It goes without saying that one must have some basic knowledge and understanding of the Last Supper if one is going to begin to appreciate the meaning of the Eucharist. It is there, after all, that Jesus blessed bread and wine, gave it to his friends, saying that this was his body and blood given for them, and that when they repeated this ritual meal in the future, they should do it in his memory. But scriptures tell us that the other meals of Jesus can add important dimensions of meaning to the Eucharist as well. After all, it seems that every time we hear of Jesus eating a meal with someone, transformation happens. People’s lives are changed. During these meals, Jesus manifests his mission, his power, and his glory.
There are the times that Jesus is invited to meals. He seemed most willing to accept the invitations of friends, of officials and of the poor. Invited to the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus shows us a bit of the mystery of his personality, and we have recorded in that story the first of Jesus’ signs that he is the awaited One. On another occasion Jesus is invited to Matthew’s home. Here transformation happens as Jesus himself takes on the role of the host, welcoming into his embrace Matthew the tax collector and anyone else like him who is pushed to the margins of society.
The table of Simon the Pharisee becomes the place of forgiveness and reconciliation, as there a public sinner sheds tears of repentance, and other table participants must take regard of their own consciences. At the home of Martha and Mary we learn how important it is to hear Jesus, as we are busy about so many other things. And there is the meal in a Pharisee’s home on the sabbath when Jesus heals a man, revealing perhaps that one should not sit at a plentiful table without concern for those who are poor and inflicted.
The list of the meals Jesus shared with others must include the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Here Jesus is seen as the one who recognizes the hungers of people, and who therefore nourishes those hungers. This meal setting unquestionably suggests the mystery of the Eucharist. Indeed John, in his gospel, follows the account of the miracle with Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life - a kind of theological explanation of the meaning of the multiplication.
Finally there are the meals Jesus shares with people after his resurrection, when the disciples are still hesitant in their faith. These shared meals are meant to convince the disciples that Jesus is indeed risen. So the two disciples who walked with him on the road to Emmaus recognize him in the breaking of the bread (one of the most ancient names for the Mass). Later, “while they were at table” he reproaches the Eleven for their unbelief. He then would invite the belief of other disciples by inviting them to breakfast on the beach.
One thing is common to all the meals of Jesus that are recorded for us in the scriptures. Jesus is seen as the one who recognizes our hungers - not our hunger for ordinary food, but hunger for belonging, for light and healing, for justice, for forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus, the one who identifies himself as the Bread of Life, is the one who nourishes our deepest hungers.