August 19 20th Sunday of the Year (B)
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Proverbs 9:1-6).It is accepted by all that Jesus’ discourse on himself as the bread of life was given against the background of the biblical and Jewish tradition on the manna. Many scholars recognize that portion of the contents of the discourse have as background the Wisdom tradition of Israel. In this tradition divine Lady Wisdom is personified and presents herself as having been with God at the creation of the world, and in the world calling on humanity, particularly the young who can be easily led astray, to come to her for instruction (thus in Proverbs chapter 8). Personified Wisdom continues her invitation in this present reading (Proverbs chapter 9), with an invitation to a great feast. She has built her splendid mansion with seven pillars (whence the “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”), which may be intended to symbolize the world as fashioned by wisdom, the cosmic temple of Wisdom, or simply a large mansion with space for all comers. Dame Wisdom has dispatched her servant girls to bring her message to those easily led astray (“the fools”), to come to her feast, and not be led astray by the deceptions of another voice from Dame folly, to a .life that leads to ruin.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 33). Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Second Reading (Ephesians 5:15-20).
This reading is very much in keeping with that from the book of Proverbs in the first reading. In all ages the Church must admonish its members not to be assimilated or led astray by non-Christian or secular surroundings — not to be thoughtless but alert to the dangers of the world in which they live. In the first century when this letter to the Ephesians was written, and in our own day, all the followers of Christ have the prophetic mission of not just being assimilated by a non-Christian world but “redeeming” it, bringing to it the saving message of Christ. They are asked not to be thoughtless but to come to recognize what the will of the Lord is. With regard to central truths of faith and morals coming to know what God’s will is may generally be easy. Not so, however, with regard to many matters. God’s will is best recognized in the living of a humble, Christian, life. Paul has given his ideas on the matter in writing to the Romans (Romans 12:1-2): “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God –what is good and acceptable and perfect”. Christian life is to be joyful, but not by induced substances, wine, drugs or such like. The Holy Spirit should play a part, the Comforter, the Advocate in time of doubt.
Gospel (John 6:51-58).
The opening words of this reading “Jesus said to the crowd” is not in the biblical text, but is a liturgical addition to introduce the reading. Jesus’ opening words are a repetition of the ending of last Sunday’s gospel text giving Jesus’ statement that the bread that he will give is his flesh for the life of the world. It is recognized that this passage with its explicit statement on the Eucharist is the climax of the whole discussion, and leads to strong reactions. The substance of today’s reading is introduced by questioning by the Jews as to how Jesus can give his flesh to eat. Jesus’ reply does not soften the content of his teaching. He speaks with emphasis, solemnly, not just about eating his flesh but of drinking his blood in order to have life. For those who do eat his flesh and drink his blood, this life he gives is eternal life, here on earth and by resurrection to eternal life on the last day. Jesus goes on to give a realistic presentation of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, as real food and real drink. This Eucharistic participation brings about a mutual indwelling between Jesus and the participant. It also links the faithful with Jesus and the Father. Just as Jesus lives through, or because of, the Father, so also those who partake of his body will live through (or “because of”; the exact translation is uncertain). Whatever of the exact translation, communion with the body of Jesus links the participants with Jesus and the Father, in the eternal life that Jesus brings on earth. The passage ends by noting that this bread from heaven, which gives eternal life, differs from the manna in the wilderness, which was only a figure of the true bread of life.
This strong Eucharistic teaching was very probably intended to strengthen the faith of the first readers of John’s Gospel in the Eucharist. It would serve as the basic of later Church teaching on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and of the devotion connected with this belief.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
Jesus Christ the Bread of Life. Redemption. Murmuring. A Sign to be Contradicted
1. While the discourse on Jesus as the Bread of Life may have the manna tradition and the wisdom tradition of the Bible and Jesus tradition behind it, is is by no means a literary composition on these themes. It clearly sets us the position of Jesus as the way to God. It affirms that in him God, the Father, speaks to the world, as he did at Jesus’ baptism and at the Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son”. It speaks of Jesus as redeemer of the human race. The bread that he gives is his flesh, for the life of the world. It speaks of true life through union with Christ and the Father.
2. The discourse speaks of complaining, grumbling, with regard to Jesus’ affirmations and claims. The Jews in his audience, and many of his Jewish followers, find what he has said intolerable and unacceptable and part company with him. Among other things, his assertion on redemption would not be theirs.
3. There is still complaining, grumbling, and outright rejection of what the discourse on Jesus as the Bread of Life stands for in our own day. In part we live in a world where among sections of the intelligentsia there is a quest for redemption without Christ or God. As examples of this some instance the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the Irish playwright Tom Murphy. As noted in the entry under his name in the Internet site Wikipedia, recurring themes in his plays include the search for redemption and hope in a world apparently deserted by God and filled with suffering. The theme is explored in his play The Sanctuary Lamp (lit before the Blessed Sacrament reserved). This play explores major themes of redemption, love, guilt, spirituality and the existence – or non-existence – of God. It portrays the struggle of down-and-outs looking to find some kind of meaning to their lives. In common with much of Murphy’s work this play deals with the battle against nihilism and finds a form of redemption and hope in mankind’s ability to show compassion, love and find an individual spirituality. The Lamp itself becomes an image of the light of the human soul unattached to dogma or religion
4. Over the centuries, and in our own day, we encounter complaining, grumbling, about how the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ is expressed. When Berengar of Tours (11th century) denied that any change in the elements of bread and wine is needed to explain it, the term transubstantiation (change in the substances) entered as part of the explanation. This term became official in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), and the Council of Trent (“a fitting and proper” term). Catholic belief in the real presence has been expressed through the centuries it its usage and devotion (consecrated hosts to the sick outside of Mass, reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and such like). The fact that this divine presence is a mystery of faith, should never be forgotten.
5. Since the belief in Jesus as the Bread of Life and Saviour of the world is such a mystery, and since no one can come to him without the Father’s invitation, prayer for belief in Christ is essential.