The 20th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:2-7
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Divine Meal
Our Lord has given us a Divine Meal to nourish us on the journey to salvation, and that meal is the Eucharist.  It looks backward in time to when Jesus first gave us His Body and Blood on the night of the Last Supper, but it also looks forward in time to the promise of the Banquet of Just in our Father's heavenly kingdom.  The Eucharist is a Divine Meal that is a present and future reality.

In the First Reading, we read that the Wisdom of God has prepared a feast.  All who seek understanding and forsake foolishness are invited to come to the meal.   In the Second Reading, St. Paul urges the Ephesians not to make foolish choices.  The new life received in the Sacrament of Baptism is characterized by a wisdom which contrasts with the foolishness of those who have rejected God's sovereignty over their lives.  He tells them to act wisely and not to waste time and opportunity by persisting  in ignorance, but to seek the will of the Lord by being filled with God's Spirit and participating in communal worship.

In the Gospel Reading, this is the third consecutive Sunday that we have been reading through Jesus' "Bread of Life Discourse" in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.  In the previous two Sundays, Jesus announced, "I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst" (Jn 6:35), and  "I am the bread of life... 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.  51 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"(Jn 6:49b-51).  His teaching is that a person who possesses His life will not die the death of alienation from God. 

Jesus told the crowd at Capernaum, and he tells us today, that He is the divine meal that gives life: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (Jn 6:54-55).  The divine meal Jesus has prepared for us is the Eucharist.  In today's Liturgy we are invited to renew our faith and understanding in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, to reject the foolishness of believing only in what we can see with our eyes, and, with the vision of faith, to come to the table of the Lord and experience the sharing of His glorified life to nourish us on our journey through this life in preparation for the heavenly banquet this is to come for those who persevere in faith to the end.

The First Reading Proverbs 9:1-6 ~ Divine Food and Drink
1 Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; 2 she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table.  3 She has sent out her maidens; she calls from the heights out over the city: 4 "Let whoever is simple turn in here; to the one who lacks understanding, she says, 5 Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine that I have mixed!  6 Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding."

In Proverbs chapter 9, "Wisdom" and "Folly" are personified as matrons who have each invited guests to a banquet.  Wisdom publically proclaims her invitation through her emissaries to those of child-like faith ("the simple), offering food and drink of divine doctrine and virtue.  What Wisdom offers in her banquet gives understanding and life (verses 1-6).

The Wisdom of God's divine banquet is the Eucharist.  We must hear and accept Christ's invitation to come and understand divine doctrine in the Liturgy of the Word, and to accept His invitation to receive the "bread of Life" that is His Body and the "wine of the New Covenant in His Blood in the Liturgy of the Eucharist the we "may live" and "advance in the way of understanding" for God's will in our lives.   

Responsorial Psalm 34:2-7
Response: "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."
 
2 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth.  3 Let my soul glory in the LORD; the lowly will hear me and be glad.
Response:
4 Glorify the LORD with me, let us together extol his name.  5 I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Response:
6 Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame.  7 When the afflicted man called out, the LORD heard, and from all his distress he saved him.
Response:

Psalm 34 is identified as a Psalm of David (verse 1).  The psalmist begins to praise God, and he invites the afflicted to unite themselves to God (verses 2-4, 6).  The other verses give his reasons why the Lord should be praised.  The psalmist has experienced the power of the Lord in his own life in the midst of distress, and he bears witness to the Lord's faithfulness, deliverance, and protection.  He invites his listeners to "taste" (meaning to experience) God's goodness for themselves by appealing to God's mercy and taking refuge in Him for the sake of his salvation.

The Second Reading Ephesians 5:15-20 ~ Understanding the Will of God
Brothers and sisters: 15 Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, 16 making the most of the opportunity [kairos], because the days are evil.  17 Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.  18 And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

St. Paul contrasts the wisdom one received through "new life" in the Sacrament of Baptism with the foolishness of those who reject a relationship with Jesus Christ and His gift of eternal life (also see 1 Cor 1:18).  The Greek word karios, which is rendered as "time" in some translations, refers to the content of the point in time in which we find ourselves in the situations and the opportunities which that moment offers as regards to the ultimate purpose of this life.  Therefore, St. Paul is encouraging Christians to do more than make the most of time by not wasting it; he urges Christians to use every situation and every moment to give glory to God.  St. Josemaria Escriva wrote that "time is a treasure that melts away"... "it escapes from us, slipping through our fingers like water through the mountain rocks.  Tomorrow will soon be another yesterday.  Our lives are so very short.  Yesterday has gone and today is passing by.  But what a great deal can be done for the love of God in this short space of time!" (Friends of God, 52).

The opportunity to live according to the will of God is a pressing matter because, as St. Paul writes, "the days are evil."  St. Peter makes the same point in 1 Peter 5:7-9 writing, So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.  Cast all our worries upon him because he cares for you.  Be sober and vigilant.  Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.

When a person's life is in harmony with the obedience of faith, true wisdom is the result.  Such a person makes the most of the time and the opportunities that he has on his journey through life to be filled with the Spirit of God (verse 18), doing the will of God in works of righteousness (verse 15) and in avoiding sin and debauchery (verse 18).  Christian wisdom comes from knowledge and understanding of God's divine plan, submitting one's life to the will of God, and rejoicing with other Christians by addressing God with hymns of thanks and praise in the liturgical assembly (verse 19). 

The Gospel of John 6:51-58 ~ The Sacred Meal that gives Life: The Eucharist
Jesus said to the crowds: 51 "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."  52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  53 Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  57 Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  58 This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Jesus is speaking literally and sacramentally, and He is using extremely strong language.  It is His flesh (sarx in Greek) that must be eaten, and it is His blood that we must drink.  New Testament scholar Fr. Raymond Brown points out in his commentary on this passage that Jesus is not speaking in a Hebrew idiom as some scholars have suggested (The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible Commentary).  There were two Hebrew/Aramaic idioms.  One was much akin to our expression of "flesh and blood" meaning "life" (we, for example, express family relationships as "they are my kin, my flesh and blood" or "flesh and blood" as a reference to the human condition).  The second, "to eat the flesh" or "drink the blood of the enemy" referred to the horrors of war.  If Jesus was using either of these idioms, He would have to use the words "flesh and blood" or "eat the flesh" together in one phrase.  But instead, He very distinctly separates these words and phrases and makes the statement in such a way that leaves no doubt as to His meaning: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person."  To eat His flesh and drink His blood is to consume "life" that is supernatural and in doing so we are elevated to become sharers in His divine nature. 

These are the words (from verse 51 in this passage) that the disciples will remember when they receive Eucharist from the hands of Jesus in the Upper Room a year later at the meal of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the Passover sacrifice is during the day and that night is the sacramental meal which is the beginning of the first day of Unleavened Bread).  Jesus said, "the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (6:51); and in the Upper Room the night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread He will say: "Take it and eat ... this is my body" and "Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood..." (Mt 26:27-28). 

An important difference you will have noticed is that while Jesus speaks of his "flesh" (sarx) in John's Gospel, the word "body" (soma) is used in the Synoptic Gospel accounts of the Last Supper.  Fr. Raymond Brown points out in his commentary that there is really no Hebrew or Aramaic word for "body," as we understand the term; and many scholars maintain that at the Last Supper what Jesus actually said was the Aramaic equivalent of "This is my flesh".  Proof of this theory may be found in the letters of St. Ignatius who was the third Bishop of Antioch, succeeding St. Evodius, the immediate successor of St. Peter after he left Antioch for Rome.  Bishop Ignatius was martyred by the Romans circa 107/10 AD.  St. Ignatius uses "flesh" in numerous references to the Eucharist (Letter to the Romans 7.3; Letter to the Church at Philadelphia 4.1; Letter to the Church at Smyrna 7.1; etc.).  This terminology of Jesus' "flesh" is also found in the letter St. Justin the Martyr (c. 155 AD) wrote to the pagan Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius explaining the Christian faith (see Apology I,66). 

What Jesus is teaching is not cannibalism (a charge for which Christians were executed in the 2nd century for insisting that they were indeed eating the flesh of Jesus the Christ). The definition of cannibalism is the eating of a human who is dead.  Jesus is not dead; He is more alive than we are in His glorified flesh.  The restrictions under the Old Law were against consuming the flesh and blood on the natural level of a lower level of life; this was forbidden under the Old Covenant Law, and a violation resulted in excommunication from the covenant people (Gen 9:4; Lev 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12; Dt 12:16 & 23).   To consume Christ does not pull us down to the level of animals but elevates us to life in Christ:

It is significant to note the different Greek verbs for "to eat" which are used in the dialogue.  In the earlier part of the dialogue (verses 49-53) Jesus uses the normal Greek verbs for eat or consume = phago/ ephagos.  He continues using the normal word for "eat" until, becoming frustrated with the Jews' lack of understanding, and He increases the intensity of His words (beginning in verse 54) when He abruptly changes the verb.  Now, when He speaks about Himself in verses 54, 56, 57, and 58, He uses the verb whose Greek root trogo means to "chew or gnaw".  This word is used in Greek literature to describe the feeding of animals such as mules, pigs, and cattle.  It was not used in the 1st century to describe the eating habits of people.  In chapter 6 this verb is used four times in the second half of the Bread of Life discourse.  It is used 5 times in the Fourth Gospel (5th time is in John 13:18), and in every case it is used in connection with Christ.  It is clear that the use of this verb marks a change of emphasis from ordinary eating to the necessity of faith in the consumption of the Eucharist.  The graphic and almost crude connotation of this verb adds even greater force to the repetition of Jesus' words as He demands we express our faith by eating, in a real and physical way His Body, and by consuming in a real and physical way His Blood in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.

Here is a breakdown of the verbs used in the discourse: 

Verse 49 "Your fathers ate [ephagon] manna in the desert and they died"  
Verse 50 "... so that one may eat [phage] it and not die."
Verse 51 "...whoever eats [phagon] this bread will live forever..."
Verse 52 "How can this man give us his flesh to eat [phagein]?"
Verse 53 "... unless you eat [phagethe] the flesh of the Son of man..."
Verse 54 "Whoever eats [trogon] my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life..."
Verse 56 "Whoever eats [trogon] my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me..."
Verse 57 "the one who feeds on [trogon] me will have life from me.."
Verse 58 "..it is not like the bread our ancestors ate [ephagon].." "but anyone who eats [trogon] this bread will live forever."

[see Logos Library system, Greek text translation John 5:49-58].

Another interesting Greek word is the verb menei/meno meaning "to remain or abide" found in verse 56: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains [menei] in me and I in him.  When one receives Christ in the Holy Eucharist, He "remains"/ abides/ lives, in that person.  The Greek verb meno is one of the most important theological terms in John's Gospel:

Just as Jesus has His life from the Father and the Father is in Him, so too believers who receive Christ in the Eucharist have life because Jesus remains/abides/lives in them.  It is His promise to us along with His promise to remain with us always, until the end of time in Matthew 27:20 (references = The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, volume IV: New Testament; The Gospel of John; Logos Library system).

The Catechism teaches:

The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist has always been the teaching of the Church since the time of the Apostles, and includes the warning of God's judgment for receiving without being in a state of grace or believing in the Body and Blood of Christ: Therefore, whoever eats the bread of drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.  A person should examine himself and so eat the bread and drink the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor 11:27-29).

Catechism References:
Psalm 34:3 (CCC 716)
Ephesians 5:16 (CCC 672); 5:17 (CCC 2826); 5:19 (CCC 1156, 2641) 5:20 (CCC 2633, 2742)
John 6:51 (CCC 728, 1355, 1406, 2837); 5:53-56 (CCC 2837); 6:53 (CCC 1384); 6:54 (CCC 994, 1001, 1406, 1509, 1542) 6:56 (CCC 787, 1391, 1406); 6:57 (CCC 1391); 5:58 (CCC 1509)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015