August 14, 2018 // The Sunday Gospel
Jesus is the bread of eternal life
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Proverbs is the source of this weekend’s first biblical reading. Proverbs is part of the Wisdom Literature. This literature, forming an important part of the Old Testament, came to be in an interesting development of history.
As the years passed and as circumstances occurred, good and bad, many Jews left the land of their heritage and moved to other areas in the Middle East or North Africa. In another movement, the armies of Alexander the Great swept across much of this same territory.
Precisely in this overwhelmingly Greek situation did the Jews, who had come from or who descended from forebears who had come from the Holy Land, find the need to reinforce their own faith in their ancient religious tradition. They also needed to convey this tradition to new generations.
The Greeks cherished the science and process of logic. So, in places where Greek culture dominated, the Jews had to blend Revelation, as it had been given them by Moses and the prophets, with logic. In other words, the Jews had to convince others, most importantly their own communities and their own children, that the teachings of the prophets, and of Moses, made sense.
Proverbs was one such effort in this process. In this reading is an interesting technique used by the author of Proverbs. It is the personification of wisdom. Thus, Wisdom, as if a person, speaks in the first person.
In this passage, Wisdom invites anyone who is “simple” to come. Awaiting is a marvelous meal of the finest food and wine.
The Epistle to the Ephesians provides the second reading.
Here, as in all the epistles, the purpose was both to strengthen and to encourage the early Christians. In this case, the early Christians were those followers of Jesus who lived in Ephesus, then a great seaport and a very important pagan shrine on the Mediterranean coast of what today is Turkey.
The epistle admonishes the Christians of Ephesus to watch their conduct. They should live as true disciples of Jesus. Lip service is not enough for true discipleship.
St. John’s Gospel supplies us with the last reading. It is one of the most memorable passages in this thoroughly memorable Gospel. It is familiar to all believers, in itself showing the early Christians’ intense love for the Eucharist.
Jesus declares, “I myself am the living bread.” The Lord then continues, in great eloquence and depth, to explain this revelation.
It is real food and real drink. It is not imaginary or symbolic. As in other New Testament texts about the Eucharist, the message is precise. The bread truly is the Lord. Those who consume this living, life-giving bread will be raised on the last day.
For weeks this summer, the Church has called us to discipleship. Having put before us the image of Jesus, the crucified, the risen Lord, at Holy Week and Easter, with all the accompanying lessons of the Ascension and Pentecost, the Church has invited us to follow Jesus.
It also frankly has reminded us of our limitations. We cannot find peace and true happiness alone. We cannot secure eternal life alone. We need God.
This is a difficult lesson for Christians, for humans, to learn and accept. The Church repeats it again and again, but while warning us, the Church reassures us. Although we are limited, even though we cannot achieve salvation of ourselves alone, God is lavishly and mercifully forthcoming. He envelops us in mercy, love and strength. He guides us. He sustains us.
God gives us all this in Jesus, the very bread of life. In the Eucharist, we, even if imperfect, unite with Jesus, the Son of God. He is our life, our joy and our hope.
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