I think it is fair to say that my mother doesn’t particularly enjoy cooking (except perhaps on special occasions) but she certainly has always enjoyed seeing her family fed. One of her recipes was called ‘chops for hungry chaps’: tasty and filling food, it satisfied my brothers and me, even when we were ravenous teenagers.
She taught me to enjoy food; that was just one aspect of a general pattern, that she and I somehow can always have fun together, take pleasure in whatever we are doing. I was reminded of this when one of my Dominican brothers said he lived for pleasure, and then explained that he meant he always tried to take pleasure in whatever God might send.
It seems to me that taking pleasure in seeing your family fed is a very human attitude, which finds deep echoes in our Christian tradition. Feeding someone is a fundamental way of loving them, of showing that you care for their well-being.
Food, for us human animals, goes far beyond what it is for our furry cousins in the rest of the animal world. Like them, we need it to survive, but we eat together to build up friendships, to show love, to celebrate our great successes in life. It’s a human, natural way of creating a community.
It’s such a rich symbol in human society that God can use it to communicate to us Himself. The feeding of the five thousand which we read about in the Gospel today is a richly meaningful event. At the most basic level, Jesus simply shows his love for those who have followed him to this place. But of course, it is also a rich sign, of the way in which God feeds us every day, providing us with our daily food, loving us by sustaining our existence. And at a third level, it is a sign of the way God feeds us with Himself, the way Jesus loves us by sustaining us spiritually, giving us His body and blood.
Just as food can create a community, or express and strengthen a friendship, the food that God gives us makes us part of the community of the saints, and expresses and strengthens friendship, but in a way beyond any human expectation: by making us friends of God, sharers in His life.
God loves us by seeing us fed, by satisfying us spiritually with the Living Bread. Indeed, God delights in it, he delights in giving us all we need. And yet, ironically, we are never satisfied. “Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied,” Philip says to Jesus, as if the company of God With Us was not enough.
What this miraculous feeding shows us in a symbolic way is that what God gives us is not just enough, but more than enough to satisfy us, to fill our every desire. Jesus doesn’t just give the huge crowd enough food, but much too much, an excessive amount. There is a small mountain of food left over.
And so it is with all God’s acts. We need forgiveness, and God gives us glory. We need to be restored to our humanity, and God gives us a share in His own, divine life. We need spiritual support to turn us from a self-destructive life, and God feeds us with Himself, moulding us into the image of His beloved Son.
Whatever God gives us, whatever good we find in our lives, is enough and more than enough. We are not willing to be satisfied and want something else, but God patiently waits, offering us what we really need, and more than we need.
And perhaps, then, taking delight in the good things God sends our way, however little they may seem to us, is a very important part of our Christian life. God is in fact showering on us everything we need, and infinitely more. The joy I have in the things I share with my mother have, perhaps, taught me something about enjoying the gifts of God.