Homily: The Living Body of Christ

B113OT18_2_cf03_4cToday’s gospel passage is known almost by heart by many catholics because of our love of the Eucharist. It is taken from the Bread of Life Discourse in John’s gospel. The first verses presuppose that we know about the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish that was the core of last week’s Gospel reading. The crowd that witnessed the miracle hurried around the lake to find Jesus, who had left quietly in a boat after all were settled.

There is a serious disconnect at this point between Jesus and those who have witnessed that miracle. They see only the spectacular miracle. But Jesus wants them to see that this is really a preparation for discovering in Him the true and only sufficient source of nourishment: the ‘food that nourishes your lasting life’.

The crowd doesn’t catch Jesus’ meaning and so they ask what God expects of them. Undoubtedly, they expect to be told about commandments and observances that will please God. But Jesus poses a far more difficult challenge. They are now expected to “believe in the one God sent”.  Jesus makes it personal. Faith in Jesus and acceptance of his teaching is the primary requirement.

And when they ask for a sign like the manna given to Israel in the desert, Jesus states his claim as the new manna that gives perfect nourishment: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst”.

     Life Implications

Understand that, though Jesus here identifies himself as “the bread of life”, he is not yet speaking of the Eucharist, I mean, his Body and Blood to be received in the sacrament. He will get to that. The emphasis in this segment of the Bread of Life Discourse is placed on the faith-acceptance of the teaching of Jesus. In other words, he is nourishment first of all as one who offers us the life-giving words of God about the meaning of our lives.

And so, this divine message, if it is to nourish you and me for eternal life, has to be accepted in a way that leads us the real understanding of what in means to follow Jesus. We have to be willing to move from our natural self-centeredness to unselfish love and to the willingness to make sacrifices for others that Jesus exemplifies.

This is why Jesus states that he is ‘the bread of life for the one who ‘comes’ to him and ‘believes’ in him’. There’s still no reference yet to eating or drinking; that will come later. It’s so important to understand this point, because it reminds us that only a believing reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus will bring us life.

But, unfortunately, it’s only too easy to receive Eucharist without a true and effective commitment in your daily life to the ideal of unselfish behavior that is so perfectly represented by this sacrament. And, similarly, some who do not receive the bread of Eucharist are filled with the body of Jesus because their lives are unselfishly consumed with the needs of others, the pain and suffering in the world and their consuming desire to bring the comfort and relief that Jesus brings.

Jesus is challenging us in this Gospel to avoid a magical or mechanical understanding of the power of this great sacrament of Eucharist. It doesn’t nourish us spiritually simply by the action of receiving it. There also has to be a firm intention to change one’s life in a way that is in harmony with his supreme sacrament of Jesus’ giving of himself for us.

The crowd never fully understood Jesus. Many of them in fact walked away from Him, not simply because they misunderstood His ‘Eating His Flesh and Drinking His Blood’. Perhaps some understood only too well, and found themselves unwilling to accept the challenge of living a life of unselfishness and sensitivity.

In times such as ours, we hear often of great turmoil in churches over merging of parishes or of differing political viewpoints, of chicken sandwiches, the habits of nuns, even deep and strong clashes among believers and ecclesiastical statements over what bishops certainly consider serious moral and ethical issues.

To put them in perspective, we all need to once again see the Jesus of today‘s Gospel standing in our midst, telling us of the real Living Bread. Somehow, I imagine what would be saying would be, “This isn’t what I intended.”

Let Jesus nourish you with His love, His unselfishness. Absorb His life of sacrifice for others. And rediscover the power of the Love of Jesus and of His message in your heart.   (Demetrius Dumm. O.S.B.)

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