JESUS AS REAL FOOD

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Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe

 

In our First Reading today the Lord extends an invitation to the unwise: “Come and eat my bread, drink the wine I have prepared! Leave your folly and you will live, walk in the ways of perception”. This is a call to repentance, to flee from the glamour of evil, and to substitute the healthy bread of life (righteousness) for the “junk” food of unrighteousness. The “fool” here is not just a simpleton or one lacking in intellect and discernment – such a one is incapable of mortal sin. Rather, it refers to a person who deliberately chooses to rebel against God through sin. Such a person denies himself/herself the divine grace (bread of life) needed for spiritual sustenance. Thus, the Lord seeks to restore such persons to divine communion, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The Psalm today echoes a similar tune with the invitation to come, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. So too does St Paul in the Second Reading when he says to us: “Be very careful about the sort of lives you lead, like intelligent and not like senseless people.”

This is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings in the last few weeks. For the fourth week running, we are still reading chapter six John’s Gospel. And we see Jesus offering himself as the bread of life, that is to say, the new way of living for us. It is only the Jesus way that can sustain us here on earth and then lead us to the eternal happiness of heaven.Today, the unfolding drama reaches a climax as Jesus gives us his body as the bread of life in the Eucharist. This point is underscored by the fact that the very last verse of last week’s gospel passage (v51) is the beginning of today’s reading. Here the Lord expressly declares his flesh to be the food that he gives for the life of the world, to the shock and outrage of his listeners. In any case, Jesus does not back away but rather reinforces the point by declaring emphatically: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you” (v53).

In the Book of Daniel, the “Son of Man” personifies the salvation of Israel. The one who “was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him” (Dan. 7:14). In the new order of things Jesus as the “Son of Man” embodies the salvation of the new Israel. He is the Redeemer of humanity as a whole, and in him our communion with the Father is consummated. Thus the Eucharist becomes the benchmark for our relationship with God and our attitude to it is a measure of our spiritual health. The Second Vatican Council picks on this point when it declared the Eucharist to be the “source and summit of all Christian life” (Lumen Gentium #11).

Our Christian spiritually leads us, starting from the Eucharist, through our everyday life in the world, and takes us back to the Eucharist, at the end of our earthly pilgrimage. The Eucharist is a communion of divine fellowship in which God offers himself to us through Christ, and we in turn offer Christ to the Father. Furthermore, “through him and with him and in him”, we offer ourselves, body, mind and spirit- the totality of who we are, back to God. Jesus offers us the Eucharist as the confluence of the divine and the human. Not only are we participating in God’s banquet, God’s Son himself is the food. Moreover, the Eucharist is a proclamation of Christ’s death on the Cross, and an acclamation of the mystery of our faith: “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again. (1 Cor. 11:26)

However, Jesus’ Jewish audience would have none of this! To them it was outrageous for anyone to offer his flesh as food: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” To be fair though, when viewed from a purely natural angle it is an outright repugnant concept. It is only when we come to understand the true identity and mission of Jesus that it begins to make sense. The Jews misunderstood Jesus because they were thinking of cannibalism, an utterly abhorrent idea to the Jewish mindset as it was and still is to most cultures around the world today. But Jesus offers us not his mortal flesh, but rather his glorified body as it was after the resurrection – immortal and impassible. That is why he is the “living bread”, and so whoever eats this “living bread” has a taste of immortality and is primed for eternal life.

With this realization then, we must learn to approach the Eucharist with joy but also with reverence; joy for the fact that it divinizes us -transforms us into God, and reverence because it is holy and “without holiness no one will see God” (Hebrew 12:14). Reverence means we come to the Eucharist always with the right disposition – in a state of grace. It means going to confession as soon as we fall into sin so that we do not eat of the bread of life unworthily. St Paul, writing to the Corinthians, speaks strongly about this when he cautions that participating in the Eucharistic meal in an unworthy manner is a profanation of the body and blood of the Lord: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (I Cor. 11:29)

Today, therefore, and always, let nothing prevent us from a fruitful participation in the Eucharistic banquet where Jesus is on offer as the real food. And may we always come with reverence because: “They lack nothing, those who revere him” (Ps. 34:9) Amen!

Reading: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalms 34:2-3, 10-11, 12-13, 14-; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58