Reflections on the Readings
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 19, 2012 - Year B
This is Jesus
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
This dialogue with Jesus begins on the heels of his feeding the five thousand with a miraculous supply of fish sandwiches. A little boy gave up his lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish so that Jesus could feed the crowds scattered over the hillside. Jesus took the loaves and fish and gave thanks and broke the bread and divided the fish for over five thousand to feast on. And after the distribution of the food the disciples picked up twelve basketful of leftovers!
Now the crowds are coming again and want their tummy fed. But Jesus talks to them about their real need. Sure he had fed them because he wanted them not to be famished and go home physically hungry. It had been a long day of teaching and answering questions. But the next day they thought he would do it again. Now, however, he explains that the food he gave only helps for a while. Even the manna in the wilderness desert, a miracle if there ever was one, could only help for a little while. And the next morning there would be more so that folks could have their daily bread. But Jesus goes further and tells them that neither the manna nor the fish sandwiches give what it is he really wants them to have.
The summation and goal of this life for some is to eat and drink and to make merry for tomorrow we die. Nothing else matters. So if you can get a free meal you better get it while the getting is good for you don't know if there will be any thing to eat later. At least that seems to be the approach of the crowds that followed Jesus. Jesus even said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves." They missed the signs. The most important thing that happened on that day was missed.
Have you ever been in that situation? I know I have. Someone's story or tragedy or illness or devastation went over your head and you missed the signs of a broken heart. And then there is that occasion when you missed the signs of some extraordinary thing that happened to your wife or child and you missed the joy of it all. Too busy perhaps. Maybe too tired. Both are lame excuses. Believe me. I've been there. But for these folks who ate till they were satisfied missed something even more important. What is it they missed? They missed the sign that Jesus wants to give them himself. He wants to meet their need to know God like they have never known him before. These are God's people, the people to whom the promises were made. God had made a covenant with this people that one day he would give them a new heart and a new spirit. And Jesus who gave them more to eat than what they could eat is standing before them offering himself so that they might have life and know God in a fulness that is immeasurable in mercy and love and grace.
That's what they missed.
As we pick up on this in today's Gospel Jesus is pressing the shocking truth home: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." Jesus is giving himself for the life of the world because his flesh and blood is the real food we need. This is Jesus saying to everyone how much he loves us. Jesus continues, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." That's the central truth Jesus is driving home to his listeners and to us today.
I don't think in all the years I grew up in Church I heard any of my pastors preach from the 'controversial' verses in the 6th chapter of John. I'm sure it's because of many reasons. The biggest reason they are difficult to deal with is because it's still as shocking to read it now as it must have been to hear Jesus say it for the first time. But it must be important. Jesus doesn't back down or rephrase it so that it becomes less shocking. He reveals his relationship with his Father as a living unity of love. Jesus lives and knows himself and what it is he will do for the world within the context of his life in the Father. And he invites his listeners into that holy communion but describes the way to it in a way that at first sounds crude. Jesus talks about eating his flesh using a word that describes the process of chewing and munching food. But Jesus is serious about our salvation. He wants us to live in the life he gives us in his sacrificial work on the cross and his victorious resurrection and ascension to the Father's right hand. It is this he gives us when we eat the true bread, not the manna that the fathers ate in the desert and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.
What's really happening when we go to Mass? Is it just another hour to breeze through before we go to 'eat, drink, and make merry?' Is Sunday a day we use to remember who we are in Christ and what it is he asks us to do in his name? The Lord's Day is a day of rest. Not just the rest you get sleeping on the sofa. There is another rest and it is this rest we need unless we are missing the sign and meaning that Sunday is. It is the day of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. On this day sometime before the first rays of sunshine broke over the mountains of Jerusalem, Jesus rose from the dead with healing in his wings. That's what Sunday and Holy Communion are all about. Basketball and football and baseball aside, Sunday is about Jesus and participating in his life in the Holy Supper.
Mass begins as we leave our homes and make our way to the Church. We dress up a little remembering we are going to sit together in heavenly places and eat at the table of the King. In the earliest years of the Church reverence and expectation accompanied those gathering to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. It is this same reverence and expectation we too can embrace. May we not miss the meaning of the signs we see on this holy day. It is not ordinary bread we see on the altar of sacrifice. No, no my friend, This Is Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to His supper.
Indeed, it is our joy and and our salvation. And we approach this sacred bread and wine in humility and pray, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." And he will give us more of his life and increase in us the work of his salvation. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com