Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Flesh Is True Food and My Blood Is True Drink

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Book of Proverbs, (9:1-6) also known as the Wisdom of Solomon. The author, who wrote about a hundred years before Christ, placed his teachings on the lips of the wise king of Hebrew tradition in order to emphasize their value. The Church agreeing with the assessment of the ancients, has included this book in the canon of the Old Testament, considering its wisdom to be divinely inspired.

Wisdom is personified in today’s reading. Sophia (the Greek word for wisdom), has set a table, and has invited the people of the city, in particular those who are “simple” and who “lack understanding” to share in the mean she has prepared. Her message: forsake the wisdom of the “worldly-wise”; advance in understanding of the wisdom of God, which will result in a deeper and closer relationship with Him.

Today’s Second Reading, from Paul’s Letter to the people of Ephesus, (5:15-20) continues the same theme in just a few sentences:

These are evil times, so be wise, not foolish. Don’t get drunk on wine (or other “spirituous liquors”, which will lead to immoral behavior. Instead, drink your fill of God’s Holy Spirit. Make music not only with your voice but with your heart. Sing psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs. And, always give thanks to God our Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel, (John 6:51-58) Jesus tries to explain to his neighbors that he is not who they think he is. Remember last weeks’ gospel, when Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”, they grumbled, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter? Doesn’t Mary, his mother, have kinfolk in just about every village in Galilee? Now he says, “I am the living bread from heaven. If you eat this bread you will live forever. The bread I will give you is my flesh, for the life of the world.”

Today’ Jesus makes a statement about his true identity, and the listeners continue to struggle with this new teaching. “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” -- It is a very serious question. Some of the tribes in Canaan ate the flesh of their enemies to give them strength, and the Law of Moses had severe penalties for Hebrews who ate human flesh.

This is the first in a series of lessons on the true meaning of Jesus as “bread of life”, but for the moment, the listeners are stuck. They shake their heads in disbelief, while Jesus continues to insist that he can grant them eternal life, if they will only move to the next level of understanding. They are thinking “food for the body” – food for the present life. Jesus is offering them “food for the soul” – food for eternal life.

Everything Jesus is an invitation to “come and see”. The listeners have followed him to the opposite side of the lake because they witnesses – and partook of – the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Now, he is inviting them to enter a desert of belief, like the one their ancestors experienced as the crossed the Sinai, and wished they were back in Egypt, where they were slaves, but at least they had full bellies.

At the end of the day, it would seem that the best way to absorb the lesson Jesus is teaching the Galileans and ourselves is not with the language of philosophy and theology, which reaches the sol through the brain, but with the language of poetry, which reaches the soul through the heart.

The original, composed by Dominican theologian and poet, Saint Thomas Aquinas, is in very beautiful and poetic Latin. It is only fitting to present an English version composed by another theologian and poet, Jesuit Father Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross Thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here Thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what Thy bosom ran
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with Thy glory's sight. Amen.

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