17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of St. Raymond
Another little outline this week:
I’m not sure what happens to parents when their kids turn 13 or 14…but it seems that out of the blue they become so stupid. Then, I’m not sure how or why, when the kid turns 22 and finishes college, the parents suddenly become very smart again. The parents seem to think that what they say to the children in those intervening 15 years makes a lot of sense, but the kids will tell you it is often utterly preposterous nonsense.
Then, the kids go out into the real world and suddenly our parents know an awful lot of helpful things, and we’re glad to take them at their word.
Very often, we do the same thing with God. We’re glad to believe him when he said that all he had to do was speak the world into being, saying “Let there be light, and there was light.” We like the fact that he came to save us from our sins and to make us new and to bring us together. We like the idea of his promise of heaven and a new life in a new heaven and a new earth.
But some of the things he says frustrate and confuse us, and we wonder if he was serious when he said them. There is a kind of double standard here. If it’s easy to believe and serves to make me better, I’ll believe it without question. But if it’s more difficult to stomach or comprehend, often the doubts prevail in our minds forever.
The Eucharist is one of these issues.
If we believe him when he says that he created the sun and moon and ants and trees, if we believe him when he says that death is conquered and sin is forgiven and we’re called to live with him forever, if we believe him when says to those he meets, “be healed” or “rise and walk” or “little girl, arise”, why don’t we believe him when he says, “this is my body” and “this is my blood”?
This weekend, we begin our journey through John 6, the Bread of Life Discourse, wherein Jesus utters some of his most astounding words: “I am the Bread of Life…he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever.”
1. In the multiplication of the loaves and fish today, we see that we are not the only ones to question Jesus’ intentions. In fact, as we saw in the first reading, Elisha was questioned when attempting to the exact same thing. But the provision of food, so much food that everyone can eat as much as he wants, so much food that there will be leftovers tells us something very important about Jesus and his ministry.
As Jesus comes across the Sea, he a) lifts his eyes, b) sees the crowd, c) perceives their need, d) is affected by their need, and e) steps in to provide for them.
Philip questions Jesus, and Jesus plays along since “he himself knew what he was going to do.”
2. We’ll explore this more in the coming weeks, but I want to point out that it isn’t all that preposterous to believe in the Eucharist as truly being the Lord’s body and blood. Sure, it looks like bread and wine even after consecration, but look at the effects, the fruit, of this sacrament.
Could an institution that claims as its Source and Summit, the very center of its life, its bond of unity and source of charity, a Nilla Wafer survive the persecutions of Nero and Diocletian? Could it survive atheistic Communism and Nazism and Fascism? Could faith in the Ritz Cracker persist through ISIS’ burning of churches and cutting off the heads of believers in Mosul?
Would anyone in his right mind die for his belief in a Nilla Wafer? I wouldn’t.
A lot of you have told me how happy you are to have me here, and I am very happy to be your priest! But as a 26 year old with nearly any option open to me, I hope you don’t think I gave it all up at the service of Oyster crackers.
3. A final thought: Why did Jesus escape to mountain alone instead of allowing himself to be named King? That would have given him a leg-up in his ministry and given him the platform to convert the world to his mission.
But the King of Israel does not get crucified.
It is only on the cross that Jesus’ identity is fully revealed, that Jesus himself becomes the first fruit of his own ministry. This is why we say that Eucharist is the crucified flesh and blood of Jesus, “this is my body, given up for you”, “this is my blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This is my body, given…this is my blood, poured out.
It’s at the heart of the Christian thing: by his death, we have life. Our life source, the center of our hearts and the Source and Summit of our teaching and life comes from the altar of the Cross.
Maybe it isn’t the parents who get stupid, but the kids who get lazy and find it easier to be immovable know-it-alls than to admit their lowliness and receive what’s true from the ones who know what they’re about.
Jesus knows what he’s about.
Come, receive what’s true from him.