YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: LIFE-GIVING BREAD
BY: Fr. Gerald Musa
A young Italian priest, Angelo Comastri travelled to Kolkota (Calcutta) eager to meet the renowned Mother Theresa. In his book entitled Dio Scritto Dritto (God writes straight), he recalled how difficult it was to see her, but luckily and surprising he was able to meet with her. He opened up and said to her, “Mother, I am a very young priest. I’m taking my first steps! I came to ask you to accompany me with your prayers.” Mother Theresa advised him to spend more time in prayer and adoration and be nourished with the word of God and to have a profound appreciation for the Eucharist (Holy Communion. She said something remarkable: “There is nothing littler, meeker, or more silent than Christ present in the Host. This little piece of bread embodies the humility and perfect silence of God, his tenderness and love for us.”
The mystery of this living bread, which Mother Theresa explained was what Jesus took time to explain to his listeners. Many of them misunderstood him when he was talking about the bread of life. Some of his followers even rejected him because they could not understand his point. No wonder the Gospel of John Chapter 6 is arguably among the 3 longest chapters of the New Testament and one of the most contentious chapters in scriptural interpretation. It is the chapter where Jesus refers to himself as the Bread of Life. One of the verses in this Gospel that has been subjected to interpretations and counter interpretations is Chapter 6:53 where Jesus declared to his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Some Christians are of the opinion that eating the body and blood of Christ only implies a spiritual union with Christ in faith. Those who argue on this line say that Jesus Christ is not really present in the consecrated bread and wine. Many other Christians believe that Christ offered physical bread and wine as his body and blood and asks his disciples to perform the same ritual in memory of him. There are compelling proofs that suggest Jesus was not just speaking in metaphorical or symbolic language: First, When he took the bread, he said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me." Similarly, he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you (Luke 22:19-20). In response to the injunction of Jesus, the Church continues to use physical bread and wine, which are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ during Eucharistic celebrations. In short, John Chapter 6 cannot be understood properly unless it is linked to the Lord’s Supper recorded in other Gospel accounts (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-23).
Second, soon after the ascension of Jesus, the early Christian community continued with the practice of consecrating bread and wine for their spiritual nourishment. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians points to this historical fact: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16). Furthermore, in order to show that this visible and tangible sacred meal must not be taken for granted, the Apostle advises against eating bread and drinking the cup of the Lord unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27, 29).
In his book, Wrestling with Christ, Italian novelist, dramatist and mystic Luigi Santucci (1918-1999) explains that Jesus deliberately gave bread to his disciples saying: “This is my body” and not “This is my Spirit” because he wanted to be constantly present with them through something which is concrete and familiar to them – bread and wine. Jesus chose bread and wine because he knows that food and drinks matter in human life and in every gathering of people, eating and drinking are expressions of unity, solidarity, harmonious relationship, fellowship and joy. In the case of the Mass, when bread and wine are consecrated they are spiritually transformed into body and blood of Christ. Those who partake in this bread and wine establish not only a spiritual relationship but also body and blood relationship with Christ. Among all kinds of relationships, blood relationship is the strongest and unbreakable relationship. Therefore, to eat and drink of the body and blood of Christ is to share his life. St. Augustine rightly says, “This Flesh alone profiteth not, but let the Spirit be joined to the Flesh, and It profiteth greatly. For if the Flesh profiteth nothing, the Word would not have become Flesh.” The Holy Communion is the life- giving bread, which lavishly nourishes the spirit and soul, mind and body. The world is hungry for communion and the Holy Communion satisfies the deep longing of many people in the world. 20th Sunday of the Year B/ Proverbs 9:1-6 �Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7�; Ephesians 5:15-20; �John 6:51-58.