WISDOM 7:7-11 HEBREWS 4:12-13 MARK 10:17-40
In the Gospel passage today, Jesus and his closest disciples were about to set out on a missionary journey. Suddenly, a man ran straight up to him, threw himself on his knees and blurted out, “Good teacher, what must I do to attain eternal life?” No Hello Rabbi. No excuse me. Just right to what was on his mind. This man was overly-exuberant, even verging on the rudeness that sometimes clings to people of privilege. Was he expecting a quick and easy answer to a question as deep as the meaning of life?
Jesus, taken aback by the man, immediately clipped his enthusiasm. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” He then gave the man a quick answer to his question: “Follow the commandments.” He even went on to enumerate some of them. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t bear false witness. Don’t defraud. Honor your father and your mother. All but one of these were simple don’ts. The man proudly announced that he had “kept” those commandments from his youth. Then something interesting happened. We’re told that Jesus “looked at him.”
The verb, “to look at,” is used a number of times in the New Testament. This particular Greek word doesn’t refer to seeing. It has to do with perceiving – looking into the soul of a person. Looking at him, Jesus understood him, his motivations, his desires.
So far, life had been easy for this man but he wanted something more. He wanted eternal life. He thought Jesus could give him a simple formula to possess it.
Looking at him, Jesus perceived the roadblock that this man had come up against in his quest. It was his wealth and privilege. This man’s path to eternal life would be painful and challenging.
Lovingly, Jesus gave him the answer to his question. “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven: then come, follow me.”
The man heard what Jesus told him, but sadly wasn’t able to take that step. “He had many possessions.” He turned away from Jesus and returned, crestfallen, to his familiar life.
Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples an important lesson. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” This statement is as shocking to us as it was to those disciples. They threw their hands up in the air. “Then who can be saved?” The answer was simple – those who trust enough to offer themselves completely to God. “For human beings it is impossible but not for God.”
There’s nothing wrong with wealth. But, many times, wealth is marred by an attitude of privilege and self-absorption. Jesus’ parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man addressed the spiritual danger that can come with wealth. The rich man was so consumed with his own self-gratification that he never noticed the starving beggar languishing just outside his dining room window. Wealth and privilege can isolate a person from the totality of God’s world – a world of comfort and power and struggle and suffering and powerlessness.
Jesus showed the rich man the path to eternal life but it wasn’t the glory road the man expected. It was the road shared by the poor and suffering. It was the road of painful awareness of the world. It was the world where sacrificial love was the highway to eternal life.
GENESIS 2:18-24 HEBREWS 2:9-11 MARK 10:2-16
Divorce is a problem. It was a problem in Jesus’ day, and it’s a problem today. When the Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful for a husband to divorce his wife he answered their question with another question. “What did Moses command you?” In other words, what does the law say? They answered by referring to a law in the book of Deuteronomy. “When a man, after marrying a woman and having relations with her, is later displeased with her because he finds in her something indecent,” he may write out a bill of divorce and hand it to her.
There are a number of things we need to look at before we look at Jesus’ response to them. First, a woman had no say in the bill of divorce because she had no legal rights. The only case when a woman could divorce her husband was if she could prove that he had committed adultery. Second, if a man was displeased with something that was “indecent” about his wife he could simply write out a bill of divorce, hand it to her, and dismiss her from his home. She was left penniless and abandoned.
At the time, there were two schools of thought about the definition of the word “indecent.” One said that it was to be interpreted solely as adultery. The other left the definition of “indecent” to the discretion of the husband. It could be chronic illness. It could be poor housekeeping. It could be the loss of physical beauty. It could be anything.
Jesus trumped their reference to Deuteronomy by quoting a more ancient text from the Book of Genesis. “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined no human must divide.” He went on to say, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
In a way, things are in the same state as they were in Jesus’ day. We still have two schools of thought. The Roman Church, focusing on “what God has joined no human must divide,” doesn’t allow divorce. Even adultery isn’t automatic grounds for divorce. But…highly influenced by Roman law, it sidesteps allowing divorce by applying a different approach; it permits the annulment of the marriage covenant.
People requesting an annulment must prove that there was a fatal flaw in one or both of the parties that existed before the marriage. This flaw would eventually surface causing the breakdown of the relationship. One example would be if one of the parties, for some reason, felt forced into the marriage the validity of the covenant would be in question. Premarital pregnancy would certainly question the couple’s freedom to marry. Immaturity at the time of the marriage could be another reason to annul the covenant.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches, on the other hand, didn’t take the legal path the Western Church did. They allow divorce. They, too, quote Genesis, but interpret it differently. They chose a spiritual approach to marriage. Should a marriage not work out, it means that God had not “joined” the couple.
This brings me back to the first sentence in this reflection. Divorce was a problem and is still a problem. One out of two American marriages will succeed. About two out of three Catholic marriages will succeed. We’re doing better than the national average. In addition to the pain of a relational break-up, there’s additional suffering felt when Catholics the community divorce.
Men and women who are divorced and remarried without an annulment are barred from receiving the Eucharist. They may attend the Eucharistic celebration but are not permitted to partake in the Communion. (Please take note that Catholics who are divorced but NOT remarried are free to receive Communion.)
Where do we go will all of this? Jesus’ altercation with the Pharisees only goes so far, I think. His answer stayed within their legal milieu. If we look at his interactions with ordinary individuals, however, we see that he took a heartfelt approach, not a legal one. I immediately think of the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the town well.
In the course of their conversation he told her to go home, and to bring her husband back with her. She told him that she had no husband. He told her that that was true; she had had five husbands and the man she was with now wasn’t her husband. He didn’t preach to her. He certainly didn’t condemn her. He simply recognized her life. She had already been ostracized by the townsfolk because of her history. He gently acknowledged her present situation without any judgment. This changed her life. She ran back to the town and announced to everyone that she had met the Messiah. She converted the entire town to Jesus!
I’ve been a pastor for thirty-one years. I’ve witnessed hundreds of marriages. Many are still intact and life-giving. Many have broken apart. I know many divorced and remarried couples, as, I’m sure, you do also. I know many people who have gotten annulments and feel fully engaged in the Church. Sadly, I also know many men and women who are divorced and remarried and don’t join me at the communion table. This breaks my heart. I feel that, somehow, our Eucharist is incomplete without them.
I want so much to conclude this reflection with words of hope that the situation with divorced Catholics will change. Some change has been taking place in the annulment process making the process faster and less painful. Some couples have told me that they experienced a degree of healing by going through the process. That’s good. I’m happy for them. In general, though, divorced Catholics whose marriages haven’t been annulled bear the cross of judgment and separation. At the Last Supper Jesus prayed “That they all may be one.” Please pray that prayer with me today. May the Lord, heal our community. May we all, married, divorced, single, truly be one in faith and love. May we all accept each other with the love that Jesus modeled for us. May we join together as one body at the table of the Lord.
NUMBERS 11:25-29 JAMES 5:1-6 MARK 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
In the first part of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus addresses an incident that involved the apostle John castigating an exorcist who was using the name of Jesus to dispel a demon. John told him that he had to be a part of Jesus’ company in order to use his name. What was going on here?
In Jesus’ day, people believed that malevolent spirits were everywhere. Note Psalm 91:7. “You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrows that fly by day, nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come.” The thousands and ten thousand refer to demonic spirits wandering throughout the night in search of vulnerable people upon whom they could inflict pestilence and plague.
Illness, especially mental illness and epilepsy, was perceived as demonic possession. Part of the work of the exorcist was to align himself with a spirit more powerful than the spirit possessing the person. He would invoke the stronger spirit by name using its superior power to free the person from the grip of that particular demon.
Recall the incident from Matthew 12:22. “They brought him a demonic who was blind and mute. He cured the mute person so that he could speak and see. All the crowd was astounded and said, ‘Could this perhaps be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard this they said, ‘This man drives out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.’” Jesus must have exhibited tremendous power for the Pharisees to accuse him of aligning himself with the most powerful of all demons, Beelzebul.
As Christianity evolved, this “practice” of invoking a superior power to liberate a person from possession by a demon took the form of invoking the name of Jesus to cure a person from “illness” or possession. This incident from the Acts 3:26 is a good example. “A man crippled from birth was carried and placed at the gate of the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.’ Then Peter took him by the hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles became strong.”
Let’s get back to today’s gospel passage. Jesus listened to John’s report of the confrontation he had with the exorcist who was using Jesus’ name to perform the exorcism. His response was simple. “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can, at the same time, speak ill of me.” But his response reached beyond this particular incident. There are other “mighty deeds” that people can, and will, perform in the name of Christ. “Anyone who gives you a cup of water because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
This response is so very interesting. The “mighty deeds” that can be performed in the name of Christ are exorcism, curing illnesses and…..charity. Jesus is teaching two things here, and both are important. Reaching out to people who are suffering in any way – even simply giving a cup a water to someone who is thirsty – can become a powerful event when connected to Christ because Christ can, and will, work through us. So, we call on the power of Christ to heal. We call on the power of Christ to liberate a person’s spirit. We can also call on the power of Christ to address the needs of suffering humanity. This is a challenge for us.
We might believe in faith healing. We might believe in exorcism. But it’s often difficult for us to believe that Christ’s power, working through you and me, can heal a society, or end starvation, or eradicate poverty? We tend to invoke the power of Christ to heal individuals of illness but shy away from calling on that same power to heal toxic governments or oppressive societal systems.
It’s something for us to think about. It’s something we can integrate into our personal prayer.
WISDOM 2:12,17-20 JAMES 3:16-4:3 MARK 9:30-37
In today’s short passage from Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus introducing the Paschal Mystery to his disciples by prophesying his death and resurrection. We’re told “they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.” Were they really afraid of questioning Jesus? Or were they afraid of what this saying might mean for them? They weren’t touching this. It was best to remain silent.
So, unwilling to let this important moment go by unaddressed, Jesus asked them a seemingly unrelated question. “What were you arguing about on the way?” Again, the disciples remained silent. They were like children caught doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing. This was very revealing.
At the beginning of this chapter Jesus was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James and John. They saw his glory in a blaze of light, and in the light, they saw him conversing with Moses and Elijah. Luke’s Gospel tells us that they were discussing Jesus’ coming departure, his death, his Passover. The disciples focused on the glory they saw. They ignored the road to that glory that Jesus was discussing with Moses and Elijah. And they weren’t even focusing on his glory, but on the glory that could be
theirs as his special disciples. They were looking for golden crowns, not crowns of thorns. They needed another teaching. “Then he sat down and called the Twelve.”
He showed them the road to glory. It would take them a long time to digest the power of the simple statement he shared with them.
Take off the polished shoes of privilege. Barefoot, like a slave, become “the servant of all.” Don’t work for a place with the powerful. Embrace the powerless, the childlike. Follow the example of the children. Let them guide you to the glory road. Once on that road don’t falter. Keep walking, even when you see a cross.
Lord, your teaching seemed clear enough to me.
“Unless you turn and become like little children,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
I only understood part of your teaching.
I never thought it involved the cross.
Lord, increase my faith.
ISAIAH 50:5-9A JAMES 2:14-18 MARK 8:27-35
We witness quite a scene as we observe Jesus and his disciples journeying to Caesarea Philippi. As the group walks along Jesus throws out a question to them: “Who do people say that I am?”
The answers that came back were quite interesting. Someone said that people thought that Jesus might be John the Baptist returned from the dead. Another reported that Jesus might be the prophet Elijah returning to give witness to the arrival of the Messianic time. These comments attested to the fact that Jesus was well-respected. People felt he was sent by God but weren’t yet convinced that he was the Messiah.
In the course of the interchange Peter chimed in with a clear and strong proclamation: “You are the Christ!” But almost immediately it became clear that Peter’s understanding of the role of the Christ was very different from Jesus’. Peter held the Jewish understanding that the Messiah would be a strong, charismatic figure who would conquer Israel’s enemies and inaugurate a golden age for Israel.
Jesus, impressed by Peter’s response, went on to reveal to the group what fate awaited the Christ. “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise in three days.”
Peter didn’t take this bit of information very well. He pulled Jesus aside to reprimand him for saying such things. Jesus wouldn’t let Pe-
ter’s comment go unaddressed. He called the attention of everyone around him. He must have left the group in a state of shock when he formally announced, “Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
Well, so much for the advent of the Golden Age! Jesus even called Peter a tempter, a satan, for bucking God’s plan for the Christ, and asked him to get back in step with him and his mission. “Get behind me, satan!”
So, we observe this pivotal moment in Jesus’ life, the life of his disciples and all who will come after them. The Messianic time arrived with the appearance of Jesus but it exists in a way that no one could have imagined. It isn’t a time of power and glory for the chosen few. Rather, it’s an on-going radical invitation to every human being to commit themselves to a life of dedication to others. Jesus’ life will forever stand as the example of this new way of living. It’s living the paschal mystery, the mystery of personal death and resurrection. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
We can end this reflection by asking ourselves some very serious questions. How do I live a life focused on others, not myself? Do I recognize in my self-giving the spark of the Messianic time? Finally, what do I mean when I pray, “Thy Kingdome come?”
ISAIAH 35:4-7A JAMES 2:1-5 MARK 7:31-37
We begin our reflection with the prophet Isaiah’s description of the messianic time. He makes this prophecy in the form of a poetic canticle, directing it to “those whose hearts are frightened.” He assures them that God’s divine recompense will save them. He then paints a verbal picture of the new world God will create for them – the Messianic time. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
This poetic style, the canticle, is used several times in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. It jumps from a particularly powerful moment in the present to an even greater vision of the new world to come. In Luke’s Gospel, Mary breaks into similar poetry. When she visits Elizabeth, she proclaims to her that the Almighty “has shown the strength of his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” She’s describing the time when justice for the poor will triumph – the Messianic time.
In today’s Gospel passage from Mark, the poetic language of the canticle is replaced by a real moment in the Messianic time. Jesus is asked to cure a deaf man with a speech impediment. This cure more than mirrors Isaiah’s prophecy: “the ears of the deaf (will) be cleared…then the tongue of the mute will sing.” It’s a proclamation of the the arrival of the Messianic time in the person of Jesus. Mark notes the reaction of the people. “They were exceedingly astonished and they said, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the
mute speak.’” This comment reminds us of the story of the creation when, after each day of creating, God said, “And it was good.” In this short passage, Mark is announcing that Jesus is the Messiah, and that the first moments of a new world have dawned.
These Messianic passages often leave us somewhat frustrated. It almost seems that the sacred writers are teasing us. They get us to look to a perfect and beautiful world. And sometimes, as Mark does to us today, tell us that the new world, the Messianic time, has already begun!
This passage reveals a tension that we Christians live with. Week after week, we reflect on Jesus’ healing, miracles and teachings. Each week, in one way or another, we hear Jesus say, “The kingdom of God is here.” Yet, each week we witness just the opposite: violence, injustice, greed, persecution, intolerance in our country and throughout the world. This tension between hope and a suffering human family is an important component of our vocation as Christians. We live with the pain we feel for others while never giving up hope.
Those who are suffering may give up hope, so it’s imperative that we carry it for them. We keep our eyes fixed on the new world, the kingdom of God. But as we do so, we feel their pain all the more. We mustn’t be surprised by this. When we carry the burden of hope for those who are hopeless, their suffering comes to life within us. This is our vocation, to carry the burden of hope. We look at Jesus, crucified and powerless. We listen to him promise paradise to the man crucified with him, and we believe, with the deepest conviction, that the kingdom of God is at hand.
DEUTERONOMY 4:1-2,6-8 JAMES 1:1-8, 21B-22 MARK 7:1-8, 14-15
The readings today are about commandments. The passage from Deuteronomy is a simple plea. Moses is giving his last instruction before the people pass over into the Promised Land. He reminds them of the commandments God gave them and encourages them to follow them closely. “You shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” These commandments are to become the legal foundation of a new nation. They can be found in the book of Exodus, chapters 20 thru 24. In scope, these commandments extend way beyond the traditional ten. If you read these chapters you’ll see that they can clearly stand as a nation’s constitution, as its foundation for law and order. These laws united and transformed the twelve tribes. As Moses notes in his concluding remark, “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”
Our second reading, from the letter of James, reflects on the gift God has planted in our hearts. This is referring to the law. James exhorts his readers to not merely pay lip service to the law, but to move from the dictates of the law to positive action towards the needy. He enjoins the reader “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” In other words, these laws, placed in our hearts, are meant to make the world a better place.
In the gospel passage Jesus addresses the corrupting of the law. The Pharisees and some scribes have been closely monitoring Jesus and his disciples. “They observed that some of his disciples, ate their meals with unclean, that is unwashed hands.” When they pounced on this infraction of the law, Jesus’ response was swift and unequivocal.“Well did Isaiah prophecy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from
me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’”
This was a slap in the face of the religious leaders. They had placed the law under a microscope and identified every possible nuance of every law. Washing ones’ hands before eating is a matter of simple hygiene. The Pharisees made it a religious obligation. Ignoring this obligation was a sin in their eyes!
Jesus then moved his focus from the Pharisees and scribes. He declared to the crowd that nothing they ate or touched could make them unclean; only an unclean heart could make a person unclean. He then enumerated what hearts can spawn that makes people unclean to the world around them: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, licentiousness, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly.”
What can we learn from this scene? Jesus is teaching us to avoid interpreting divinely given commandments in a negative way – don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t be unchaste. He is inviting his disciples to stress the positive aspects of the commandments – be generous to the poor, help make the lives of others better, respect the body, yours and others, be positive and productive in your relationships, personal and business, try to build a solid and loving relationship with God.
Here’s some homework for you. Read chapters 20 thru 26 Exodus, Moses giving the commandments. Then read chapters 5 thru 7 in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus giving the beatitudes. A span of a thousand years of religious evolution separates these two documents. Can you see the evolution? Do you understand Jesus’ mission better by comparing the two? I’ll conclude with one additional thought that you might find helpful for your reflection. Moses was preparing the people to enter the Promised Land. Jesus was preparing the people for the Kingdom of God.
JOSHUA 21:1-2A, 15-17 EPHESIANS 5:21-32 JOHN 6:60-69
We’ve been reading sections of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel since July 25th. We paused last Sunday to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. This Sunday we conclude the “Bread of Life Discourse” by reflecting on the peoples’ reaction to what Jesus taught.
Jesus delivered this discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum, a city along the Sea of Galilee. This area was quite liberal and open to new ideas. The synagogue, the town’s community center, would periodically invite speakers of interest to address the community. Jesus, though from Galilee, would have been of interest to the people. He seemed to have a fresh, new approach to Judaism often putting him in open conflict with the religious leaders. The synagogue provided a good forum for the people to hear what he had to say. But the audience ended up struggling with his message.
Recall some of his statements from this teaching: “I am the living bread come down from heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you.” “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Acceptance of this teaching required more than intellectual understanding. It required faith.
Today’s first scripture reading from the Book of Joshua parallels this moment in the synagogue. The children of Israel were nearing the Promised Land. Joshua camped at Shechem and demanded a profession of faith
from the people before they continued on. They would be coming into contact with foreign religions. Joshua challenged the people to make a profession of faith to the God of their ancestors before they moved on. The people recalled how God protected and cared for them throughout their journey, and so renewed their faith in the God who delivered them from the land of slavery.
In the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus was challenging the people there, and his disciples, to take a leap of faith. He had presented himself as the fulfillment of the Passover. God had sent him to be the new and eternal paschal lamb, slain for the redemption of the world, and eaten as life-giving bread. He wasn’t asking them to totally understand the paschal mystery. He was inviting them to begin a new journey of faith. Many couldn’t take that step. But then Peter stepped forward and spoke for the faithful few. “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
As we conclude our lengthy reflection on the Bread of Life Discourse we’re faced with a similar choice. We have to ask ourselves if we really believe in him and what he teaches about himself. Do we believe that when we celebrate the Eucharist he’s with us in the flesh as the living Lamb sacrificed for our redemption? Do we believe that he’s the bread of life for us and the world? Do we believe that he is the food for eternal life?
REVELATION 11:19A, 12:1-6A 1 CORINTHIANS 15:20-27 LUKE 1:39-56
The feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven celebrates much more than Mary being taken bodily to heaven. This feast speaks hope to a suffering Church locked in a life and death conflict with the world. Let’s reflect on this aspect of the feast by focusing on the passage from the Book of Revelation that we’ve read today.
We see a cosmic image: a woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon at her feet. Wearing a crown adorned with 12 stars, she’s the image of the Church crowned as the glory of the Israel and its 12 tribes, and as the New Israel built upon the 12 apostles of the Lamb. The child about to be born is the Christ and his Kingdom, “destined to rule over all the nations.”
A second image appears, a red dragon with 7 crowned heads and 10 horns. This is the dark, brutal, powerful energy which is anti-Christ. At the time this was written the dragon was Rome using its power to prevent the birth of the Kingdom. Today, that same dragon takes the form of hostile governments, powerful global corporations, and misguided religious demagogues.
The Second Vatican Council crowned Mary, the Mother of the Church. This title firmly placed her in the upper room with the apostles and disciples waiting for the fire of the Paraclete, and the coming of the Kingdom. Today we look at this image of the woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet and see Mary, the mother of the Church inspiring hope and strength as we resist all that’s antiChrist. Today we’re the disciples joining Mary in the upper room awaiting the birth of the Kingdom of God.
Mother of the Church,
the Lord is with you and with his faithful people.
Bless us, as you blessed the early disciples with courage, hope and joy.
Give strength to our faith as we wait in anticipation of the new world, the Kingdom of God.
1 KINGS 19:4-8 EPHESIANS 4:30-5:2 JOHN 6:41-51
This week we’re going to focus our reflection on one sentence from John’s Gospel. “I am the living bread that came 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.”
John wrote his Gospel between 90 AD and 100 AD. It’s very different from the three other Gospels. One very notable difference is the account of the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel Jesus doesn’t take bread and wine and say, “This is my body,” This is my blood.” Instead, he delivers a lengthy teaching culminating with his washing the feet of the disciples. It’s in chapter six of his Gospel that we’re presented with Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist. In this chapter he never mentions “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” Instead, he delivers what has become to be known as the Bread of Life Discourse, which culminates in the sentence I noted at the beginning of this reflection. Let’s unpack the meaning of this beautiful and powerful teaching.
Jesus teaches that he’s “the living bread that came down from heaven.” This is a reference to the exodus journey. God fed the people with manna, “the bread from heaven.” This bread was a pledge of God’s loving care for the children of Israel and their food during their journey to the Promised Land. Jesus applied this image to himself re-defining the bread from heaven. It isn’t bread that fills a hungry stomach. He, himself, is the food for life’s journey. He, himself, is LIVING bread. Jesus intensifies this powerful image even more by stressing: “the bread that I will give is MY FLESH for the life of the world.”
In John’s Gospel, the Last Supper takes place the day before the Passover when, as
Mark’s Gospel tells us, “they sacrificed the Passover Lamb.” (Mark 14:12) This is implying that Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice will bring life to the entire world. In the context of this teaching, we mustn’t forget that the Passover Lamb was not only to be slain, it was to be eaten. Jesus reinforced this when he said, “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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” The implications of this teaching are astounding.
Over and over again during the Eucharistic Liturgy we hear the term the Paschal Mystery. The Bread of Life Discourse defines this mystery. It takes the image of the Passover Lamb, slaughtered and eaten, and applies it to the person of Jesus. We’ve all heard the statement: “You are what you eat.” In the Eucharistic celebration we proclaim the death of the Lord – his sacrifice on the cross-AND we eat his flesh and drink his blood in the Eucharistic bread and wine. This is the fulfillment of the first Passover.
Jesus is the true and eternal Passover Lamb, sacrificed and eaten by those who believe in him. Our communion with him unites us in communion with the Father, also. By eating his flesh and drinking his blood we become him, and he becomes us.
Let’s conclude this reflection by adding one more level to this mystery. We must always be mindful of our vocation as believers. Christ continues to mold the world into the kingdom of God through the work of his disciples who remain in communion with him. Let’s never forget his teaching in Matthew 10:40: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me.”