Food and drink unto eternal life

Al Cariño
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

Making Wisdom and Folly act like people, the author of Proverbs has both of them invite guests to a banquet. Lady Wisdom tells her guests, "Come, eat and drink of the bread and wine I have prepared. Give up your foolishness and you will live; take the straight path of discernment" (Prov. 9:5-6). Lady Folly for her part tells her guests, "Stolen waters are sweet and pilfered bread is the tastiest. But they do not see the Shadow world lying there; its guests are heading towards the abyss of death" (Prov. 9:17-18). Eating and drinking at the table of Lady Wisdom gives life; doing the same at the table of Lady Folly brings death. The choice is left to the guests.

We see the invitation of Lady Wisdom for her guests reflected in Jesus' Discourse on the Bread of Life (Jn: 6:51-58). Then Jesus told the people that the food He would give them "endures to eternal life". On hearing this, they said right away, "Sir, from now on give us this bread." But when Jesus became more specific saying, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world," they were shocked. Thus they said among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" For them to partake of the blood of animals was bad enough as it was prohibited by the Scriptures. And now here was this man Jesus offering His own flesh and blood as their food and drink!

But their negative reception to the offer did not deter Jesus from giving his flesh and blood as food and drink. In fact, He made it the condition for attaining eternal life: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Finally, His offer of His body and blood as food and drink is a "take it or leave it" one. Thus when the crowd and even some of His disciples began to leave, Jesus did not stop them.

Even today, some people find it hard to accept this teaching. Once, a girl of 16 told her parish priest, "It is difficult to believe everything that the Church teaches. Like the host, you know, the body of Christ. I realize it's Jesus but... its difficult to explain. You know what I mean."

The girl is right. We know what she means and we can identify with her difficulties. When we were small, we believed everything we were told, especially if it came from persons of authority, like our parents, elders or religion teacher. But as we grow older, we begin to question things. This is what has happened to the young girl.

The young girl's earlier remarks may be put in question form thus: "Can God the Father make His Son be contained in a bread? And why in a tiny and humble bread?" To her we may say that if the Father allowed His Son Jesus to become incarnate so that He can identify with us in everything except sin, He could still go further and be "incarnated" into something. And what better way for this "second incarnation" than as a humble bread so that He can nourish us into eternal life?

We know that the ordinary, common-place bread sustains our natural life. What better way for Jesus to make us understand that the "living bread" He gives us will have the same function in sustaining the divine life which He gave us at our baptism.

Sometime ago, I came across this definition of faith: "Faith is not believing that God can but that God will." There is no question that the all-powerful God can allow Jesus to become bread for the life of the world. But more than that, He willed it to be so. Thus Jesus, who did His Father's will in all things, could declare, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven... This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Nothing can stop God from willing the ordinary bread to be His Son's abiding and saving presence among us. In this regard, we would like to emphasize that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist not in His flesh and bones but in his Risen Body. Thus He is no longer bound by space and time as when He went around preaching and doing good during His ministry.

These clarifications may help us understand the Eucharist better. But when ultimately confronted with the full mystery of the Eucharist, all we can say as many others before us have said: "For the unbeliever, no explanation suffices and for the believer, no explanation is needed." Or to use a phrase which some people in the gospel used after they accepted Jesus in faith, "Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief." We can have no better attitude than this humble faith when confronted with the mysteries of God.