Perhaps you have heard this phrase: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It is a quote by Frederick Buechner often used to help discern and define vocation. Vocation: more than a job and less than a dream. I remember sitting in the middle of what had turned out to be a pep talk, and thinking, I don’t know what that would be for me. My interpretation of that was, what can I do that will make me happy to get up every day and happy going to sleep every night that other people want of me? But if that’s what vocation is, I think most of us would have a hard time of coming to vocation.
It took some time with God to discover, that this still altogether aright saying fails to describe what that hunger is for and what that gladness really means. Deep gladness, joy, not happy all the time. Includes difficulty. If Jesus knew his call, and found his deep gladness in healing and proclaiming good news, this isn’t work that is perfect by worldly standards, doesn’t have room for the world’s standards of perfection. The son of man has nowhere to lay his head. To follow Jesus on his vocational journey means being uncomfortable regularly for the sake of something more important.
And the hunger isn’t about our need to consume. How do we know the hunger? How did Jesus see the world’s deep hunger? Well, let’s begin by looking at What was it like to be Galilean? Caesar in Rome insisting he’s God on earth and can demand anything he wishes. Unfortunately, he has a lot of force and might to back this up. But being in Rome, he can’t control the first century Palestine area from that far away. The Herods we hear so much about, first King Herod the Great and then his son Herod Antipas, ruled the land with the permission of Caesar, as long as it was giving satisfactorily to Rome. Another name would be client-state for what Galilee and Perea were to Rome. And those within the client state were not considered citizens. Certainly, the poor were especially taken advantage of to subsidize the desires of the already rich, usually the priestly classes, so the poor got poorer while the rich got richer and there was a general physical hunger amongst those people in this client state of Galilee. There were real concrete needs.
There was also a need for dignity, particularly for these people who had no say under Roman law, yet could be punished by both it, and the king and priestly classes in collusion with it. Indeed this is precisely what happened to our Christ. There was a hunger so deep that the whole of Israel was yearning to break free from the yoke of Roman oppression, to be free to worship their one God, and not Caesar with his divine pantheon, to claim human dignity that can only be found with freedom. Hunger.
Jesus also assured that the harvest is plentiful. The means to satisfy that hunger is there. How might we search those places of deep gladness in us to find sustenance, to reap the harvest - for the deep hunger? If we can access that deep gladness, there is more than enough. How do we being to Work our inner fields, find the deep gladness of inherent dignity bestowed to each of us? We begin by taking time to recognize it. By setting apart time for our relationship with God to just feel loved, for that reassurance that we are already embraced. It is the starting place for all healing and restoration.
We can ask ourselves, how might we feed the world’s deep hunger by proclaiming the good news of God’s realm and healing others? We can see that Christ was specifically healing the unclean, touching those no one else wanted to touch: the leper, the ones afflicted with demons, the suffering rejected who wandered the outskirts of the tombs, a menstruating woman, the seeming dead, the possessed mute. Jesus saw what the world called unclean, what the pious rejected, where the hunger gnawed deepest, and chose to heal. Jesus chose to see their need, their hunger, and satisfy it.
It was not just those who lacked physical purity, but also Ideological purity that Christ came to show mercy, not sacrifice. (Admittedly, these two were not inextricable at the time, and I think strong Christological argument can be made another time how they are not separate now.) When I say ideological purity, I mean the difference in approach, the very difference in ideas that spoke to the deep hunger for human dignity. In his hometown of Nazareth, his own community takes him to task - the scribes, pharisees, and john’s disciples. All had their own approaches to dealing with this hunger they all felt.
The scribes judge Christ among themselves for not following the letter of the law, for blaspheming by telling a paralyzed man that he was forgiven. They just refused to see the deep hunger for dignity this paralyzed man was in need of. The Pharisees are upset with Christ for Eating with the tax collectors (make a joke about our poor accountants in tax season, remind that the situation is in fact different, non-citizens are giving money to an occupying presence and force.) So in this time, tax collectors were liked by no body. Usually also disposable Jewish non-citizens, they were traitors to the Jewish people without the dignity of real opposition. Most pathetic of enemies. Those who certainly needed to find their deep gladness, to find that place of dignity, because they suffered from such moral ambiguity. Yet Christ ate at table with them, knowing their deep hunger, and feeding with mercy rather than sacrifice.
Speaking of sacrifice, we must not forget our disciples of John the baptist, perhaps most in line with Christ in thought and teaching. Yet, they wondered why he did not sacrifice his food and fast? Why does he not sacrifice the entirety of his own bodily needs until all are satisfied, until God’s kingdom has in fact come, until all have their daily bread? Why did he not atone in this way? To them, he speaks to the ruin of feeding deep hunger without deep gladness. In a paraphrase of the words of journalist Jack Reed, you can’t sacrifice all of yourself all the time, because then you wouldn’t have a self to give. You destroy the chance for that which you hope. All too often we sacrifice deep gladness for the sake of deep hunger, rather than feeding the hunger out of gladness, out of that joy (not happiness!) which reinforces our our humanity, our dignity.
What does it mean to give up a meal? It means, too, to give up the fellowship of those with whom we break bread. It gives up the deep gladness of laboring in love together, the deep gladness of recognizing one another’s God-given dignity. No, Christ calls for mercy, even for those we’re out of step with, a mercy that means being together, and breaking bread born of love, and working from the harvest of deep gladness. Breaking bread does not mean sacrificing your dignity or another’s, even in the face of disagreement, but rather offering mercy that we may all begin to heal from God’s good harvest of unending dignity for available to each of us. It’s a merciful assurance that we all have the hunger, and we all have been given the gift of gladness through the meal. We’ve been gifted recognition as children of God, and the gratitude to proclaim it and illicit it in others, to then be yet more laborers in answer to God’s harvest call.
We simply need the will. Look who is invited to the table with Christ. We may come with tears, or laughter, with moral ambiguity or insistence, with hunger - but we all come together to recognize and reinforce the greatest truth - we are all deserving and recipients of God’s love, we are blessed with the deep gladness of dignity. From east and west we come, we come in mercy and healing - look, and be glad!