TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2018)
Our weeks long liturgical reflection on John’s eucharistic Chapter 6 begins today with the very verse on which last week’s gospel passage ended: “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.” If all of Chapter 6 was viewed as John’s symphony on the Eucharist, we might see verse 51 as the “crescendo,” the climactic point or moment when we are pushed into a startling new insight into Jesus’ precious gift given to us at the Last Supper. The “Jews” of John’s gospel got the point, for they “quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”” As believers, we recognize that Jesus is no mere “man,” and we believe that in the Eucharist the very flesh and blood of Jesus is shared with us.
Commenting on this passage, John Donahue, SJ, states that “the utter realism of eating flesh and drinking blood was shocking to Jesus’ hearers, as it would be today if taken literally. Talk of flesh and blood is meant to shock and to bring home the realism of the full humanity of Jesus.” The intimacy of our rite of communion is shocking. We are nourished by the body and the blood of a God who came into our world in order that He might share His life, eternal life, with us. Jesus tells us that “the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
“The bread of life that Jesus gave his disciples was both his teaching and the sacramental breaking of bread that we call the Eucharist. Both confer on his disciples the grace that nourished him during his own ministry. Jesus’s trust in the Father’s love gave him the strength to remain obedient unto death, and it was the Father’s love working in him that brought him to the resurrection.” (Michael Simons, SJ). It is because this is true, that every act of “communion” is a proclamation of our faith in Jesus as bread from heaven, and a recommitment of ourselves to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, taking on Jesus’ ministry as our own. It is because our Lord and Savior surrendered in complete obedience His very flesh and blood on the altar of the cross, that we too are called to sacrifice our lives by continuing the mission of Jesus to share eternal life with his disciples.
Too often we view “eternal life” as something exclusively in the future, something bestowed on us when we get to heaven. But as scholars point out, and as John’s gospel proclaims in a special way, eternal life begins in the here-and-now. As Michael Simons states, “eternal life is the spirit and power that believers receive the moment they place their faith in Christ and make a commitment to live according to his example.” The “Amen” we say when the minister of communion says “The Body of Christ,” “The Blood of Christ,” is our commitment to live as Jesus taught us. As food can keep us healthy and drive away hunger, fatigue, thirst and illness, so also can communion nourish our souls and drive away the anxiety, despair, anger, fear and loneliness which can keep us from being truly Christian.
The profound glimpse of the Eucharist given to us by Jesus in the Gospel of John should not cause us to quarrel like the Jews, or worse, as some will do in next week’s gospel, to leave the ranks of Jesus’ disciples. Rather, we should see in our sharing of Christ’s Body and Blood an infusion of eternal life, Jesus’ life-giving life, which enable us to become more like Jesus. Each and every time we are privileged to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord we are meant to be changed for the better, we are meant to become more like Christ, and we become instruments in God’s plan of salvation for the world. It is only when our lives begin to satisfy the basic hungers of mankind, when they cure the illnesses that are so prevalent among us, when they dispel the darkness of sin and division- it is only then that people will recognize in us the true power of the Bread from Heaven.