THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – August 19, 2018

A reading g from the Book of Proverbs 9:1-6
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 5:15-20
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:51-58

 

Dear Reader,

There is an epidemic that has been stalking us for many years now.  Obesity attacks children and adults alike.  Others look on in anguish and wish there could be something done to stem this disease that brings with it diabetes, stroke and heart attack among younger and younger people.  To counter some in power propose banning giant-sized sweet drinks.  All those calories in one huge container equipped with a straw should not be allowed.  The same can be said for those whipped cream and caramel syrup sweetened coffee drinks.  At least for the latter the number of calories contained is posted to give fair warning to the purchaser.  But then comes the outrage.  How dare anyone limit freedom in this land of the free?  “Super size me” is a basic right, just like free speech and the right to bear arms, or ride a motorcycle without a helmet.  Or so it would seem.  Wisdom might try to inspire a change in thinking.

Wisdom is the theme that runs through this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word.  It is not often that one theme links all three readings.  Often the second reading stands alone.  We cannot sit under this week’s readings without being confronted by the gracious gift of God that is Wisdom.  

Isn’t it interesting that given our discussion of calorie hefty food and drinks, the Book of Proverbs has Lady Wisdom inviting all to enter her house and partake of a banquet of nutritious rich food and fine wine, food that will sustain the diner?  Lush food entices especially those who are hungry.  The tickets to this sumptuous, healthy supper the feminine God provides are simplicity and a lack of understanding.  The invitation is universal.  Hear Jesus say, Come to me, all you who are hungry, and I will refresh you.  It is the same theme.

Lady Wisdom calls those who have wandered off and become entranced with Baal’s ways, to come back and relearn YHWH’s ways.  Relearn the ways of the Covenant from when YHWH led Israel out of slavery and into the Desert of Freedom.  Wisdom will enable them to see the foolishness of their errant ways and empower them to return to the Way that makes it evident that they are YHWH’s people and YHWH is their god.  It is a matter of grace, lavishly poured out and freely given.  Notice, too, that YHWH is the initiator.

Paul directs the Ephesians and us to make a change in course.  The Ephesians were, and we are living in dangerous times from a Christian point of view.  Then, just as now, the lure of debauchery and self-indulgence entices.  Promiscuity and over indulgence may be attractive, but such lifestyles inevitably destroy.  Paul says it: The days are evil.  We are called to something different.  That difference has to do with having a strong sense of community with others who believe in the God who called us out of slavery of sin to the freedom of the children of God.  This, through Christ.  The challenge is to be open to grace.

In this context, let the Word transform and put things in a new and different perspective.  If we are open to, and filled with the Spirit (Wisdom), we might come to see that we are all, every race, color, creed, gender and gender orientation, every nationality, a community of sisters and brothers in this human family.  We might be awakened to our responsibility for each other.  We might be able to see those fleeing violence and seeking freedom for their children in this country as our family.  The wealthy elite just might come to see their obligation to share from their abundance so that those who have nothing might at least have the essentials to survive.  If other motives fail to move us, then recognizing Christ in the other just might do it.  I was hungry and you gave me to eat. (Matthew 25: 35)

For several weeks now we have departed from Mark’s Gospel and have been listening to proclamations from the sixth chapter of John, the chapter on the Bread of Life, the Eucharist.  Read John’s account of the Last Supper and you will not find the distribution of Bread and Wine.  What you will find is the account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  John puts before us an implication that follows from the shared Meal.  The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel contains John’s theology of Eucharist.

For the past three weeks the intensity has built as Jesus teaches the crowds the central role he is to play in their lives.  This is the reason he came into the world.  What do we long for?  Meaning.  Purpose.  Life that does not end.  These are what Jesus offers in graphic and dramatic terms.  Sometimes I think it is a shame that we have heard these texts before and have become used to them.  They do not shock us the way they did the crowds when Jesus identified himself as the bread that came down from heaven (hear Manna); eating this Bread will result in eternal life.  

There is more here than was in Manna.  Hear the sudden and jarring shift in the exposition.  In an instant, the bread is defined as Jesus’ flesh.  Why doesn’t it shock us to hear Jesus say that unless we gnaw on his flesh and drink his blood we will not have eternal life?  The point is, Jesus wants to make it perfectly clear that consuming every aspect of him is essential to our faith life.

There are two ways this happens.  First, we ingest Jesus when we devour the Word and let the Spirit, Wisdom, enlighten us to the meaning.  Wisdom will help us to stop compromising the Good News, and empower us to hear the clarity of the call to come and follow me.  The saints, those canonized and those not, give us plentiful examples of what that means in practice.  We are called to imitate Christ in every aspect of our being and in all our relationships.  We cannot learn to trust and do that unless we ponder the Word, become vulnerable before it, and allow ourselves to be transformed by it.  Isn’t it interesting that imitation of Christ is the one path to sainthood, and yet no two saints lives tell the same story.  I have always found that fascinating.

The second way we ingest Jesus is through celebrating Eucharist and sharing in Holy Communion.  The Eucharist is a communal experience of the People of God exercising the Priesthood of the Baptized as they gather around the Lord’s Table.  In the outpouring of Wisdom, of the Spirit that results, the bread and wine are transformed.  The Risen Christ becomes sacramentally present in this great act of thanksgiving as we renew the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The Eucharist is not a private, individuated devotion, the way some would have us experience Liturgy today.  The Eucharist is essentially communal, the People of God coming together, acting together, being transformed together through the outpouring of the Spirit, just as they were in that upper room on Pentecost.  One spiritual writer commented that she thought it was strange that safety belts were not given out to people as they entered the worship space, given the cataclysmic event that is about to happen.  Whether we recognize it or not, it is exactly that that results when the people pray, moved by the Spirit.

As the People of God, we approach the Table in the Communion Procession.  We stand together as a symbol of our support of, and union with each other as we make this treacherous journey.  We do not know what we will be like once we have eaten his body and drunk his blood.  Regardless of what else may follow, one thing is certain, if we eat from the banquet that Wisdom puts before us, we will live forever.  All we have to do is let ourselves be sent forth from the Table and go out and live what we have consumed.

What response does our celebration elicit from us as we read about the nearly three thousand children, wrenched from their parents’ arms and now housed in cages?  There is no paper work to assist in their being restored eventually to their parents.  What is our response as our sisters and brothers fleeing from violence and drug cartels seek to cross our boarders and find freedom for themselves and their children only to be arrested and returned to the violence from which they fled?  What does our participation in the Eucharist demand from us?

One final note.  There is a movement on the part of some to restrict access to the Cup.  That is a shame.  Jesus’ directive is to take and eat, and to take and drink.  There may be allergy reasons why a person cannot receive from one or the other form.  They do receive the fullness of Christ if they can take in only the Bread, or only the Wine.  But the fullness of the sign is in the reception of both.  It is drinking from the Cup that signifies our accepting of the challenge to live the love of Christ in the world.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

 

 

   

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