|Jer 38:4-6, 8-10
||Ps 40:2, 3, 4, 18
Discipleship: difficult choices
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings describe a disciple’s conflicts in choosing to follow Jesus.
In the first reading from the book of Jeremiah, the military leaders charge Jeremiah with sedition and ask the king to put Jeremiah to death. Jeremiah’s prophecy divides Judah’s leaders and causes Jeremiah’s rejection and suffering. Ebed-melech, a non-Jewish Cushite (Ethiopian), intervenes with the king and saves Jeremiah’s life. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to parallel today’s gospel. Like Jeremiah’s prophecies, Jesus’ teachings about discipleship and the kingdom will cause division and will result in his rejection and death.
In the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds the believing community that we are inspired not only by our ancestors in faith–“so great a cloud of witnesses”–but most of all by Jesus, the “founder and perfector.” Jesus’ sufferings give us courage to continue our own discipleship, even to martyrdom.
In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples in prophetic style that the kingdom he preaches is a refining and purifying fire. Luke gives us two related sayings about Jesus’ mission:
- I have come to set fire: Jesus is conscious of his prophetic mission; fire symbolizes the coming eschatological (end time) judgement. Jesus requires each disciple to accept his message and to choose to follow him. Jesus is also conscious that his mission will result in his death: “the baptism with which I must be baptized.” Earlier in Luke’s gospel, John the Baptizer introduced Jesus as one who brings a cleansing fire (Lk 3:16-17).
- I have come to create division, not peace: Up to this point, Jesus has tried to unite people who are in conflict (see my reflection for the 18 Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C). But like the prophet Jeremiah, Jesus also knows that confronting the comfortable to change (metanoia) causes conflict. Jesus’ message will divide his audience. In describing the signs of the end times, Hebrew prophets and apocalyptic writers list the destruction of family relationships (see Micah 7). Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Simeon identified Jesus as a sign of contradiction and division (Lk 2:34).
Jesus confronts RCIA participants and the believing community with difficult choices and hard-to-hear consequences. Discipleship shouldn’t feel comfortable. Through baptism we are anointed prophets. Like Jeremiah and Jesus we are called to speak and to do the difficult things that faith requires. We are supported by a “great cloud of witnesses”–the Greek word μάρτυς (MAR-tus), meaning witness, also becomes the English word martyr. The Hebrews’ author reminds us that we have “not yet shed blood” as disciples, but we might at some point. We have been baptized with water. Are we willing to accept the baptism that Jesus chose?
||Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
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?