Monday, August 20, 2012
20th Sunday - homily
Put yourself in the scene of today's Gospel. Hopefully, you've been doing that the past two Sundays as we've been hearing John 6, the Bread of Life Discourse. We don't hear any other teaching on four consecutive Sundays like we do with the Bread of Life. Jesus teaches more on the Eucharist than any other teaching. Put yourself in this scene and keep in mind that there was a huge buzz about Jesus of Nazareth. You would have been among those who had witnessed his miracles and healings and heard his teachings with great authority. People were abuzz about who he was- the Prophet? The Messiah?
Then, he introduces a new teaching about bread. The more he talks about it, the more you hear people question, complain, grumble, and even get angry. He hears this and doesn't back down. In fact, he goes even deeper. "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink". The people respond by saying, "this is a hard teaching". And, they're right! And, then, they leave. They walk out on the Lord's discourse (like people walking out on a homily...I know what that's like). They leave the Messiah over this teaching.
One of the most critical parts in all of this - in the scene, in the teaching, in the modern discussion about whether the Eucharist is the actual flesh and blood of Christ or just a symbol - is what didn't happen. Jesus didn't stop them from leaving. He didn't say, "wait, wait, wait. You misunderstood me. I wasn't speaking literally. Come back in". He didn't say that because he was speaking literally. In this scene, he uses the word "bread" 11 times referring to himself, "flesh" 4 times, and "blood" 3 times. His word for "to eat" is translated as "to gnaw". He uses very literal, real, and physical language. He is speaking literally and they hear him speaking literally.
You see almost all of the big crowd leave except for a small group of his disciples. Jesus asks them, "are you leaving, too?" Peter's response is our way of life: "Lord, where will we go? You have the words of eternal life". So, who would you have joined: those who left or those who stayed? What’s the right and true response?
One of the themes in today’s readings is wisdom versus foolishness. Webster’s dictionary defines wise as “having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right”. Foolish is defined as “unwise”. Apply that to John 6. Who had the wise response? Who had the foolish response? Were the people who walked away and have walked away from the Eucharist in the past 2000 years wise? We’ve known some of them; they are family members or friends, maybe co-workers. They might not have left specifically because of the teaching, but they have left the Eucharist nonetheless. I would argue that St. Peter and the Apostles had the wise response. With the help of the Holy Spirit (and this is key in being wise), Peter discerned properly that what Jesus was teaching was true and right. He trusted that because Jesus says it, it’s true. He doesn’t understand it – I’ve always imagined Peter thinking, ‘I have no clue what you’re talking about, Lord’ – but believes it. The early Christians had the same wise approach. They took him at his word in John 6 that “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” and “my flesh is real food…my blood is real drink” and at the Last Supper that “this is my body…this is my blood” is true. The Church has continued the wise response ever since. The whole reason we believe in the Eucharist is four words: “this is my body”. He didn’t say ‘this represents my body’ or ‘this symbolizes my body’; but, “this is my body”.
The world’s response is that this is foolishness. I would say that the Eucharist is as foolish as the Resurrection or the Cross. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that the Cross is foolishness to the world. It is as foolish as the story of Jesus Christ in general! And yet, again from St. Paul, “the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man”.
Finally, the wisdom of the Eucharist is the wisdom of his life in general. Jesus lays out the wisdom of the Eucharist in several ways in today’s Gospel. First, the Eucharist brings eternal life. When we receive the Eucharist, we have a taste of Heaven! Second, we receive a share in the Resurrection: “I will raise him on the last day”. Third, we remain in him and him in us. Jesus wants to be so close to us that he wants to be in us. The intimacy with Christ that the Eucharist brings! Fourth, we “will have life”. The Lord makes it sound like a matter of life or death for our soul: “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”. Fifth, and again the wisdom of Christ’s mission in general, “whoever eats this bread will live forever”.