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Aug 19, 2018

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Gospel JN 6:51-58

Jesus said to the crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”


Reflecting & Living God’s Words

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
(JN 6:51-58)



(Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58)

What do you think of when you hear the word "wisdom?" Does it evoke images of the East? Do you imagine a robed monk or nun sitting cross legged on a mountaintop with seekers climbing the steep paths to them? The devotees sit around their guru anxiously waiting for him/her to utter something profound and esoteric, understood only by the initiated. These few have learned secret knowledge from their teacher. Then there are the rest of us ordinary, everyday, hard-working folk with little time or resources to drop everything and go on a wisdom quest. From that perspective the achievement of wisdom seems reserved for the few.

Well, not for the Israelites. They would fit in the category named "the rest of us" – ordinary hard-pressed people with little time to ponder profound secrets. There are fields to be planted, sheep to lead to water and grapes to prune. For them, their sages gave practical knowledge about daily living applicable to each and all. That was how they and the Bible understood wisdom.

Proverbs depicts wisdom as a very active female figure. She has built her house, set her table and invites her guests to a special banquet. "Come, eat of my food and drink the wine I have mixed!" Like specially prepared food, Wisdom serves practical knowledge to her guests, teaching them to discern what is good. She guides them in right living.

Wisdom’s banquet and gifts are not reserved for a few elite; nor are they just for the community’s hierarchy. All are invited. (This classic passage gives prominence to women, no man is in the scene giving orders to the "housekeeper.") Servants have been sent out to the guests. She invites those who are "simple" to come to her feast; those eager to learn. The food she offers provides understanding for right living, she makes us "friends of God and prophets" (Wisdom 7: 27).

Last Sunday, our gospel passage (Jn 6: 41-51) focused on the first part of the Bread of Life Discourse. There Jesus is presented as the bread from heaven. He told his opponents that those drawn by God would be taught by God and then will come to Jesus. He compared the manna the Jews ate in the desert with himself, the living, life-giving bread. That part of the discourse ended with a Eucharistic theme as Jesus identified the bread from heaven as his flesh. Today the discourse continues with a more Eucharistic interpretation. Jesus says he is the bread from heaven and, "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

Jesus declares that his flesh is food and his blood drink for us. In his language "flesh and blood" represents the human being. Applied to Jesus the term has several meanings. It refers to his taking on flesh and blood in the Incarnation. It also stirs up images of the sacrificial animals slaughtered and eaten in the Temple. Thus, he is both a victim and our food and drink.

Previously the reference to the bread from heaven had to do with believing in Jesus, the one sent by God. Now, in today’s section from the discourse, eternal life comes to us by our feeding on Jesus. Those who "feed on me will have life because of me." Feeding on Jesus already gives us a share in eternal life and a promise of fullness of life when we will be raised from the dead on the last day. Jesus shares eternal life with his Father and we get to share in that life because we feed on the him, the bread of life.

In the Synoptic Gospels we read about the institution of the Eucharist. But in John the Eucharist and its effects are explained for us. From the two parts of the Bread of Life Discourse we can say that Christ is present and gives himself to us in a twofold way: in the Word we hear at our celebration and in his presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Our church continues this twofold structure of Word and Sacrament in our worship. It is the basic structure of our Mass.

Receiving the flesh and blood of Christ is not a magical rite. The discourse directs us to see the life Jesus gives us by both "believing" and "eating," i.e. a believing reception of the sacrament. For the Christian who receives the Eucharist Jesus remains in us and we remain in him. The bread and wine don’t last forever, but the life we receive in the meal is eternal.

In the beginning of the Bread Discourse (v.4) John told us that it was Passover. This stirs up memory as we connect the discourse with Jesus’ death, his Passover. He is our Passover meal and when we eat and drink at the table of the Lord we abide in the life and death of the Lord. We don’t demand "signs" as his opponents did. We have a sign enough for our faith in the broken bread and cup poured out for us.

As we heard in our first reading, Wisdom has spread a table of choice food and drink. She has invited the "simple" to dine. At Eucharist we have accepted the invitation. We come seeking a wisdom we don’t have for ourselves, but need for our daily living – a food that will give us life and "advance [us] in the way of understanding."

Eucharist is not a meal for a few and it is not just about our salvation. It is meant to empower all Christians to go into the world with the life of Christ we have received. What we celebrate here at table we are to put into practice. We ask for the gift of wisdom to know how to do that in our specific circumstances. The Eucharist unites us to Christ and, with him and the wisdom he gives us, we will find ways to feed the hungers of God’s people.

Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP