For the priests and seminarians at the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University.
“His disciples were hungry …” (Mt 12:2)
With today being the feast of St. Bonaventure, and with Bonaventure being a great doctor the Church, I thought I would consult him on the episode recounted in today’s Gospel. In doing so, I discovered that the Seraphic Doctor gives a lot of attention to a detail that I would have otherwise overlooked: Jesus’ disciples were hungry. Though he gives various causes of the disciples’ famished state—the press of their apostolic labor, their voluntary poverty, their desire to give an example of austerity—I found his last reason most intriguing. The deepest reason for the disciples’ hunger, says the Seraphic Doctor,
is found in the sweetness of Christ’s word, to which the disciples were so powerfully attracted that they forgot to eat. So the Psalmist says: “How sweet are your words to my palate! Sweeter than honey in my mouth (118:103). –Bonaventure, Commentary on Luke, vol. I, 459
Powerful attraction to the sweetness of Christ’s word. In other words, the physical hunger of the disciples both reflects and sharpens their spiritual hunger. This dynamic strikes me as being not only a pious allegory, but the very heart of Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees.
In Jesus’ day, allowances were generally made for “working” on the Sabbath if the work was essential and could be done on no other day. Since God Himself prescribed temple services on the Sabbath, ministering priests were excused. Likewise, Since David’s starving troops couldn’t simply reschedule their battle campaign, they were allowed to eat the showbread. Having cited these examples, Christ simply argues from the weaker to the stronger case. If non-transferable temple service excuses from Sabbath law, then how much more service to something greater than the temple? If the hunger that resulted from campaigning under David excuses from Sabbath law, then how much more the hunger that results from campaigning under Christ, the hunger that results from attraction to Christ’s sweet words? [I might add here that sexual continence is an implied dimension of this hunger: Ahimelech the high priest agreed to give the holy bread to David and his followers on the condition that they “had kept themselves from women” (1Sam 21:4)].
The point that Bonaventure brings out so clearly is Christ’s special love for those who remain hungry for the sake of receiving His word. Christ places everything at the disposal of those who place themselves totally at His disposal. And when accusers harass those who have become hungry vulnerable for His sake, he comes to their aid. He shows himself powerful on their behalf –“The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” He fills them with the sweetness of his word.
Today’s Gospel leaves a poignant question with us who are about to approach the Eucharistic table. Am I hungry? Do I keep myself hungry so that Christ can be my fullness—even at week 7 of the IPF? Speaking personally, I find it so easy to blunt the edge of my hunger with foods that ultimately fail to satisfy. With daydreams about the future rather than attentiveness to the present task. With nostalgia for the past. With the cotton candy of mindless entertainments and compulsive socializing. With the sugar rushes of complaint and negativity. There are countless ways of seeking fullness apart from Christ. But Christ does not fill those who are already full. It is the hungry whom “He fills … with good things …” Since he desires so much to fill us, let’s honor Him by approaching his altar hungry.