Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Eucharist, Greed and the Poor in Our Midst

Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, Year A, John 6:51-58, June 26, 2011

Last Sunday (June 19), Federico Pascual raised a rhetorical question in his column Postcript, “Why spend P400 million in rehabilitating Macabalan Port in Cagayan de Oro when a French contractor of modular ro-ro (roll-on, roll-off) ports has a standing offer to build a new wharf and passenger terminal for only P143 million?” Palace watchers described this as “patently disadvantageous to the government,” while former Senator Nene Pimentel called in “plain and simple highway robbery.” And what motives people to do this—greed? This calls to mind the twists and turns in the court battles among lawyers over the coconut levy in the Philippines. “The levy,” as Neal Cruz put it in simple terms, “was imposed and collected by the government for public purposes to benefit coconut farmers. It is clear that it is a public fund. The clarity and simplicity of it is clear to laymen; it is only lawyers who make it confusing.” It being an enormous sum, many want to take hold of it. In an earlier column, Cruz asserts: “Greed is still the top sin of Filipinos. And ironically, the richer they are, the greedier they become.” Hence, “while there are billions of sequestered pesos and dollars still out there waiting… there will always be ‘commissioners’ who will try to negotiate a compromise for a piece of action. Treasure hunting is a popular endeavor in the Philippines. It is easier to dream of instant riches than to work hard for it. And the coco levy… [is] like the fabled Yamashita treasure that continues to boggle the imagination and whet the appetite of scores of treasure hunter.”

Greed is the exact opposite of what today’s feast of Corpus et Sanguis Christi implies—which is sharing so others might live. But that is going ahead of what should be noted first. Today’s Gospel is the second part of Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life (John 6:35-58). Whereas in the first part (vv 35-50), the nourishing heavenly bread is the teaching of Jesus, in this second one (vv 51-58), it is the Eucharist. Though both parts speak of giving life, they differ in that, while in the first part eternal life is given through belief, in the second it comes from feeding on the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. Thus, this section has a Eucharistic theme, and exclusive so. Raymond Brown notes two impressive indications that the Eucharist is in mind. First, the narrative stresses the eating of Jesus’ flesh and the drinking of his blood—which cannot be taken as a metaphor or symbolically. Rather, if Jesus’ words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood are to have any favorable meaning, they must refer to the Eucharist, reproducing the words of institution in the Synoptics. Second, what Jesus says in v 51 (“The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world”) resembles the Lucan form of the words of institution (“This is my body which is given for you”), and most likely preserves the Johannine form of the words of institution. Thus, for John, eternal life is given to those who communicate the body and blood of Jesus.

The objection at the beginning of this section, “how can he give us his flesh to eat” (v 52) probably reflects the Jewish criticism of the Johannine Christian community ritual, since Jews were forbidden to eat meat with blood (Lev 17:10-11). But as the whole section indicates, the eating of his body and drinking of his blood have nothing to do with cannibalism. Rather, they are about sacramental communion. After giving up himself in the sacrifice on the cross, he will give himself in the sacrament. And considering that in the Old Testament, “the body and blood” expresses human life, the Evangelist most likely implies that in the Eucharist the communicant receives the whole living Jesus. In other words, Jesus is totally present in the eucharistic bread and wine that the believer receives. In the sacramental communion, Jesus shares his very life with the communicating believer: “The man who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remain in me and I in him” (v 56). No wonder, Paul declares to the Christians in Corinth, “Is not the cup of blessing we bless, a sharing in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break, a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). For John, however, there is first of all a mutual indwelling in the Eucharist: Jesus remains in the Christian, and the Christian remains in Jesus. Moreover, just as the life of the Son and the Father is one (cf John 14:10), so the man who receives the Eucharist shares the very life of God himself.

However, to receive the Eucharist is not only to be involved in the very life of God himself. If one shares in the life of the Son and the Father, he is joined to the whole body of believers. It is in this sense that Paul, in the second reading, speaks of the sharing in the body of Christ. “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17). In receiving the Eucharist, Christians are joined to Christ and to one another. They are established as one community in which Christ is a communal possession. Consequently, Christians who receive the Eucharist cannot be greedy or engaged in monopoly, still less take what do not belong to them. To the contrary, by the very act of sharing in it, they commit themselves to share their life and possession with other members in the Christian community. The rich, for example, cannot continue receiving the life of God without sharing their wealth with the poor, for that would be anomalous.

In light of this, a Christian cannot but make a crusade for the writing off of foreign debts by poor countries; indeed, in the light of the meaning of the Eucharist, wealthy nations and institutions must right the wrong in the international economic order in which the poor get poorer, and the rich get richer. On a positive note, this teaching reminds us of a plan, made some time ago when Jojo Binay was still the mayor of Makati, of the rich barangays in Makati to support the poor barangays. We were told that the mayor came up with a new budget sharing, named “Paluwagan sa Barangay.” It was reported that under this scheme that responded to the appeal of the poorer barangays, each barangay in Makati would submit its list of priority projects to the city council. But it would be the engineering and public works department that would select the projects, and the size of the budget allocated for barangay-based projects would determine the number of projects to be approved. The cost of one project of a barangay was to be equally divided among the city’s 32 barangays, including the rich ones. This was Makati’s way of improving on the current practice in which the budget of each barangay is determined by its real property tax share and internal revenue allotment (IRA), the poor barangays receiving small budget allocation.

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