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August 12, 2018 - Bread is Flesh

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Of the all the people in your life, is there one person you love the most? Perhaps, there are a few people who love the most. What could you do for them? Are there any limits to what you can do or be for them? Are there words to describe how much you love them? These are emotional questions, are they not? The reason, I begin with these questions is because today we are going to reflect on Jesus’ love. What does Jesus do? What does Jesus give us? What does it say about God’s love? 

Last week, we reflected on Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." This week Jesus takes us further. “The bread that I will give,” Jesus says, “is my flesh for the life of the world.” The key for us today is “flesh.” Here are my three points: 

1. Bread is flesh. In the desert, the people of Israel were given manna. In today’s first reading, the hungry Elijah received hearth cake and water. Jesus, on the other hand, gave us his whole, entire self. Jesus words, “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world,” epitomizes Jesus ultimate self-giving. This is the full extent of what any person can give to another. That this giving was not some symbolic giving is seen in the words that John uses to here. The Greek sarx literally means flesh. In a broader sense it also refers to the human person and human nature. Also, John’s use of the word trōgien or “eat,” in this passage very significant.” It involves a “munching,” and a “crunching.” God’s gift is literally the gift of the self. Before his death, Jesus took bread and wine and said, “Take and eat; this is my body. “… drink… this is my blood” (Mt 26:26). This was not merely a verbal assurance. That assurance became a reality when his offered himself on the cross in total self-giving.  I asked you earlier, what could you do for the ones you love? If you had to ask Jesus the question, he would say, “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus gives us everything he is – body, soul, and divinity. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we have access to this bread of life.  It is not just flesh and blood that we participate in. Through the Eucharist we enter into communion with Jesus entire self– body, soul, divinity.  

2. The Eucharist – The Life of the Church. John’s “bread of life” discourse, tells us of the centrality and importance of the Eucharist in the life of the early church. Let me explain. Based on the historical information in the four gospels, historians and scripture scholars conclude that Jesus was crucified on April 3, 33 AD. The gospel of John was written between 95-110 AD. This is a good sixty to seventy years after the resurrection of Jesus. If there is anything the “bread of life discourse” tells us, it is this – that by the time the gospel of John was written, the eucharist is firmly established as the central worship of the Church. We know this by the language that John uses. Ho artos (bread), sarx (flesh), egō dōsō(I will give), hyper(for the sake of) – these were the words that Jesus also used at the Last Supper. Jesus had also said, “Do this in memory of me.” The apostles did what Jesus commanded them to do. After the resurrection, the apostles gathered with Christians in their homes for the “breaking of the bread.” Each time they broke bread, they believed that they were participating in the very life of Christ.  By the time the gospel of John was written, the belief that the bread and wine were in reality the flesh and blood of Christ was also firmly established. For two-thousand years now, the church has continued what Jesus began. The church has indeed “done this in memory of him.” Now it is our turn. My our “doing it in memory of him,” preserve the Eucharist for ages to come.  

3. Do this in Memory of Me. At the Last Supper, Jesus had said to his apostles, “Do this in memory of me.” What does Jesus mean by “do this?” The narrow meaning is the actual Last Supper, and today, the actual Eucharistic celebration. But those who think like Jesus, think of the Last Supper as everything leading to it and following from it. For Jesus, the Last Supper and the death on the cross were merely the culmination of his self-giving. His entire life of self-giving led up to it. From the moment of his conception to his death on the cross was total self-giving. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world,” meant that in life and in death, from the womb to the tomb, Jesus gave himself for the life of the world. For us, then, “do this in memory of me,” should mean what it meant for Jesus. Discipleship is the imitation of Christ’s self-giving. First, it should mean that we too offer our body, soul, and humanity back to God. To hold back anything we are and have from God is contrary to the true meaning of the Eucharist. Second, it should mean that we imitate Christ’s self-giving to the world. Whether it is the people we love the most, or the whole wide world – our life must only bring life. If our life and actions make someone else’s life more difficult than it is; if our life does harm, brings pain, takes life, creates destruction; if our life does not enhance our earth and other people’s lives; if our life is lived only for the self – then our celebration of the Eucharist is a lie, our Christianity is a lie, and our discipleship is a lie.

Today, one more time in this Eucharist, Jesus says to us, “The bread that I will give, is my flesh for the life of the world.” And then he says to us, “Do this in memory of me.” Let our celebration of this Eucharist be an act of total self-giving to God and for the life of the world. 

- Fr. Satish Joseph