|Posted by cfcbermuda on August 18, 2009 at 6:08 PM|
Twentieth Sunday – B (Prov 9:1-6; Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Eph 5:15-20;
In October 1972, a charter flight from Uruguay was crossing the Andes
Mountains to Chile. It never reached its destination. All forty
passengers on board were presumed dead. But 72 days later, 16 emerged
alive to tell how they had survived on the snowcapped slope where their
plane had crashed. For food, they had eaten the flesh of the passengers
who had died in the crash. And especially for this fact, the world was
stunned to learn their story.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ listeners are likewise stunned to learn the
incredible promise that He makes: One day He will give a special bread
for them to eat, a bread that in reality will be His own flesh. Is it
any wonder that they object, “How can this man give us his flesh to
eat?” Certainly, Jesus’ assertion demands some kind of explanation.
Jesus’ discourse in today’s Gospel passage is enlightened by its
proper context of John, chapter six. As we can still remember from a
couple of Sundays ago, the chapter begins with Jesus feeding the crowd
of 5,000 by multiplying five small loaves of bread. Normally, bread
results from a long and tedious process—beginning with spring planting
and ending in an oven. But Jesus’ simple blessing dispenses with both
time and effort. His action is a resounding declaration: “I can suspend
the laws of nature for BREAD!”
Later that night, while the disciples are struggling to steer their
boat on the storm-swept sea, Jesus comes walking towards them on the
surface of the water. This is the strangest of all the Gospel miracles.
To walk on water seems to smack of what occurs in pagan myths. What’s
the point? A most important one, actually: The law of gravity mandates
that weighty objects seek their rest at the lowest possible level. By
preventing His body from sinking, Jesus was implicitly declaring: “I
can suspend the laws of nature for my BODY.”
The next day, some of the crowd that had been fed came to Jesus on
the other side of the lake in order to make him their “bread king.”
Jesus used the occasion to promise that someday He would give a special
BREAD that would be His own BODY (Jn. 6:51).
In short, when Jesus fed those hungry thousands with only five small
loaves, He proved, “I can do what I want with bread.” By walking on the
water, He confirmed, “I can do what I want with my body.” That
afternoon, He drew the logical conclusion: “Someday, I will give a
special bread that in reality is my body.”
When did Jesus fulfill the awesome promise He made that afternoon? At
the Last Supper, when He blessed the bread and wine saying: “Take, eat.
This is my body. . . .Take, drink. This is the cup of my blood.”
For almost 2,000 years the Church has firmly taught that whenever the
priest at Mass does what Jesus did at the Last Supper, the bread and
wine are changed in substance to the Lord’s true flesh and blood, even
though the accidentals (that is, appearance or properties) of the bread
and wine remain. Does this seem incredible? Perhaps an illustration
might shed some light on this marvel.
You grasp an iron bar. How do you know that it’s iron? From its
weight, its color, and its hardness. But in outer space, the bar
becomes weightless, and in a blast furnace it becomes a red-hot liquid.
Is it still iron? Yes, of course, for its substance remains the same.
Only the accidentals (weight, color, hardness) have changed.
In the blast furnace of God’s love at Mass, the reverse of this takes
place. The accidentals of the bread and wine stay the same; the
substance changes into the Lord’s own body and blood. This marvelous
change the Church calls transubstantiation.
Ever since that afternoon of the promise at Capernaum, many have
refused to take Jesus at His word. Some have said that the Eucharist
only represents Him. However, if Jesus had meant a mere symbolic eating
of His flesh, why did He allow His listeners to take Him so literally?
Indeed, elsewhere in John’s Gospel, whenever Jesus’ listeners had
understood Him incorrectly, the misunderstanding was corrected at
For example, in John chapter 2, Jesus told the chief priests—who were
standing in the Temple courtyard—“Destroy this temple and in three days
I will raise it up.” The chief priests thought He meant the temple of
stone. So the Evangelist added the clarification that Jesus was
referring to the temple of His risen body. In the next chapter, when
Nicodemus concluded that Jesus had in mind a physical rebirth (“Surely,
a grown man cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born”),
Jesus pointed out that He had meant a spiritual rebirth. And in the
eleventh chapter, when the disciples thought that Jesus wanted to
awaken Lazarus from natural slumber, He had to specify that He had
meant the sleep of death.
However, when His listeners at Capernaum objected, “How can this man
give us his flesh to eat?” far from correcting any misunderstanding,
Jesus went on to reinforce His statement by adding that they had to
drink His blood as well—something utterly abhorrent to a devout Jew!
When they refused to accept this “intolerable teaching,” Jesus
allowed them to walk off and leave Him. He did not call them back so
that He might restate His message to make it more palatable, by
rationalizing. No, He turned to the Twelve and asked, “Do you want to
leave me, too?” Why was Jesus prepared to risk so much—even the loss of
His chosen twelve? The only possible answer is that the presence He
spoke of was not symbolic but real.
Recent surveys indicate that many Catholics are entertaining serious
doubts about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. However, a
serious examination of the sixth chapter of John leaves no room for
doubt that Jesus is really, truly, and substantially present in the
Eucharist—the Sacrament of His Love and Life.
So much does Jesus love us that He conceals himself under what looks
like bread in order to ravish us in the love embrace of Holy Communion!
To receive Jesus’ Body and Blood is to receive his very life. Indeed,
to the quarrels of Jews Jesus replies reiterating and insistently
repeating in today’s Gospel: “I am the living bread… whoever eats this
bread will live forever… my flesh is for the life of the world… unless
you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink from his blood, you do
not have life within you… whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Lots of repetition to help us to understand something very basic: to
share this Eucharistic meal is to share in the life of Jesus.
Therefore, in comparison to what was stated in the Gospel reading of
last Sunday, in today’s Gospel Jesus goes one step further in teaching
on eternal life. He implies that besides the necessity of believing in
him, Eternal life comes actually from feeding on Him. Those who share
in the Eucharist are not believers who merely hope to enjoy eternal
life in the future, but instead, they already posses it.
My brothers and sisters, for us, the current hearers of Jesus and his
companions at the Eucharistic table, should be no doubt that being fed
by his real body and blood we will live forever. Amen!