Readings like these offer us an opportunity for evaluating the quality of its liturgy, particularly its Eucharistic worship. To be a Christian is to be a wise servant like Jesus, who put the needs of others ahead of his/her own. Christian fellowship means to offer one’s time, talent and treasure as food for the many hungers of God’s people. Like Jesus, a Christian must have capacity for compassion that overcomes conceit and self-centeredness with concern for the other. It is only when the common good is upheld by the generosity of the assembled community that the Eucharist is complete.
In the 16th century, the Council of Trent affirmed the five things needed to celebrate the Eucharist: the people, the bread and wine, the scriptural word, a collection for the poor and a priest/celebrant. If any one of these requisites is lacking, then the liturgy lacks authenticity. As we ponder the gifts that have been given to us to share yet again today, and as we are fed to satisfaction by both bread and word, we are also challenged to recognize and satisfy the hungers of the poor among us as well as those outside the doors of our church.
First reading: Proverbs 9:1-6
Traditionally attributed to Solomon, the book of Proverbs is an anthology of early and late sapiential material which received its final form and editing centuries after Israel’s reputedly wise king. Predominant among Proverbs’ literary forms is the mashal, meaning, a pithy saying based on a comparison. These sayings, once probed and understood became words to live by, thereby affirming the other meaning of mashal which means to rule. Today’s text is part of an extended mashal which compares wisdom and folly. This mashal constitutes the book’s tenth instruction and forms a climactic conclusion to the previous eight chapters of Proverbs which argued for the superiority of wisdom over foolishness and appealed to the humble to choose well and wisely.
Personified as two women, wisdom is depicted as a lady and gracious person whereas folly is represented as a harlot. Each has built a house, prepared a feast and invited guests to come and enjoy what she has to offer. Ironically the invitations of the two hostesses are worded identically, “let whoever is simple turn in here; to him who lacks understanding I say.” Proverbs 9:4. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Wisdom’s banquet, laden with meat and wine imparts life to those who share in it and learn the way of wisdom. Folly’s table, with its offering of stolen water and pilfered bread, leads to death cf. Proverbs 9:17. In fact the banquet chamber of folly is a tomb from which no one who enters it is released!
Ultimately, the choice for life or death hinges upon which invitation is accepted. As a people of today we may wonder whether given these consequences, anyone would actually be mindless enough to choose folly over wisdom. A humble assessment is that the two are not equal but since Wisdom’s banquet requires a long period of learning, the lure of quick pleasure offered by Folly easily captures many. Take it upon yourself not to be the next victim.
Second reading: Ephesians 5:15-20
Continuing to contrast the ways of the wise with those of the foolish, St Paul insists that the Ephesians make use the time and opportunities available to them. Prevalent in the early Church was the prediction that the end of time was near whereby the last days would be characterized as evil filled with woes, distress and tribulation cf. Ephesians 5:16. It was presumed that this eschatological era had been inaugurated by Jesus; leaving secular times to be ambiguous and equivocal. The evident danger was living in extremes of one or the other. To avoid this; true wisdom was patent in the daily life of the believer who by its virtue would not fritter away carelessly but rather live by grace and faith. This process would integrate faith and life in the expression of prayer life and active participation in the Eucharistic.
This liturgical life of the community is confirmed as St. Paul refers to psalms, hymns and inspired songs cf. Ephesians 5:19 as well as the exhortation to “give thanks”/eucharisteia to God cf. Ephesians 5:20. Although the warning against drunkenness and debauchery especially in a liturgical context seems surprising cf. Ephesians 5:18; we ought to remember that community’s Eucharistic liturgies were originally celebrated within the context of a common meal. It was in situations like this that St. Paul rebuked Corinthians that among you “some go hungry; while other gorge themselves,” 1Corinthians 11:21 literary meaning that they get drunk. Continuing in this same vein of thought, St. Paul recommends believers to shun the ‘high’ that comes from too much wine leading them nowhere in favor of spiritual inebriation. Those tempted to hide themselves from reality by taking refuge in addictions and what have you are called to renewal by the power of the Holy Spirit cf. Ephesians 5:16. This is a wise counsel for all people at all times.
Gospel: John 6:51-58
Traditionally, Christian artists have represented each of the evangelists by one of the figures of the four living creatures gathered around the throne of God in Revelation 4:7. The lion was a symbol for Matthew as he portrayed Jesus to be the promised messiah and Lion of the tribe of Judah. Luke was represented by an ox because it was an animal of service and sacrifice. Luke understood Jesus to be the suffering servant whose sacrifice effected universal salvation. Mark was depicted as a man because his gospel was deemed the simplest, straightforward. John was symbolized by an eagle because of the bird’s uncanny and accurate vision. In today’s gospel, John conducts us with piercing insight, into the heart and mystery of the Eucharist.
The whole sixth chapter of John reflects the liturgical setting of a Passover feast resembling the gifts of manna in the wilderness, the loaves and fish in Galilee; and Jesus saving death on the Cross. In the lengthy bread of life discourse cf. John 6:22-59, John alternates description of Jesus’ gift of bread as being sapiential/sacramental in character. At times, the bread of life refers to Jesus’ teaching and revelation which accenting the Eucharistic gift of Jesus the Sacrament.
We need to note that St. John emphasis is not on believing in the bread of life but on eating the living bread which is the flesh and blood of Jesus given for the life of the world. Flesh and blood in Semitic usage means the whole human person, not just a part of him/her. Flesh and blood constitute the tangible person who is part of this earthly environment, not merely spirit and truth which are concepts and abstract. Jesus the Bread of life is a concrete human being who is God.
The term flesh recalls also the fact of incarnation, meaning; the word became flesh and dwelled among us which underscores the connection between descending and the Eucharist by calling Jesus ‘the living bread that come down from heaven’ who gives his ‘flesh for the life of the world’. In the living bread of the Eucharist, all the great moments of the Christ event are present; that is, the incarnation, the passion, death, resurrection and glorification. To believe in Jesus’ teaching and to eat of his flesh is to become participants and beneficiaries of every aspect of that saving event here and now and forever. When we feed on Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood we are privileged to grow in knowledge and to enter into a personal relationship cf. John 17:3.
In life we must opt for wisdom rather that folly no matter how long and demanding this may be.
We need to make sure that we do not fall victims of foolishness by diverting our attention to destructors such as gluttony, taking refuge in drinking and other vices. Jesus who is our Eucharist ought to be enough for us if we are truly his disciples. As today’s gospel affirms, the one who feeds and drinks him, already has eternal life and will be raised up on the last day cf. John 6:54. This fusion of realized and final eschatology is present whenever and wherever we celebrate the Eucharist. The Eucharist inspires confidence because Jesus is truly present among us. Daily, Jesus gives us his flesh and blood to eat and drink so that we can attain eternal life. Today therefore, let us all purify ourselves because we are with the Holy of Holies.