Aug 18, 2012

20th Sunday: True Words

"My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink"

Proverbs 9: 1-6
Eph 5: 15-20
Jn 6: 51-58
I think most of us, more likely all of us, are tired of hearing bad news.  In this election year the ping pong volley of positions and statements makes us want to just say, “All right already!  Let’s just get this over with. That’s enough with the mudslinging and gossip.”

Certainly the mountain of press that was spent on the Catholic Church and the whole tarnished image of sexual scandal in the priesthood bring us to make the same cry.  Scandal caused by irresponsible behavior or words touch us deeply with disgust and disappointment.  But, there is another kind of scandal that challenges us as well, albeit in a different way.

That scandal may be referred to as the scandal of truth. The scandal of straight talk which brings a particular issue into the light of day; it forces us to make a choice about our own thinking and behavior.  Such we may apply to Jesus himself for it is clear from the Scriptures that he indeed confronted with the truth and meant what he said. What he said was sometimes subtle like many of the parables but at times it was a kind of frying pan over the head. 

This Sunday we’ve been given a good knock on the head: “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 . . .” In the original Greek, John emphasizes the literal meaning of Jesus' word eat the flesh.  John relates that Jesus stressed to gnaw the flesh or chew the flesh, as in the act of tearing a piece of meat apart with our teeth as we eat.  Cannibalism?  This was an accusation flung at the early Christians by the pagan world in regards to their Eucharistic assemblies.

To the sensibilities of the early Jews such a literal picture was repulsive, as it surely is to us as well.  While Jesus obviously does not mean to eat human flesh, let alone his, he must mean something else.  With the eyes of faith and an open heart we come to understand the meaning of this scandalous teaching.  

The scandal of these words was not only its literal imagery but even more so the challenge to the status quo that it brought to Jesus’ audience and to us. Jesus’ emphasis on chewing his body and drinking his blood is a clear reference for the early Christians to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  At those assemblies, the Christians found a fellowship among themselves and an encounter with the living Christ which created their sense of community.  They knew that Christ was truly present among them under the signs of bread and wine and that in feasting on those species, they shared in the life of the risen Lord. It was truly living bread.

This challenged the status quo of public worship which placed the emphasis on the sacred Word or Torah revered at synagogue services by the early Jews of the time. So, is it a meal or the precepts of the sacred Torah that unite us to God?

The first reading from the book of Proverbs says: “. . . She has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table . . . come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed . . . that you may advance in the way of understanding.”  It sounds like there is something very special about this food we share at the meal we celebrate.

Not only are we wise to eat at this meal, as the book of Proverbs remind us, but in doing so we create a relationship between ourselves and the one who has provided the meal for us – between us and the risen Savior. What our early Christian brothers and sisters believed, so do we today.   

The unique character of this meal is that it is unlike any other type of food.  While we are certainly guided by the Law of God as we read in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, we are a people of relationship and encounter.  In the Eucharistic gathering we encounter the living Christ in his “living bread” and we find ourselves in a spiritual relationship of brother and sisterhood with those who share in this living bread.  For us Catholic - Christians, this meal is the primary place we come to feast.  That is our identity. The Word of God feeds us and we are fed with Christ himself who is food for our journey to eternal life.

The scandal here is the literal truth that what Christ alone provides is more than what we could ever be given by technology, science, medicine, or any other person.  The wonders of science, technology and medicine are indeed true accomplishments to be celebrated. Yet, we are confronted and confused often by the promises that are made by leaders, television advertisements, new medical treatments, and the like that promises far more than they are able to deliver.  Marketing can be seductive.  “Read the fine print” before you buy. 

Only the words of Jesus can be ultimately counted upon.  Only Christ does indeed deliver what he promises.  If our Lord says he is the living bread – he is.  If he says that “unless you eat (chew) the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life,” we don’t.  If he states, “he who feeds on me will have life because of me,” we will.

This is the meaning of true that Jesus speaks of.  The scandal is its truth which confronts our very lives and the way in which we choose to embrace what we profess. The scandal of Jesus’ words still rings true today and confronts all the naysayers which dismiss any relevance of the Christian message or of Christ himself or of Christians. 

What or who is my bread of life?  Where do I go to be fed?