16th August. 20th Sunday, Ordinary Time
1st Reading: Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom has built her house, with seven pillars.
Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn herself seven pillars. She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her servant girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, “You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
2nd Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 5:15-20
Make the most of each day, shaping our conduct according to the will of God..
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Gospel: John 6:51-58
Jesus says he himself is the living bread for believers.
Jesus said to them, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Invited to dine with Jesus
After people have moved into a new house or do some refurbishment on their home, they often have a little celebration in the house to which they invite people. Once the house is ready to their satisfaction they open it up to others and provide some refreshments. We often call it a house warmer. It is as if the house needs a good presence of other people to be properly launched. When you look at today’s first reading you find something similar happening. We have this woman by the name of Wisdom. She builds herself a house, clearly a very elegant house; it has no less than seven pillars. She then throws a feast of fine wine and good meat and sends out her maid servants into the streets to gather people to her table. In that reading the building of a house, the making of a feast, the invitation to come and eat and drink, is an imaginative way of speaking about God as the wise host who invites all of humanity to learn from his wisdom. It is interesting that God is portrayed as a woman in this reading, Woman-Wisdom.
That image of Woman-Wisdom who says, ‘Come and eat of my bread, drink the wine I have prepared’ finds an echo in the figure of Jesus in the gospel who declares, ‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.’ Like Woman-Wisdom Jesus invites us to come and eat of his bread, but unlike Woman-Wisdom he declares himself to be that bread. We are to eat of him, to drink of him. More specifically he calls on us to eat his flesh and to drink his blood. This goes far beyond anything Woman-Wisdom calls for in that first reading. Jesus’ language of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is shocking in many respects. We can sympathize with those who object, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ We cannot hear this language without thinking of the words of Jesus to his disciples at the last supper when, taking bread, blessing it and breaking it, he gave it to them saying, ‘Take, eat, this is my body’, and taking and blessing a cup of wine he gave it to them, saying, ‘Take, drink, this is the new covenant in my blood.’ He gave himself to his disciples, his body and blood, under the form of bread and wine. The last supper became the first Eucharist. We cannot but hear the language of the Eucharist in this morning’s gospel, the Eucharist which we are now celebrating together.
We invite people to our home and we place food and drink before them and we invite them to eat and drink. Jesus invites us to his table and he puts himself before us as food and drink and invites us to eat and drink. In language that is very daring Jesus declares himself to be our food and drink, the one who can satisfy our deepest hungers and thirsts, our hunger and thirst for life. Jesus declares in that gospel, ‘anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.’ We come to the Eucharist to draw life from the risen Lord to draw God’s life from him, God’s love. We are then sent from the Eucharist to be channels of that life, of that love, for each other. We come to the Eucharist hungering and thirsting for life, for authentic life, the life of God, the love of God, and we are sent out from the Eucharist as life givers, as agents of God’s life and love within our homes, our society, our world.
His Presence Among Us
Jesus is living food for us, sent from the Father in heaven. Unlike ordinary food, which just sustains life, this food gives a life that is eternal.From the burning bush to the gentle breeze, God has made his presence known among us since the beginning of time. Being among us as food for body and spirit is a significant way of being present. Christ’s eucharistic presence is in bread and wine, among the commonest elements of food and drink in his day. The Lord is present among us through everyday things.
Bread comes from a process that begins with seeds of wheat mixed with water. These are brought together as dough and, after several stages of development, they end up as a unity which we call bread. Wine begins as a cluster of grapes which, when they are processed, they end up as what we call wine. A group of people gather together for prayer, each of them unique. After a process which is the work of God’s Spirit, they become a unity, which we call church, or the Body of Christ. In communion, the (community) Body of Christ is being nourished by the (sacramental) Body of Christ.
If someone invited you all to gather around me, as close as you can, because he was going to whisper to you, something else would take place that might surprise you. You’d notice that the closer you come to me the closer you’d be to each other. If you gathered closely around one person, you would be touching shoulders with each other. That is how community or the Body of Christ is formed. It is a question of bringing people closer to the Lord and, as a direct result of that, they end up being closer to each other.
Throughout history, God has spoken to his people in surprising ways. He spoke to Elijah through the gentle breeze, and he spoke to Moses in the burning bush. The natives of Bethlehem weren’t too excited that a new baby had been born and, later on, Herod would mock Jesus as a fool, and the soldiers would jeer him as a king. After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener, Peter thought he was a ghost, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus thought he was a stranger passing through. That he should present himself in so simple a form as food and drink is just what we might expect from “The God of Surprises.”