SERIOUS WORDS TO THE WISE
Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
My dear encountered couples:
Jesus tells us to eat his body and blood. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked one another.
It is good and wise to ask questions, but Jesus didn’t explain his words then and I don’t hear him explaining now. He just says, “Do it!” Some things we are to take on faith and not demand clear and logical understanding. And this eating of the body and blood of Christ, the receiving of Jesus in Holy Communion is one of those things. “Just do it,” Jesus says, “and eternal life will be yours.” We don’t have to know how it works; we don’t have to get a clear picture of the results promised. We are to just take his word for it, eat as Jesus says, and let what happens happen. In this case: Our souls getting filled with the life of Christ.
Ever have a meal at someone’s house that you can just eat and enjoy with friends gathered around you without analyzing what it is you’re eating? Not if there are cooks there, or anyone with an inquisitive mind about how the good things of life come about. The food and its preparation become the main topic of conversation. Where the basics were bought, how they were mixed and seasoned, the cooking time, secret family additions, all the choreography and culinary art are laid out for the benefit of those who would like to reproduce the same miracle in their own kitchens.
The Jews wanted similar information in regard to what Jesus was cooking up. In this case, it was he himself who was to be the meal, and you can be quite sure such a serving did not sound exactly kosher to them. In fact, the idea turned their stomachs. But Jesus didn’t bother to explain. He just forewarned them: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.”
Jesus didn’t go into any explanations with these people about how this meal he was talking about was to be prepared or served. He just tells them they are to eat what he puts before them if they wish to have eternal life. Since then, many theologians and other deep thinkers have prayed over and strained their brains over what Jesus said. Centuries have been spent trying to make sense out of his words. And let’s face it: We would like somebody to explain it clearly to us too, wouldn’t we? But it isn’t going to happen. There are many things about God and the instructions Jesus left with us that we are to take strictly on faith.
Maybe Jesus thought he explained the eating of his body and blood well enough when he took bread and wine at the Last Supper and said, “This is my body; take and eat. This is the cup of my blood, take and drink.” But that really doesn’t satisfy the inquisitive among us. We want to know the ingredients and baking procedure of the bread, the alcoholic content of the wine, and exactly how Jesus is present under the appearances of the bread and wine.
I would say God has a really hard time getting us to take anything on sheer faith. Instead of devoting ourselves to doing what he tells us — no questions asked — we devote much of our time to asking the questions and trying to make sense out of what is most likely impossible for the human brain to fathom. Ever try to explain to your dog or cat why he has to go to the vet every year and get a series of unpleasant shots? Or to your baby why she has to eat Gerber’s pureed spinach instead of Hershey’s chocolate kisses? Some things we will never be able to understand, others not at our age or in this lifetime. Your dog must trust your veterinarian if he wishes to have a longer life, your baby must eat what a good parent puts into her mouth or she will never grow up to be healthy and full of energy.
Jesus said, “Eat my body and drink my blood,” and he showed us how this was to be done in an acceptable, even pleasant way — by eating bread and drinking wine over which the words are said. And when we do that we are guaranteed eternal life, Christ’s life, God’s life. We will have our own personal resurrection after we die, heaven will be our home, Jesus will be our all. Like two lovers joined in marriage, the person who eats the body and drinks the blood of Christ are joined with him and not merely until death do us part, but for ever and ever.
We concentrate a lot on the ceremonies that surround our eating of the body and blood of Christ. We come to Mass; we have some readings from Scripture, a homily, many prayers, genuflections, and signs of the cross. We sit, we stand, we kneel. Bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ; we partake of it (Him) in Holy Communion. Though all the preceding actions are well and good, though the ceremonies and liturgy are designed to focus us on the consecration and communion of the Mass, they can become distractions when we become too particular about how they are carried out. And receiving Jesus in Holy Communion can become little more than a sign that Mass is about to end.
What is more important? Conducting the Mass exactly as liturgical instructions prescribe? Or receiving the body and blood of Christ? When we allow liturgical gymnastics to upset us, when we argue over how the Mass is to be done, when those who favor traditional and those who favor innovations vie with one another, it can make people wonder if our communions are achieving their purpose. If we are not being drawn closer in likeness to Christ by our communions, isn’t something maybe lacking in our receiving him? Like attention to what we are doing and what is being done to us by Christ?
Coming to Mass is not to be like attending a stage production and then giving our approval or disapproval of how it was done. Attending Mass is more than a short visit with God to thank and praise him. Mass and communion are allowing the very being of Jesus Christ, the Son of God to enter our souls and enable us to become other Christs to the people around us. This, of course, takes lots of faith in it being able to happen. We speed up our transformation by putting forth serious effort to love and forgive all the people in our lives, especially those that try us most.
At Mass we need to focus more on the Christ we are receiving than on our approval or disapproval of the liturgy that surrounds our receiving him. And when we leave Mass we need to concentrate more on how well we treat other people than on how well they treat us. Amen.