Last week, I was arrested for the first, but hopefully not the last time.
As part of the Poor People’s Campaign’s push for nonviolent direct action, I participated in civil disobedience outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Along with nearly 90 other women, I was briefly detained and fined on the anniversary of the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. Our demands were clear: an intersectional call to raise up and empower the most marginalized in our society, particularly around current restrictive voting rights legislation.
This preferential call for the poor and oppressed is rooted in the Exodus, where today’s reading recalls the predicament of the Israelites, wandering in the desert, hungry and without food to eat. God hears their cries and rains down manna, a food so unfamiliar to them that Moses has to explain: “This is the Bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
As debates continue over Eucharistic worthiness, Scripture remains clear that bread is God’s gift to all–especially to those respectable society has deemed unworthy or disposable.
As Mac Svolos pointed out last Sunday on Bondings 2.0, bread illustrates the radical abundance of God in contrast to the false scarcity narrative that feeds on fear and greed. Following the feeding of the 5,000 recounted in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus goes one step further in what theologians call the “Bread of Life discourse,” revealing himself to be that which was sent by God to feed those left behind by the community.
In today’s gospel story, the crowd awakens the next morning, hungry again and looking for the miracle-worker with the fish and bread. While they slept, the disciples had departed via boat, only to be caught in a hurricane and rescued by Jesus, who appears walking on the water. Given the fact that Jesus had just performed two miracles, the crowd’s initial question of “When did you come here?” seems a little bit beside the point. Instead of answering, Jesus acknowledges their hunger, imploring them: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27).
Intrigued, they inquire as to what “works” they must do to earn this eternal life, but Jesus sets them straight yet again. There is only one work: “that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). It’s easy to sanitize this idea that we need only believe as a mental exercise, but faith is more than intellectual assent to ideas. Peace activist Dan Berrigan, S.J. famously noted that:
“Faith is rarely where your head is at and rarely where your heart is at. Your faith is where your ass is at! Inside what commitments are you sitting? Within what reality do you anchor yourself?”
Berrigan’s words echoed in my mind last week as we were individually led out of the street, still singing, arms raised in victory. Those marching were anchored in a deep commitment to God’s preference for those on the margins, including communities of color, LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants, and the working class. The current focus on voter suppression highlights how democracy depends on inclusion of all and cannot exist in a society built on white supremacy.
It was the women’s suffrage movement that coined the idea of “bread and roses.” Humans are not entitled to basic needs only, but to joy and beauty and the abundance that God embodies. James Oppenheim’s poem notes:
“Hearts starve as well as bodies. Give us bread, but give us roses.”
Is this not what LGBTQ+ Catholics need from their church? Rather than lip service of welcome, we need to find ways to truly affirm the fullness of people’s multifaceted identities, to discard the rhetoric and embrace the difficult and messy work of creating the kin-dom of God.
When the crowd asks for a miracle to prove that he was in fact sent by God, Jesus instead offers the gift of himself: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) Like the Israelites confused by the gift of manna, the crowd is surprised when God’s gift looks different from their expectations.
Familiar or not, Jesus offers not only bread, but roses as well. He offers not simply a gift of nourishment, but the gift of his very being, which will never turn stale or cease to satisfy, but which also calls us to do the same. To believe is to offer presence, accompaniment, and true allyship to those beloved by God. It is to stand with fired church workers, refuse to participate in victim blaming, to put our bodies on the line demanding a moral shift towards inclusion.
Jesus’s declaration that “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37) might not have made it into the lectionary selection for today, but it offers a clear resolution for who is invited to God’s table, regardless of human institutional rules. The answer is always: everyone, everyone, everyone is in and no one is left out.
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, August 1, 2021