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Sunday Scripture: Faith and its rewards

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

By Terrance Callan

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:2-3, 10-15; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-8

When we try to overcome any difficulties we encounter, it can be helpful to analyze them, trying to see the precise nature of the difficulty. It can also be helpful to keep before our eyes the benefits of overcoming the difficulty.

The reading from the Gospel according to John repeats the final verse of last Sunday’s reading and goes on to tell us that people objected to Jesus’ statement that the bread He would give them was His flesh. This makes us aware that it can be difficult to believe that Jesus’ flesh is the bread of life.

In the Gospel of John, the statement that the bread of life is Jesus’ flesh sums up three distinct, but related ideas. First, it means that in Jesus the word of God really became flesh. As the preceding section of the Gospel makes clear, it is hard to believe that Jesus, an ordinary human being, is the word of God incarnate. But it is necessary to believe this in order to receive the bread of life that is Jesus.

Second, it means that the death of Jesus is somehow a saving event. At first Jesus speaks of His flesh as the bread of life. But He goes on to talk about eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

By speaking of flesh and blood separately, Jesus probably refers to His death, when His blood poured out of His flesh.

To us it is a familiar idea that the death of Jesus was for our salvation. Even so, a little reflection enables us to appreciate how strange it is to think that Jesus’ execution as a criminal is part of God’s salvation of the world. Nevertheless, it is necessary to accept this, to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood, in order to receive the bread of life.

Third, the statement that Jesus’ flesh is the bread of life also means that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine that we receive when we celebrate the Eucharist. It seems very likely that John understands Jesus’ references to eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood as a reference to the Eucharist. As we know, it is not easy to believe that Jesus is truly present in the elements of the Eucharist, but this, too, is part of receiving the bread of life.

In the reading from Proverbs, we are shown the image of Wisdom as a woman who invites people to her banquet. She summons those who are simple, who lack understanding; only those who know they need wisdom can receive her invitation.  The church encourages us to see Jesus’ offer of himself as the bread of life as similar to Wisdom’s invitation, yet surpassing it. Jesus offers not only wisdom, but also life itself. 

The reading from the Letter to the Ephesians gives us more information about the wisdom involved in accepting Jesus as the bread of life. This acceptance cannot leave our lives unchanged, but calls for their transformation. Living as wise persons means trying to understand the will of the Lord. It also means being filled with the Spirit and giving thanks always and for everything in the name of Jesus to God the Father.

Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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