Saturday, February 10, 2007

Saturday in the 5th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin
The Sweat of our Brow and The Bread of Life

Readings: Genesis 3:9-24; Psalm 90:2, 3-4abc, 5-6, 12-13; Mark 8:1-10

With sweat on your brow shall you eat your bread…

We have only to reflect a little to see how accurately this verse from the first reading describes our situation. We know its truth from experience. Even those of us who are happily retired, or those of us who were born with a silver spoon in our mouths, or those of us who are priests and religious – who don’t quite have careers of our own as such – whatever our situation, we can all appreciate that the bread on which we live has come with the sweat of someone’s brow.

And yet, important as it is to labour, crucial as it is for us to work for our daily bread, we also know that our labour can actually make us even hungrier. For it is as we heard in today’s gospel acclamation: man does not live on bread alone… It is as we have seen earlier this week. We hunger and thirst not just for bread that can fill our stomachs. More than anything else, we yearn for that intimacy of relationship that alone can fill our hearts and our souls, that original nakedness that the first man and woman enjoyed before the Fall – both in each other’s company and ultimately in the company of God. And we know from experience how our labours can actually take us further from the intimacy that we seek. We know well how our work – with its stresses and strains, its rivalry and struggle to get ahead – while it can fill our stomachs, often also leaves our hearts empty.

Isn’t this what gives the miracle that Jesus performs in the gospel today its deeper significance? When we are told that the people had nothing to eat, we know that it’s more than just bread for which they hunger. And when Jesus multiplies food for them, we know that his actions symbolize something far more profound than the filling of the stomachs of the four thousand. For by his coming among us as a human person, by his taking on the work of a carpenter, by his teaching and healing, and above all, by his passion, death and resurrection, Jesus labours on our behalf for the bread that alone sustains us to eternal life. It is by the sweat of his brow – by the water and blood that flowed from his pierced side – that we can once more enjoy true intimacy with God, with one another, and indeed with all of creation. Isn’t this the mystery that we celebrate every time we gather round the Eucharistic table, every time we partake of the one Bread and the one Cup?

Even as partake of this Eucharist today, how might we enter more deeply into this mystery? How might we continue to mingle our sweat with that of Christ for the life of the world?

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