The Church is no exception, 3 Lent (A) – 2008

February 24, 2008

Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42 

“Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.'”

It is not often that we find anyone in the gospels giving Jesus advice or telling him what to do. He is after all the Lord – the one who tells others what to do. Jesus does not need anyone’s advice. Even his mother, in the story of the wedding at Cana, simply announces to him, “They have no wine.” She leaves the rest to him. She does not tell him what to do.

So it is surprising, and touching, to find the disciples in our gospel account today, telling Jesus to “eat something.” Jesus was “tired out by his journey” and perhaps by his dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well. Taking note of his weariness, the disciples urge him in no uncertain terms to get some nourishment. Take care of yourself, they seem to say. We might almost expect them, like over-solicitous parents, to tell him next to wear comfortable walking shoes, get plenty of rest, and save for retirement.

Beyond their genuine concern for Jesus, the disciples are probably also at least a little fearful that he will burn himself out, use himself up, and in the process, leave them in the lurch, bereft of his strength and presence. So, “Eat something,” they say, no doubt offering him the food they had just brought from the city.

But they need not have worried.

“I have food to eat,” Jesus responds, “that you do not know about.”

The disciples at first fail to understand. With a note of puzzlement in their voices, they say, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” But Jesus explains, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.” He reminds the disciples – and us – that we are all on a mission; that the one who sends us forth is also the one who provides for us; and that in doing the will of the Father we ourselves are fed and nourished.

Doing the Lord’s will nourishes us still. It brings us together in community for prayer and fellowship, and it impels us out into the world and among those in need of the Lord’s comfort and care. That is why the Lord tells the disciples, “The fields are ripe for harvesting.” In an age of ninety-nine cent burgers and supermarket efficiency, it is sometimes difficult to recall the harvest – difficult to remember the sowing and the reaping; more difficult still to remember that it is only in the harvest itself that we are nourished and fed. Without the harvest, there is no food. There is no life.

Food not only keeps together body and soul, it knits together families and communities. And the Church is no exception. Indeed, the primary worship service at most of our churches, the Holy Eucharist, is itself a ritual meal in which bread and wine become the body and blood of our Lord. In this sacred meal we are preserved for the journey ahead. But if we in the Church feed only ourselves, we can never truly be nourished. We will always hunger for more. We will starve to death in the midst of God’s bountiful harvest. As followers of Christ, we are called to bring spiritual sustenance to a world still starved for God. “Then only we live,” wrote Lucy Larcom, a nineteenth-century American poet, “when we feed one another, as we have been fed.”

The people of Samaria, having heard the testimony of the woman at the well, come to Jesus to see for themselves if he is the Messiah; to see for themselves if he can bring them living water and food that will assuage their inner hunger and thirst. And as the Gospel tells us, “many more believed because of his word.” People still come today to be nourished with “his word.” We are among them.

“Rabbi, eat something.” The disciples were undoubtedly thinking only of physical nourishment and the strength it brings. They did not yet grasp that it is Jesus himself who feeds us all and strengthens us with his word and gospel – but only if we ourselves are willing to “eat something;” and only if we enter the harvest and feed others as we have been fed.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is interim rector of Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar, California. 

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