18th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
This is the second of our series on the Eucharist as we dive deeply into the sixth chapter of John. Last week we talked of our hungers and the bold proposition that in the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus has given us something that can satisfy those hungers and answer all our needs. Today, let’s look at two of the most prominent hungers in our life – our hunger to belong and our need to know we are beautiful.
They go closely together because both hungers are deeply connected to our security or more accurately, our insecurities. Belonging calms our great fear of being alone, of suffering isolation and not connecting with others. We need people we can identify as our own, a safe place. And we are always searching to know that we are beautiful, that we matter and thought of as precious.
So let’s start with a story but before I tell it, you have to imagine that I was not always the cool, suave person you see before you now. Let me take you back to eighth grade at Locust Valley Junior High School and the lunch room. The table my friends and I sat at had become too crowded. Now this was not the cool kid table or the jock table. This is the leftover table and it was crowded because almost everyone feels like a leftover in middle school. Something had to be done and there were some pretty obvious solutions – you could rotate who sat at the table or you could divide the group into two tables. Or you could be eighth grade boys and come up with this genius solution: have a vote of everyone at the table to kick out the least popular person. To be fair, I was all for it thinking another kid was going to lose. We unfolded each paper and counted the vote. And I “won”. I was devastated.
The next morning I took my paper bag lunch my Mom had made with a smiley face ironically shining back at me from the “o” in Bob. For some reason, we had these small tables that only fit two people by the window in the cafeteria so I dropped my bag on the table and prepared to have lunch, by myself, for the rest of my life. Then my friend Larry, one of the most popular boys at the table came over, sat down with me and said he would not return to the big table until they asked us both back. We are still best friends and I am the Godfather of his only son.
Table fellowship always matters. You know how much it matters when we try so hard to have our families gather for meals and we keenly feel its absence. It was even more true in Jesus’ time. No one came to the table by accident. Breaking bread with someone meant that you approved and accepted them. And Jesus invited everybody. Some say he was killed for eating with the wrong people – for eating with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. His enemies decried a holy man, a rabbi, should never eat with those of such low morals. But as long as they accepted and approved of him, Jesus accepted and approved them. All these meals culminated at the Last Supper when Jesus promised his apostles and all of us to truly be with all those “who do this in memory of me.”
When we say our Amen, we are saying yes to the invitation of table fellowship with Christ. He wants us to be by our side. We are not alone. We belong. We are not gathered around the altar by accident. And if we belong to God, then we belong anywhere. We belong everywhere.
Our need to belong is closely linked for our need to know we are beautiful. You are a very lucky person if you can wake up every morning look in the mirror and think, “I am really beautiful.” Usually, we come to know that we matter and are precious because those we belong to let us know we are beautiful. Knowing we are beautiful is a tremendous release of a kind of perpetual anxiety. It is the unbinding of our chains. And we come to know it in the Eucharist.
Last week we had Journey #70 and it was terrific (just like the first 69.) For me, the most distinctive aspect of this group is that they were really searching – for God or for some truth about themselves. And I always ask what I think of as a challenging question, “Are you beautiful?” For the most part the boys have never thought of that before and the girls have thought about it way too much. I choose to ask that because so many of our hang ups and disappointments touch the question from our physical beauty to our inner goodness. We have been so well trained to respond to ourselves in a negative manner. But something happens when you are confronted by the love of Jesus Christ. When you see yourself through the eyes of the creator you recognize that you must be beautiful for the creator of all beauty certainly did not fail in you. And once we accept that, once we see ourselves through the eyes of the divine, then we can see with God’s eyes and find the beauty in everything and everyone.
At communion, we come to know ourselves as chosen, desired and indeed irrevocably beautiful. Our Amen is a resounding yes to the stunning dignity we all possess. And that is why the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is so central in our belief. We do not need a merely symbolic representation of belonging. We do not need a ceremony that tells us what it would feel like to think we are beautiful. We need to really belong and really know. And Jesus Christ does not leave us wanting in hunger. He truly appears and makes our dreams a reality. He is really present. We really belong. We really are beautiful.