20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
August 16, 2009
John 6: 51-58
Proverbs 9: 1-6
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6: 54).
At noon on Friday Fr. Mark, whom you all know, the director of our mission office, ordered out for a spectacular luncheon on the grounds for all the mission office employees, in honor of three of the Salesians who work in the office. They’re celebrating this year their 40th, 50th, or 60th anniversary of their religious vows—40, 50, or 60 years as professed Salesians of Don Bosco. And Fr. Mark made sure that all the rest of us in the community were invited, so we could come and celebrate the lives of these brothers of ours along with the people they work with every day. Fr. Mark had his meats and his salads and his anniversary cake ready, and water and soda but no wine (cf. Prov 9:2). Sort of like Lady Wisdom in today’s 1st reading, he told all his staff and the SDBs, “Come, eat of my food, and drink” (cf. Prov 9:5). And those spare ribs and chicken were good, I’ll tell you!
Our Old Testament reading today speaks of a banquet with fine meat, and wine too. Wisdom—Wisdom personified—builds a seven-columned house and sets out a huge banquet for any passer-by who wants to stop in and feast with her. Her presence, her feast, is an offer of understanding and of life. As our SDB brothers have found joy and contentment in giving their lives over to follow Jesus Christ, so Wisdom invites everyone to find truth, goodness, beauty—life!—in following Torah, the law of God, in living out the special relationship between God and his people (which is what the Old Testament means by “wisdom”).
That passage from the Book of Proverbs may remind us of one of Jesus’ parables (Matt 22:1-13), wherein a king has prepared a wedding banquet for his son. When the invited guests refuse to come, the king sends out his servants to bring in anyone they can find on the roads and in the fields. And these unexpected guests have a grand feast. That parable is one of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of heaven, of God’s invitation to men and women to receive his gift of eternal life.
The Bible often uses the image of a feast, a banquet, for heaven, for eternal life, for deep friendship with God. Nothing symbolizes joy and contentment for people like a good party, a fine meal, as all of us know from our family lives and even here at Willow Towers.
Sometimes Scripture commentaries see in the passage from Proverbs about Wisdom a kind of foreshadowing of Jesus, Church, and sacraments. That’s not what the sacred author had in mind, but it’s an apt metaphor or symbol for us—what the commentators call an “allegorical” interpretation of the Old Testament. From earliest times, starting from St. Paul (1 Cor 1:24), Christians have considered Christ to be the Wisdom of God in person, a natural theological offshoot of his title as the Word made flesh. According to the Old Testament, including Proverbs, the Word of God is wisdom. How much more, then, is the incarnate Word of God Wisdom in person. Referring to our passage from Proverbs, we can say that Christ has built himself a house, which is the Church, and this house depends upon seven columns, the sacraments.
Wisdom invites people to come and feast at her lavish table, and so to find life. Jesus invites everyone to come to his lavish table and find life, eternal life: “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:55,54).
The Eucharist isn’t just one column of Jesus’ house, just one sacrament among seven. The entire house depends on this essential structural support. If we were using a shipbuilding metaphor, the Eucharist would be the keel. As the Second Vatican Council says, the Eucharist is the source and the summit of the entire life of the Church. It is the very Body and Blood of Christ, our Lord and Savior himself. We—the Church—come from him and we’re going to him, accompanied along the way by him.
I noted a couple of weeks ago that the people in the synagog at Capernaum begged Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always” (6:34), not realizing of course that Jesus would do exactly that: give us himself in the form of bread and wine to remain with us always, always to be available to us, so that we can absorb him into our corporeal and spiritual selves and make him, quite literally, part of our very being, be transformed into the Body of Christ. We are what we eat, as you know. And the Church is the Body of Christ, constantly nourished by this heavenly, this divine food. “Whoever feeds on me will have life because of me” (6:57).
None of us can live very long without eating and drinking. If that’s true of our physical lives, it’s also true of our spiritual lives, or if you dare say so, our divine lives. Our spiritual lives depend upon a relationship with Jesus Christ, and in the Eucharist we truly commune with him, become part of him, he part of us. If we avoid this essential food, we cut ourselves off from our source of life. That’s part of why the Church requires us to come to Mass. (Contrary to what jokesters might say, it’s not all about the collection! It’s about connecting at the deepest level with our Lord.)
And how privileged we are that God has called us to be his own by joining us to his Son, so that we might be raised to everlasting life on the last day, as Jesus has already been raised, so that we might have a seat at the eternal banquet in heaven, foreshadowed by this Eucharistic banquet on earth.