The Gospel of John records three feasts of the Passover in the time of Jesus’s ministry.
The first would have been very shortly after Jesus was baptized, likely in 28 AD. That was when Jesus visited the Temple in Jerusalem and made enemies of the Pharisees by overturning the tables of the money changers.
The second was around the time of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. It was accompanied by some serious teaching about Jesus’ body and blood becoming food for his disciples that caused many of his followers to leave.
The third was the Passover, likely in 30 AD, when the crucifixion took place.
What has interested me of late is the way in which Jesus’s teaching changes between these Passovers. In the early part of his ministry, his parables are about growth—seed planted in different soils; yeast in a lump of flour; a mustard seed growing into a great tree; bad seed spoiling the harvest of the good, and so on.
The later parables are more demanding. They deal with wealth, man’s parsimony towards his neighbor, dishonesty, waste, being unprepared. Although these may also stress God’s concern to “seek and save those who are lost”, they have terrible condemnation for the rich of the world who neglect the poor, and for the spiritually blessed who have cornered the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven, keeping others out, and never entering themselves.
Christ’s life, and the Eucharist, are modelled on a simple formula which we too are asked to follow: taking, blessing, breaking and giving. Perhaps this explains the pattern of teaching. The taking and the blessing correspond with the sowing of seed, and its growth to maturity. This is the production of fruit, that Jesus continually expects from his disciples.
Fruit, however, is not an end in itself. It has to be the source of seed for another harvest. It also exists to provide food for mankind. The fruit that does not find one or other of these uses will be wasted and spoil.
Isn’t this the blockage that we find so often in the ministry of the church? God has blessed us in our country and in our churches with wonderful resources, whether of wealth or education or worship, and the fruit grows well. Where, though, is the breaking and the giving? Are we like the stewards who have been given the resources for growth, but are not willing to account to their landlord and employer for the harvest?
Income tax time will soon be with us. If we are like many of our fellow citizens, we will be moaning and complaining about waste and the burden our different governments place on us, and trying to make our contribution to the public coffers as small as we can. How different it would be if we made our taxes a thank offering—for the public safety we enjoy through armed forces, police and fire departments. For our health services. Our pensions. Our public facilities. Our justice system. Our social safety net. Our right to free speech and free elections. How different if we made our giving to the church a thank offering also, rather than a duty, for “our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all, for God’s inestimable love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.”
The breaking and the giving belong in the Christian life as much as the taking and blessing, and it is by them that the Church lives and continues from generation to generation. Yet, as St. John records, after thousands have received miraculous food at Jesus’s hands: “Many of his followers heard this and said ‘This teaching is too hard. Who can listen to it?’… So he asked the twelve disciples, ‘And you—would you also like to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him ‘Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.’”
That just about sums it up.