Much advertising today has to do with the health of our bodies. Bookstores are full of cookbooks; newspapers feature cooking pages. Together with these books is the abundance of books dealing with overeating and dieting. Cooking shows are many on television.
We must be concerned about our physical health, yet today’s scripture readings invite us to be similarly, but even more, concerned as to our spiritual health and well being. To that end, the praying community is reminded of the two types of food that are necessary for maintaining the life of faith and service to which we are called as Jesus’ disciples.
In today’s first reading, the author of Proverbs describes the spiritual food of wisdom. The psalmist reiterates her words of welcome by inviting all present to taste and see the goodness of the lord.
In the lengthy Bread of Life discourse of the fourth Gospel, the Johannine Jesus invites those whom he fed with loaves and fish to feed also upon his teaching, a sapiential food.
Besides the food of the Word of God, the wisdom teaching of Jesus, we are to be nourished by our celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion which feeds and strengthens us.
Verse 31 of chapter six is very important to understand the long discourse that follows. That verse reads, “He gave them bread from the heavens to eat.” Some scripture scholars have seen this discourse as a long sermon explaining verse 31.
In the course of the sermon Jesus makes several significant claims and these are followed by a variety of responses.
1) In verse 35 Jesus makes the claim: “I am the bread of life.” And in verse 38 he claims that he has come down from heaven. The response: We heard last Sunday that the “people began to complainabout Jesus.” v. 41
2) In verse 48 Jesus says clearly again, “I am the bread of life.” And in verse 51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” The response: “The people then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
3) In verse 53 (which we will read next Sunday) “So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” The response: Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it? And in verse 66: “Because of this many of his disciples turned back, and no longer went about with him. “
But the sermon ends on the GOOD NEWS note: Next Sunday we will hear: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” The number of people who do not know the joy of life is increasing. Pope Francis gave his major teaching the title, THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL. On the first page of this teaching he states: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. …the Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk.”
In verse 51, Jesus states the “bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” Usually we understand this to mean it is a clear reference to Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross. But increasingly I believe we need to understand it as a reference to the “life of Jesus.” In the Anglican Church’s adaptation of the the Our Father we pray “May we find the bread that we need for today..” The sacramental eating and drinking are, therefore, the participation in and acknowledgment and confession of the fact that the life of Jesus, remembered, and celebrated at each Eucharist, is “for the life of the world.”
Lest he be misunderstood, the Johannine Jesus affirms his point; verses 55-56 leave no doubt that he offers himself as food and drink in order that he and believers will forever thereafter abide together: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” This is not a-once-and-for-all act, to eat the flesh and drink the blood, but is an act reiterated throughout the life of the believer who by hearing the bread of Jesus’ word and eating the bread of his body is empowered to live out of this participation daily. Our deeds are to follow the example of Jesus.
In today’s first Reading Wisdom is giving an invitation. Her invitation is to “come eat of her food, forsake foolishness that you may live.” The meat and wine that she offers is insight and understanding It is hard to trust that the true Wisdom, God’s wisdom, is really life giving. We tend to prefer our own kind of wisdom that is generally concerned with conquest more than with sharing. We have a hard time conceiving of salvation other than in categories of victory. We must never forget that we owe our existence as Church not to a conqueror but to one who was vanquished, not to one who overcame but to one who was overcome.
In the first reading Wisdom gives the invitation to eat of the meat and wine of insight and understanding. In the Gospel Jesus too spreads a banquet before us. He offers us himself, his flesh (his life) for the life of the world. If we turn down his invitation, we would be more than fools. We would be rejecting life itself. Like the people in the Gospel we must decide whether it is riddle or revelation for us. Jesus never really answers the question of “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?” In some ways this seems to deflect us from facing the fact that Jesus’ life is a different way of living than was predominant in the culture of his time and is today different from the predominant culture of our time. Our Sunday ritual celebration invites us to deepen our union with Jesus so as to live in the manner that he did. Just receiving communion will not accomplish this. We have over emphasized receiving the “body and blood” of Jesus to the neglect of deepening our understanding of the teachings of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels.
WE (Like Peter) ARE IN PROCESS. WE ARE COMING TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE HOLY ONE OF GOD, WE ARE ONLY GRADUALLY LEARNING WHAT JESUS TAUGHT, AND HALTINGLY ATTEMPTING TO LIVE OUT WHAT JESUS LIVED.
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