An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, John 6:51-58, August 19, 2012
WHEREAS LAST SUNDAY’S Gospel describes the Eucharist as God’s Wisdom, today’s deals with the Eucharist as Sacrament. To understand the significance of this dimension of the Eucharist, one of the ways of approaching it is by referring to the 1st Reading, which speaks of Wisdom tendering a banquet: “[Wisdom] has dressed her meant, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table… she has sent out her maidens; she calls from her heights out over the city: ‘Let whoever is simple turn in here; to him who lacks understanding, I say, come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed” (Prov 9:2-5). In this passage, God’s plan for his people is called Wisdom, and is compared to a banquet. As the man who goes to the banquet is given sustenance, so the man who follows the plan of God lives a holy and good life. That is to say, if the Christian community wants to live a life which brings happiness and well-being, it has to follow the plan of God—imaged in Proverbs by the drinking of God’s wine and the eating of his food. If it sustains itself with God’s plan, it will forsake foolishness and advance in its ways (Prov 9:6).
But what is God’s plan? As the Gospel implies, God’s plan is for us to have life, and live forever (John 6:57-58). By life we do not, of course, mean winning the first prize of the lotto, or always having enough supplies in the freezer or a mountain of deposit in the bank, or having the best vacation house. Whatever value one may place on these, it is obvious that they do not abide. Rather, life, if it has any significance to our life on earth, means first of all an experience of fellowship in the family and in the Christian community, a sense of belonging and integrity, a sense of wholeness and community. In such community, we do not harbor resentment against others, we experience forgiveness, wholeness, and oneness. These are the values that abide, and we are confident that God will eternalize them.
How is such a life attained? Says Jesus: “Let me assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink. The man who feeds on my flesh and drink my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:53-56). This does not mean, of course, that all we do is eat the body and drink the body of Jesus in the Eucharistic Celebration, and then we can rest assured that this will do us good. We must not ever think that the Sacrament is like a vitamin—taking it frequently will make us spiritually healthy. Rather, this first of all requires faith. Unless we have faith that Jesus is present in the Sacrament, we will not benefit from its saving power. To partake of the Sacrament therefore presupposes our belief that Jesus is truly present in it. Because we receive him in faith, Jesus remains in us and we in him, and we have life in him: “The man who feeds on me will have life because of me” (John 6:57b).
Of course, this indicates that our faith is not simply theoretical. Once we receive him, we must endeavor to dwell in him. Faith requires a response from us: the Lord dwells in us so that the life we live is the life of Jesus himself. Thus Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself to me” (Gal 2:19-20). In receiving the Sacrament, therefore, we make an effort to live what it signifies: a life in imitation of the Lord who suffered for others. Like the broken bread and the shared wine, we become persons-for-others.
It is in this sense that we read the 2nd Reading (Eph 5:15-20). According to Paul, as a response to the offer of faith, we must keep careful watch over our conduct; we avoid wine leading the debauchery. We avoid what can hurt, bring disorder and create division in the community, for these values make us less than a sacrament of the body and blood. On the contrary, we discern the will of God, and we must be filled with the Spirit. And what is his will? The will of God is, among others, to make others happy, and forgive them. That way, the community becomes a place where we gain integrity and well-being, wholeness and happiness. Hence, when we receive the Eucharist, we proclaim that we are a people in whom God dwells, and we are a people who live the life of God: happy, whole, singing with all our hearts because we know how to love, forgive and be compassionate. By so acting, we are actually demonstrating to all that we are a community transformed into a sacrament of the Eucharist.