John chapter 21 verses 1-19
The renowned scientist Richard Leakey has spent many fruitful years studying that which distinguishes us from other primates. In the process, he has discarded some of the more popular theories such as the making and using of tools, the invention of speech and the tendency to wage war on oneís own species. His studies have led him to identify what he believes to be the foundational characteristic of the human species. In other words, that characteristic which, once developed, paved the way for our ancestors to realize their unique potential. That characteristic, that first stepping stone was, according to Leakey, the sharing of food.
Other animals share food but only primitive man had the potential, the intelligence, the motivation to go on from there. To go on to experience the need to share events, fears, joys, interests and concerns and, within the social context of the communal meal, to develop the rudiments of a spoken language. From this, of course, there emerged shared ideas and philosophies.
And so it seems that sharing food, not through blind instinct, but through choice, drew from within our forefathers and mothers the dormant creator-given potential to be fully human. If Doctor Leakey is right, we are apparently most authentically human when we join together in the social activity of dining; which activity is also the most important school for the young and formative minds of our children.
What an interesting back-drop against which to discuss family life as well as liturgical life.
It is particularly interesting to apply this theory to our understanding of the first 19 verses of chapter 21 of Johnís Gospel. I urge you to read it now before going any further.
Before Jesus died, He brought His Apostles together for a meal. He asked that in future He be remembered within this same context. After His Resurrection He invited them to share with Him yet another meal the clear purpose of which was to re-establish intimacy and harmony. It was only then that he turned to Peter who bore the cross of having denied Him three times. Jesus asked him the same question three times over. The anguish Peter suffered as Jesus relentlessly questioned him had the effect of cleansing and restoring the humbled and contrite leader of the Apostles. And when after each successive profession of love had gradually but finally restored his self-esteem and Peter had been handed the helm of the infant Church, his commission was not..."Take over and run a tight ship, do not compromise, make sure they pray, pay and obey!"...No, far from it! His commission was "Feed my people."
In other words: "Do all that you can, you and your followers who also profess to love me, all that you can do to insure that no one goes hungry. Hungry for truth and for love but also for food and for drink and the essential interaction associated with them."
This speaks to us about the Eucharist. It speaks to us about world hunger. It speaks to us about evangelization and religious education. But I think that Doctor Leakey and Jesus would agree that it also speaks to us about that incredibly important and lately overlooked formative expression of our humanity...the family dinner table.