Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Peter Rostron, OHC
John 6:47-58 , Thursday, June 4, 2015
Several years ago I saw a movie called King Corn. Not King Kong, but King Corn. It’s a documentary that came out in 2007 about the politics and economics of corn and how that has contributed to a decline in the healthfulness of our diets. The focal point of the movie is a one-acre plot of corn that the two young filmmakers cultivate in Iowa, and they follow and explain the entire process from planting to selling the corn. The film vividly describes the serious, negative consequences of the politically-manipulated corn industry in this country. The opening scene especially is quite startling, as a University of Virginia professor analyzes a hair sample from one of the filmmakers, which reveals, based on the substances in his body, that over 50% of his diet is corn. Farm animals are corn-fed, soda and many juices are largely corn syrup, and corn oil is a very common choice for cooking fried foods. The subtitle of the film is You Are What You Eat, and indeed the film disturbingly reveals the ill state of health of our own physical bodies as well as our collective social, political, and economic body because of all the corn and corn byproducts that we ingest.
It matters what we eat. It matters for our own, individual health and for the health of our society. But, there are so many bad foods that taste really good, and often they’re very convenient, so it takes a lot of self-discipline in order to make the right choices. And that’s tough. It can be a challenge to consider the larger ramifications every time we make a food decision throughout the day. Do I eat this hamburger? Should I give in to my craving for some Twizzlers? What about this glass of cranberry juice? What are the ingredients? What fertilizers or additives were used? Where did it come from? I must admit that I can be lazy when it comes to such things, and too often I choose to eat foods without investing much reflection, investigation, or discernment in the process. And I suspect this is true for many of us. We have a desire, and we seek to satisfy it. That’s it. Unfortunately, what we desire and how we satisfy that desire may not be good for us. As the film says, we are what we eat. We might become corn, or at least unhealthy, and I don’t believe that is what God desires for us.
Just as this may be true for us now, it was true for the Israelites wandering in the desert millennia ago. They did not live as God wished them to. We know there was plenty of grumbling among them on their journey. In Exodus, we are told that “the whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron…[saying] ‘if only we had died by the hand of the Lord in Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread.’” In other words, “we’re happy with the status quo; it’s too much trouble to pursue change.” And today in the book of Deuteronomy we heard Moses tell the Israelites that God led them to hunger so that they would learn to desire what he would provide and change their ways. And we heard Paul point out in his letter to the Corinthians that the rock from which the Israelites drank was Christ. He went on, though, to say that, “nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now, these things occurred as examples to us so that we might not desire evil as they did.” The Israelites did not know Christ, for God had not yet revealed him to the world, but we do. And we hear Jesus tell us in John’s gospel, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died…[but] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
This truth is central to our Christian faith. We declare it each time we gather around the table to celebrate the Eucharist and partake of the body and blood of Christ. On this Feast Day of the Body of Christ, we are placing special emphasis on the significance of this truth, yet we do not always live accordingly. Like the ancient Israelites, we do not always choose to feast solely on God’s word. In many ways, we are wandering in our own, 21st-century wilderness, lost, grumbling, often wanting to eat and live simply to satisfy our selves, not God. We do not fully listen to God or act based on what God wants for us, we do not live in community as God wants us to live, and thus we are not yet ready or able to enter the Promised Land, not yet ready or able to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. We must keep in mind Paul’s words of warning. Still, like the Israelites, we keep going, we keep trying, despite the hardships and setbacks and discomforts. We stray, we grumble, we sin, but God keeps forgiving us and calling us back. We continue on our journey, we hunger, and we look to God for sustenance. And, as the Israelites did not, we have the benefit of the presence of Christ.
God sent us his son, and God does provide for us, but still we must choose to eat the good food and to say yes to God’s word. We can choose wisely or we can choose foolishly. We can eat food that is unhealthy, out of laziness or impulse or convenience or cost, or we can eat food that will truly nourish our bodies and energize us. We can also think beyond just food and include everything that we take in and that becomes part of us: the air we breathe, the music we listen to, the movies we watch, and the ideas and politics that inform our opinions and behaviors. All of the things that we ingest become us. And by us I mean each one of us as an individual, but also, all of us who together make up one single us, a social, political, economic, and spiritual body. This is a concept that the Israelites were much more attuned to than we are, but it is significant. All of our individual little choices add up to become the path that our community, our nation, and therefore each of us, will take.
So, choose well. As indeed we will in a few moments when we gather around the table to consume the ultimate food, the spiritual food of the body of Christ. When we do this, we become the living Christ, nourished and enlivened to do God’s work, to create God’s kingdom on earth, to move toward the promised land. So, on this feast day of Corpus Christi, come, celebrate, joyfully eat this bread that has come down from heaven and that will lead us to eternal life. We are what we eat.