16 August 2015: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Prv 9:1-6 Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7 Eph 5:15-20 Jn 6:51-58


The bread of life: Eucharistic mystery

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue our five-week meditation on the Eucharist and discipleship.

Today’s first reading is from Proverbs, a collection of “wisdom sayings” that personifies Wisdom as a woman. Wisdom invites seekers to forsake foolishness and to dine on her bread and wine; these choices lead to long life and understanding. Some rabbis taught that the messiah would feed people choice food and good wine without work or cost. “Eating bread” and “drinking wine” foreshadow the Eucharistic images in today’s gospel.

Today’s gospel continues the Bread of Life discourse. The reading (Jn 51-58) begins with last week’s final verse and concludes the discourse. It includes the following elements:

  • More than manna: Jesus connects himself (“I AM the living bread”) to the wilderness manna (“coming down from heaven.”) Jesus goes beyond being simply the manna, because whoever “eats this bread” (believes in him) “will live forever.”
  • The bread is Jesus’ flesh: John introduces a post-resurrection understanding of Jesus as the living bread: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” John presents two meanings here. First, Jesus’ ministry will end (“I will give my flesh”) in his sacrificial, salvific, and transformational death (“for the life of the world.”) Second, Jesus will establish a continuing presence through the Eucharist (“I will give my flesh“) to continue his mission though the believing community (“for the life of the world.”) The crowd argues (literally “fights”) about this saying. How could Jesus turn bread turn into flesh? Even if Jesus could do this, food laws forbid Jewish people from eating human flesh and drinking any type of blood.
  • The Eucharist leads to eternal life: Jesus further shocks the crowd by teaching: “the one feeding on (literally ‘chewing’) my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life.” Only when you “consume my flesh and blood” do you “remain-in-relationship with me.” This is no longer a metaphor about Jesus as the new Torah and divine Wisdom that doesn’t perish–the Eucharistic reference is clear and complete: “consume my body,” “drink my blood.” The divine Word became flesh to bring life to the world (Jn 1:3-4); Jesus, through his physical death and resurrection, gives his glorified flesh and blood to believers in the Eucharist so we may have eternal life and share in Jesus resurrection (Jn 6:54). Jesus has and can give life because the living Father sent him. By consuming Jesus, the believing community shares the Father’s life–they “remain” in relationship with the Father and Jesus.
  • Jesus concludes his teaching: Jesus sums up the difference between the manna (“your ancestors ate and died”) and the true bread (“whoever eats will live forever.”) Next week, we’ll hear the crowds’ and the disciples’ reactions.

Today’s readings confront RCIA participants and the believing community with the mystery of the Eucharist. The first reading tells us that dining on Wisdom’s bread and wine will lead to long life and understanding. The gospel calls us to look beyond the sign of manna and see the reality of the true bread from heaven. The Eucharist is not simply a sign or a metaphor, but the reality of Jesus himself. We have eternal life and remain-in-relationship with Jesus and the Father only when we consume his resurrected body and blood. Do we believe? Do we live this belief?

—Terence Sherlock


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