Feed my Lambs.  Feed my Sheep.  Feed my Malnourished Children

[Homily.  First Friday Mass.  Jn. 6:60-69. May 6, 2021]

What Jesus said in today’s Gospel was controversial.  Those who were listening to him quarreled about what he really meant.  In fact, when Jesus had finished teaching, there were those among the disciples of Jesus who were so perplexed, if not scandalized, by it that they were forced to disassociate themselves from Jesus.  “This saying is hard,” they said. “Who can accept it?” (60).  “As a result of this many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him” (66).  The departure of these disciples must have been one of the saddest experiences of Jesus in his public ministry.  Their departure meant they had rejected Jesus. 

Today the saying remains controversial.  For unless you “get it,” you’d think that Jesus was offering his flesh to eat and blood to drink in a type of bizarre cannibalism.  “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (53-55).  What Jesus was talking about was all that he was about:  the eternal Word of God, the expression in the flesh of the Father’s compassion for humankind, the incarnated Word of God who, coming to bring us “life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10), suffers, dies and is raised up for us.  That self-sacrifice in love for us is his Body given up for us and his Blood poured out for us through which he is uplifted on the Cross, raised in Resurrection, that we may be all raised redeemed to the Father in love.  Is this not what we actually remind ourselves of every First Friday?

In appreciating Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist which uses Bread to bring to light the profoundly spiritual aspect of the Eucharist, that it was much more than the bread that was multiplied to actually feed more than five-thousand people who were hungry, that it was much more than the manna that fell from heaven to actually feed the Israelites wandering in the desert on their way to the Promised Land who were hungry, it does not erase the fact that God was concerned about human hunger and responded to this not just with spiritual words but with food.  It is in this context important to note that the Resurrected Jesus continues to concern himself with the importance of stilling hunger as a sign of acknowledgment that he is alive.  In Luke’s Gospel, when the Resurrected Lord appears to the gathered disciples for the first time, and their joy and amazement is yet mixed with fear, incredulity and doubt, Jesus asks, “’Have you anything to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them” (Lk. 24: 41-43).  The sign of Jesus’ resurrected life was clear:  ghosts do not eat.  In the Gospel of John, after a group of disciples had labored the whole night fishing in the Lake of Galilee and had caught nothing, Jesus calls from the shoreline, “Have you caught anything to eat?”  When they reply, “No” (Jn 21:6), he instructs them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.  Catching almost more fish than they can handle, they recognize it is Jesus.  Again, it is food astonishingly provided that helps them to recognize the resurrected Jesus.  On the shore, over a charcoal fire, the resurrected Jesus actually prepares breakfast for them.  He “came over and took bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish” (Jn 21:13).  The breakfast is but a prelude the intimate conversation between the resurrected Jesus and Peter who on the night of Jesus’ arrest denied him thrice.  Jesus now asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Every time Peter said, “Yes, I love you.  You know that I love you!” Jesus’ instruction to him was “Feed my lambs.  Feed my sheep.  Feed my sheep.”  Of course, that may mean spreading the entire profound doctrine about Jesus as the Bread of Life, but its anchor in actual feeding may not be overlooked.  The Father was concerned for his People actually hungry in the desert, so he gave them manna.   Jesus was concerned for his listeners actually hungry, so he gave them bread and fish.   He was actually hungry with hungry people, even the most morally dubious, with whom he shared table fellowship, and so he ate with them.   Today he continues to be concerned about the actual hunger of starving and malnourished people to whom the Good News of the resurrected Lord is preached.   For what would be the genuineness of our faith in and love for the Risen Lord if we proclaim him alive, but do not care for his lambs, his sheep?

We cannot say today our faith is strong in the Risen Lord and not care about hungry people.  Recall the words of St. James, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works [deeds]?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:14-17).  Finally, consider an essential criterion for the glorious Son of Man coming as Judge of Heaven and Earth admitting a believer to paradise; Jesus says, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food…” (Mt. 25:35).  When the believers ask him when it was that they fed him, he replies, “Whatever you did for one of these least sisters and brothers of mine, that you did for me” (Mt. 25:40).

The resurrected Lord asks us, “Do you do you love me?”  If we reply yes, Jesus answers, “Feed my lambs.  Feed my young children who are hungry.  Feed my children who are so malnourished they are ‘stunted’.  Feed my children who are ‘wasted’”

My sisters and brothers, ADDU is now involved in daily supplementary feeding of malnourished children, Catholic and Muslim, in Brgys. 76-A, 21,22,23 and Ma-a of Davao through a program called Malnutrition Intervention Alternatives (MIA) in collaboration with the Department of Health and the Local Government of Davao.  Should you, in your declared love for the Resurrected Lord still concerned about the hunger of his people, wish to help bring healing nourishment for children documented as stunted and wasted, please contact our Eucharistic minister, Ms. Nelia Villarta, who is the nutritionist head of this program.  She will tell you how you can help.  Stunted children are too short for their age; wasted children are too thin for their height.  In the Philippines, a high 30% of children under five are stunted, while this is only 20% in countries of comparable income.  In our Bangsamoro areas, 40% of children under five are wasted.  To address this problem, Nelia oversees the production and distribution of the MIA “power powder” of nutrients that the children are now either eating straight from the package or adding to their meals.   The quantities that they consume daily are calibrated against the severity of their malnutrition.

Meanwhile, beginning today, the collections and donations that we receive on First Fridays shall be dedicated to feeding the Lord’s malnourished children in this project. “If you love me,” he says, “feed my lambs…  I am the Bread of Life.”

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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