Sunday, 9 August 2009

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Without a doubt, for anyone to walk into a Jewish synagogue 2000 years ago and seriously propose the eating of human flesh and the drinking of human blood would be suicide. I guess that’s why the image of a suicide bomber suddenly came to my mind as I considered today’s Gospel.

A suicide bomber enters a restaurant, a market place, or even a synagogue with deadly explosives strapped to his waist. These explosives are fastened together with all the destructive hatred and murderous intent of their makers. When they explode they cause immense destruction to human bodies and spirits, the kind we have seen all too often on our television screens.

To the Jews listening to him it seemed that Jesus, too, had detonated some kind of bomb in their midst.

I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.
This is a New Testament ‘bombshell’ but instead of bringing ruin it brings life. It is a ‘construction’ bomb. It does not bring hatred but love, not disorder but order, not confusion but ‘knowledge of God’. The teaching of Jesus is an outburst of divine revelation suddenly unleashed among men who thought they had the ‘god question’ all sewn up. In one moment Jesus has overturned everything, especially their confidence that their understanding of things was the correct one.

‘The Jews’, those people opposed to Jesus, are thrown into disarray. They receive his words as harmful and wicked and rise up (blow up) in anger. One cannot help but think of the words of Hosea 6:5-6: This is why I have torn them to pieces by the prophets, why I slaughtered them with the words from my mouth, since what I want is love, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not holocausts.

When Jesus walked into the Temple in Jerusalem (Jn 2:13ff.) and began overturning tables, letting loose animals and scattering the money changer’s coins, it must have looked very much like he was bringing disturbance and confusion to the house of God – but the opposite is true – he was ‘cleansing’ the Temple and returning it to good order; to the way God intended it to be.

And so there he stands in the synagogue in Capernaum surrounded by the angry crowd and his (probably) disconcerted disciples. He has come to the end of his teaching and can only await their response. It’s an amazing thing that this tiny seed of doctrine, planted in the tiny synagogue of Capernaum among a tiny handful of men, most of whom rejected it, has spread throughout the ages and throughout the world and been accepted and celebrated by billions of Catholic and Orthodox Christians for two thousand years.

And do you notice Jesus doesn’t ‘explain’ his teaching? There is actually nothing to explain – there is something to believe, or to put it more exactly, there is a Person to believe in. A person whose words, because we believe in him, are to be accepted as true – without explanation.

Now I can imagine someone might say ‘So why doesn’t Jesus explain how he is going to change bread and wine into his flesh and blood and then ask us to eat him in that sacramental form?’

So you think that would help, do you? Really? You think that ‘the Jews’ and the millions of Protestants around the world will say ‘Oh, okay, so why didn’t anyone tell us that THAT’S how he meant to do it? All these years we thought he was somehow going to slice off his flesh and pour out a cup of his blood for us to drink.’

No, there is nothing to explain - there is a man to believe in – a man of whom Peter, the Rock, will say next week: Lord … we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:69)

I recall a story told by Fr Bill, a priest of our diocese, about an elderly man who was dying and who wanted to be baptised. Fr Bill asked him ‘Do you believe in Jesus?’ and he answered, ‘I believe in you, Fr Bill’. Naturally enough that man was baptised because he was really saying, ‘I believe in you, Fr Bill, and if you tell me something about Jesus I will believe it.’

Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe...

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