29 May 2016: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 14:18-20 Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4 1 Cor 11:23-26 Lk 9:11b-17


Eucharist: our super-abundant banquet in the wilderness

White_gold_banner_smOn the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Lectionary readings invite us to think about the Eucharist, foreshadowed in the Hebrew scripture as a thanksgiving offering and fulfilled in Christian scripture as the kingdom’s banquet and Jesus’ saving act.

The first reading from Genesis introduces the priest-king Melchizedek, who offers a thanksgiving sacrifice for Abraham and asks the blessing of God Most High. Through Psalm 110 (today’s responsorial psalm) and the Letter to the Hebrews, Melchizedek becomes a type or model for Jesus and his Eucharistic sacrifice.

The second reading from Paul letter to the Corinthians (written in 56-57 AD) gives the earliest written account of the institution of Eucharist, predating Mark’s gospel account by fifteen years. Paul’s narrative emphasizes Jesus’ action of self-giving (“take;” “this is my body,” “this is my blood”) and Jesus’ double command to repeat his action (“do this”).

Luke’s gospel reading describes Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish. All four gospels tell this story: Mk 6:30-44; Mt 14:13-21; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-14; all four contain similar verbs: take, bless, break, give. Jesus uses these four verbs in all accounts of the Eucharist. In today’s story, Luke wants us to connect the following:

  • Wilderness: Luke tells us that the crowds and disciples are in a “deserted place.” The Exodus writer uses the same word–ἔρημος (ER-ay-mos)–to describe the Sinai desert. In the desert wilderness God fed Israel with miraculous manna. In the same way Jesus feeds the crowds and us with miraculous bread of the kingdom.
  • Banquet: Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, bread and fish are part of the messianic banquet, the generous meal shared by God with humans during the messianic age. The miraculous wilderness food (Num 11) prefigures the messianic banquet. When the Israelites complain to Moses that they have no bread or fish (meat), God provides them with manna and quail. Jesus signals that he is hosting a special meal, not a simple a picnic, when he tells the crowds to “sit down” or “recline.” Luke uses the word κατακλίνω (kah-tah-KLEE-no), which means “to recline at dinner.”
  • Super-abundance: To emphasize this is a messianic meal, Luke tells us that the crowd ate until they “were satisfied.” The word χορτάζω (khor-TAHd-zo) means “to gorge” or “to supply food in abundance.” Luke also mentions the “leftovers;” the word περισσεύω (peh-ris-SYOO-oh) actually means “the super-abundance.” At the messianic banquet, God provides a super-abundance of food for everyone.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the readings let us see the Eucharist foreshadowed, instituted, and actualized. In the Eucharistic mystery, we continue to find new meanings of wilderness, banquet, and super-abundance. In the Eucharistic sacrament, we encounter God as sacrifice, covenant meal, and life. At every Mass, God shares a banquet with us, made from our bread and wine offering, and returned to us as God’s own super-abundant self. We live with one foot in the wilderness and one foot in the kingdom. For what do we hunger?

—Terence Sherlock


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