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August, 12 2018

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Deacon Hal Belcher, PhD

 

The central them of today’s gospel is that Jesus is the Bread of Life.  This is true in two senses.  First, in that his revelation constitutes teaching by God, so that one must believe in the Son to have eternal life.  “It is written in the prophets:  They shall all be taught by God.  Everyone who listens to my Father and learns for him comes to me … Amen, amen I say to you whoever believes has eternal life.  Secondly, Jesus is nourishment in another sense, for one must feed on his flesh and blood to have eternal life.  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

A mighty claim! God will be our food, our ultimate provision.  God actually wants to inhabit our flesh, make us tabernacles.  What a powerful profession of faith it is to believe this.

The people around Jesus knew how radical this matter was.  “Is he not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his father and mother?”

What did they mean? What does this have to do with anything?

Our American cultural heroes invariably include the person of humble origins who rises to achieve great status.  Abraham Lincoln is but one familiar example.  That such achievement is possible is directly related to the American cultural belief in the equality of all persons.  When real experience contradicts this belief, Americans fall back on the idea of equal opportunity.  At least every one can rise to a greater position than the one that came with birth.

Such a notion was entirely lacking in the ancient Mediterranean world.  In their culture basic honor came from birth into very special circumstances.  Honor required that a person remain in this status, maintain and preserve it, and never consider “getting ahead.”  Any attempt to improve upon or behave not in keeping with one’s birth status was shameful because it was a divisive force in the community.

Thus Jesus’ listeners begin to murmur.  His claim cannot be true – we know he did not come down from heaven because we know who is parents are.  This claim is incredible and threatening.  How dare Jesus claim more honor than he deserves.  How can it be?  He is familiar.  How is it possible?  He is commonplace.  How can he be from heaven?  He is flesh and blood like us.

Many of Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth and even some of the members of his own family did not consider him to be important nor did they believe in him.  Poorly concealed envy stood in their way so that they could not see the greatness that was his.  They did not care to see the wisdom and goodness of the Jesus they disparagingly called, “the son of the carpenter.”

This criticism that Jesus received from those around him confirms for us what we already know.  We do not have to look too far around us to see the same type of attitudes, the same refusal to recognize the good qualities that some people possess.  There are some who have a tendency to disrespect those around them or to talk badly about them.  This is an attitude that we see even in our own families and friends.  Jesus had to live through this way of thinking.  And we also have to live through it, or at least, see it happen.  In this respect the human race has not changed much since Jesus’ time.  We, however, need to act upon the teachings that Jesus has left us, which can be summed up by our obligation to love God and our fellow man.

However, Jesus came not only to teach us so that we might know and love Him and the Father but also, that, we might be nourished by Him.  He said “I am the 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.”  He will be our food, our ultimate provision.  He gives us His body and blood in the Eucharist.’

Some in our world would say that the Eucharist and the Incarnation are a scandal to empirical observation and technical reason.  If that is the bottom line, we may as well forget all matters of faith – Forget the matters of hope and love as well.  Even the exhortation of Paul – that we be forgiving, compassionate, and imitators of God in our love – would be shear mindlessness if only seeing is believing.

Many in our society, including our separated brothers and sisters in Christ struggle with the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  This struggle is a quarrel over transcendence – some would say “God is superior to us – why would he stoop to our level by becoming man and by giving himself to us as his body and blood.”  To many of those struggling with this concept only the here and now is real.  Only the now is actual.  Only the observable is knowable.  Only perishables can sustain us.  The immediate feeling.  The experience at hand.  The pain possessing.  The pleasure welcome.  The problem may not only be just believing that God could inhabit bread.  It is that God could inhabit us.

Sometimes we have trouble believing that there is anything transcendent about ourselves.  Can anyone ever say “forever” anyway?  Is there anything possible left for us after our body decays?  Is there anything more to us other than satisfaction or power or money?  It may be difficult for modern minds to believe the proposition that God could be our food and our drink.  It is just as difficult to believe anything wonderful about ourselves, to hope that there is anything more to sustain us than what we can identify through our senses.

And yet our faith if just that – it is faith.  Faith that there is more than surface and superficiality.  Faith that the transcendent takes flesh – in other words that God became man.  If somehow we, like some others, become locked in a state of mind in which the “real presence” is impossible to accept as a gift from God, nothing wondrous will be possible for us.  There is no point to the journey, no answer to the quest of our minds, no final satisfaction for the hunger of our hearts.

The gospel reading teaches, to whoever is willing to listen with devotion, the need that exists for the world to know Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and the need that we have to strengthen ourselves by receiving Holy Communion in the state of grace.  We need the Bread of Life that the Lord offers us.  It will nourish us and give us the strength to overcome evil and the courage to defend our religion, Christ and His Church – however we must have Faith.

Our spiritual journey, just as any journey requires nourishment, thus God has made that nourishment available to each and every one of us through His Word and the Holy Eucharist.  We must be willing to accept his gifts for the journey that lies ahead.

Notes and References:

Heyer, Robert, editor.  PrayerTime Cycle B. Plainfield: RENEW International. 2002.

Pitch, John J. The Cultural World of Jesus: Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996.

Rotelle, John E., editor. Meditations on the Sunday Gospels Cycle B. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1996.

The Center for Liturgy Sunday Website,  www. Liturgy.slu Saint Louis University,

2012.

 

 

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