Sunday Sermon for August 19, 2018, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Prov 9:1-6; Eph 5:15-20; Jn 6:51-58
In the Gospel reading today our Lord makes several statements that we either have to believe are true or we have to run as far and as quickly from Him as we can. People who want to call themselves Christian while ignoring or downplaying John 6 have placed themselves in an untenable situation because they profess Jesus as God, but reject a teaching that Jesus makes absolutely clear and unmistakable.
So, what are these statements? “I am the living bread that has come 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.” “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” “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.”
Our Lord makes even more jarring statements in this chapter, but these from today’s reading will suffice to make the point. Those who dismiss all these statements claim He is only speaking in symbolic terms. However, read these statements again; Jesus is speaking emphatically and unequivocally.
Beyond these statements, St. John refers to the Jewish people who were quarreling among themselves and wondering how Jesus could give them His Flesh to eat. Our Lord does not back down; rather He doubles down and tells them if they want true life they must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Even Jesus’ statement at the end of the reading today highlights what He is saying to the Jewish people. Their ancestors ate the Manna in the desert, but nearly all of them died in the desert and did not cross into the Promised Land. Our Lord is telling them He is the only way into Heaven, which is prefigured by the Promised Land, is by eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood.
The people who came out of Egypt would never have thought the Manna prefigured something infinitely greater, but God revealed it to the people through the Wisdom literature. As we hear in the first reading, Wisdom, a personification of God, dresses her meat and mixes her wine. She invites whoever is simple and lacks understanding to eat her food and drink her wine. The fact that this points beyond physical food and drink is made clear when such eating and drinking provide the means for people to forsake foolishness so they may live and advance in understanding.
It is interesting that St. Paul, in the second reading, calls upon us to live as wise persons and not as foolish persons. He tells us that because the days are evil, we have to make the most of our opportunity. What opportunity? To reject foolishness, which is the way of the world, and to embrace wisdom, which is the way of God. Since God’s ways are foolishness to those who are worldly, we have come, once again, to the necessity of making a decision.
If we are going to embrace the wisdom of God, we must not only reject the wisdom of the world, we must also embrace through faith what God has revealed. At the center of this revelation is Jesus Himself Who is the fullness of God’s self-revelation. The Eucharist is Jesus Himself: not a sign, not a symbol; it is the Lord!
To the worldly who believe only what they can grasp with the senses, believing that bread and wine become God is foolishness. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Jesus is asking for faith, not scientific proof.
The Eucharist is absolutely central to the revelation of God because the Eucharist is God. In the Eucharist Jesus is substantially present which means the entire Person of Jesus is present in each Host. He is not present physically, but sacramentally. If our Lord were physically present we would receive only a piece of Him when we receive Holy Communion, but because He is sacramentally present, we receive His entire Person, Body, Blood, soul, and divinity, every time we receive Communion.
This also means the Person of Jesus is present when we pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Even though we speak with our hearts, we are speaking to and with a Person. Our words and gestures are not empty; ours is a relationship which requires faith, hope, and love. So, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom is present among us. Forsake foolishness and believe what God has revealed.
Jesus is God Who can neither deceive nor be deceived. He is clear and the Church is clear. We have to choose either foolishness or wisdom. The Eucharist is the Wisdom of God which gives us eternal life – and God Himself.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.