Sunday, August 26, 2012


Have you ever had the experience of saying something and then all the people around you got upset?   Been there, done that.  Then you can identify with Jesus in today’s Gospel. 

            “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
            What is this hard saying?   Well, just four verses earlier, in last Sunday’s Gospel, we heard Jesus state: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
            This is presumably the saying that the disciples found hard to accept.  Now it is important for us to understand why they found it hard to accept.  Are the disciples taking Jesus’ statement too literally?  Are they repulsed by the idea of physically eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking Jesus’ blood?  Are they misunderstanding Jesus as advocating cannibalism?
            I think that solution lets us off the hook too easily.  Because you see, WE know that Jesus is not advocating cannibalism.  We know that Jesus is speaking figuratively, or better, sacramentally.  We know that Jesus gives us His flesh under the form of bread, and His blood under the form of wine.  And so we know this hard statement is not about cannibalism.
            But the disciples of Jesus’ day were not literalist dummies.  Just a few verses before this, in verses 27-28, they understood perfectly well that Jesus was speaking figuratively.  When Jesus instructed them: Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life,...."    The disciples responded: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?"  [John 6:27-28] They understood well that Jesus was not talking about physical food, but rather about doing the works of God.  
            So then, why did they get so upset that they turn away and abandoned Jesus?  I think it was not because they misunderstood Jesus in some literalistic repugnance to cannibalism.   Rather they understood all too well what Jesus was talking about, and it was because they understood that they left Jesus.
            “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
            What is Jesus talking about?   If Jesus is not to be taken in a simplistically literal way, then how should we understand Him? 
            “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  This is a statement about very deep closeness, about very intense union, about intimacy.  It is about being known deeply and completely by the Lord, and knowing Jesus closely.  For to eat something is to become one with it.  When we eat food it becomes a part of us.  In this case, in the Eucharist, as St. Augustine pointed out long ago, we become part of what we eat.  We become part of the Body of Christ.  It is no longer our life that animates us, but the Life of Christ in us.  That is intimate.
            And the thing with intimacy is that it is scary.  It is threatening because intimacy makes us vulnerable.  You cannot be intimate in a suit of armor.  Genuine intimacy is also a lot of work.  To truly be intimate with someone you have to share your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your desires, your likes and dislikes, your very being.  You have to argue and laugh and cry and speak profoundly about who you are. 
            Genuine intimacy is difficult.  And yet that is what Jesus is talking about:   “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”   This is about intimate union, a deep personal closeness.  This is about love.   
            St. Paul, in our second reading today tells us: “For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church,”
- that is the gathering of Christ’s people - “because we are members of his body.”    St. Paul is talking here about a close and intimate union between Jesus and His people, who are all like members of one body. 
            Then St. Paul goes on to quote the Book of Genesis, and says: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”    St. Paul then makes this outrageous comment on the quote from Genesis: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and (His people) the church.”   “Mystery” or mysterion in Greek, gets translated into “sacramentum” in Latin,  that is, St. Paul says that Christian marriage is a sacrament of the union between Christ and His people, the church. 
            St. Paul is boldly using the image of marriage, and indeed even of sexual union, to try to capture this mystery of the intimacy that we are called to with Christ.  
            As the man and wife are joined and become one flesh, so we take Jesus into us, eat His flesh and drink His blood, so that His life is within us, and we become no longer two, but one body in Him. 
            That is pretty radical.  That is powerful.  And it is scary.  It demands a great deal of us, just as deep intimacy with any other human demands a great deal of us; in terms of honesty, in terms of being vulnerable, in terms of dependability and loyalty, in terms of commitment.  To eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood demands an absolute and thorough commitment from us, the same kind of commitment Jesus makes in giving us Himself.  It is to remain in Him and He in us.  That is POWERFUL.
            Commitment precludes options.  We belong to Christ now and He to us.  Commitment defines who we are: people who live in and for Christ.
            And a lot of us have a problem with such heavy-duty commitment.  So did those early disciples we hear about in today’s Gospel.  They weren’t just confused and so left Jesus over a misunderstanding.  No.  Rather they understood Him all too well, and so they are a challenge to us.  We are now presented with this invitation to radical intimacy with The Lord.   We too are tempted to pull back and walk away. 
            So Jesus’ question today is also addressed to us: “Do you also want to leave?”
The price of staying is steep.  The demand of committed discipleship is high.  But it is the only way to the fullness of life. 
            We answer with Simon Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.   We have come to believe and are convinced  
that you are the Holy One of God.”

No comments:

Post a Comment