19 August 2018: 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

Discourse part 2: The bread I will give is my flesh for the world’s life

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider the meaning of Jesus’ self-gift for the life of the world.

The first reading from the book of Proverbs personifies Wisdom and Folly as women who invite hearers to competing banquets. Wisdom’s banquet symbolizes joy and closeness to God. Folly’s banquet consists of stolen bread and decietful water that bring death to guests. Jewish hearers recognize in this allegory their need to pursue the Torah’s wisdom to avoid foolishness and to live. Christians hear parallels with today’s gospel, in which Jesus tells disciples that eating his flesh and drinking his blood will give eternal life.

The second reading continues the letter to the Ephesus ekklesia. The letter’s major theme is the unity of all Christians in one believing community. Today’s reading continues the ethical exhortation (or paraenesis). Last week the author presented a program of formative actions: actions for disciples who are “new persons” in Christ. In today’s reading, the author’s eschatological view defines his formative actions. He reminds disciples that the age of evil powers is passing away; they must choose the wise path and live as members of God’s kingdom.

John’s gospel presents the second part of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. In a series of questions and responses, Jesus introduced the discourse’s main ideas. This week’s final question shapes the discourse’s second part.

Jesus tells the synagogue assembly: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Those opposed to Jesus’ revelation begin to fight with each other. They frame their objections as a final question.

  • How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Jesus’ opponents continue to misunderstand the promise Jesus offers, focusing on only the physical implications of his promise. Jesus speaks to the synagogue crowd during the Passover feast, which commemorates God’s gifts of Torah and manna. In Jewish thought, both Torah and manna provide nourishment. “Eating” manna nourishes the body; “eating” (studying and practicing) Torah feeds a Jew’s spiritual life. Up to this point in his discourse, Jesus has described himself as manna/bread from heaven, whose teachings from the Father provide a new and greater spiritual life. Jesus now reveals that in the near future he will give his flesh to give life to the whole world. He will give his flesh in two ways:
    • Through the cross. Jesus will give himself as a physical sacrifice to redeem the world. In Jewish sacrificial practice, the one offering sacrifice separated the victim’s blood from its flesh. When Jesus speaks about his “flesh” and “blood” separately, he indicates his physical death as a sacrifice. The Word became flesh to bring life to the world (Jn 1:3-4).
    • Through the Eucharist. After his physical death and resurrection, Jesus will give himself in a new way so that disciples may remain in a living relationship with Jesus and the Father. This new relationship is Jesus’ continuing presence with his believing community. In addition, his glorified flesh and blood give disciples eternal life and a share in Jesus’ resurrection (Jn 6:54).

Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to look beyond the physical signs of God’s care and to come to a deeper understanding of the incarnation, cross, and resurrection. The first reading warns us to pursue divine Wisdom, because folly leads to spiritual death. In the gospel, Jesus sums up his mission: to bring the entire world to eternal life. His transformative death brings eternal life to the world’s doorstep, but it is Jesus’ Eucharistic gift that brings eternal life and Jesus’ abiding presence to disciples who totally absorb (“eat”) God’s revelation. Do we seek deeper Wisdom in our busy lives? Can we ignore the meaning of the incarnation and cross? What does Eucharist really mean to us?

—Terence Sherlock

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