who ate of the loaves he had multiplied not only were and will be hungry again, but also died or will die. He makes clear that the manna and loaves were perishable bread, food for perishable bodies. The bread Jesus will give is the real thing, his life for the world, imperishable bread for imperishable people, people willing to taste and see.

Our Gospel continues the narrative story of Jesus engaging with those who will not taste and see. Jesus repeats, “I am the bread of life.” In that simple, plain statement, he recalls the story of the manna in the desert. The gospel author John is very clear about this: Jesus asks Israel to transform its self-understanding. He reinterprets the history of Israel and places himself at its very center. Does Jesus make clear: “Someone greater than Moses is here; something greater than the miracle of manna is here?”

Father Brian