The Heavenly Banquet
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

In Filipino homes, whenever we arrive at a time that the meal is being prepared, or people are already gathered around the table, the polite way is to invite the guest to eat. There is always a place for someone at the table even if no appointment was made. Like in many cultures, eating is considered a sacred time. No quarrels are allowed around the table. As much as possible the meal is to be a wholesome time.

Action starter: Come to the Eucharist

Food nourishes one’s body and spirit. This was true of Elijah, whose story we read in the first reading (1 Kngs. 19:4-8). After his encounter with the prophets of Baal, Queen Jezebel was so mad that she threatened to kill him. Elijah escaped and he was so tired, hungry and discouraged, that he prayed for death, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.” According to the story he fell asleep in that state of mind until an angel woke him up and gave him water and food. Renewed by food and rest he walked to the mountain of Horeb where he received further instruction from God to continue his work as a prophet.

The Gospel that we read this Sunday is a continuation of the the “bread of life” discourses, occasioned by the miracle of the multiplication of loaves. Jesus made a very controversial claim, “I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). This caused confusion among his audience, “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus offers Himself as our nourishment. Jesus was trying to move his audience from the idea of nourishment that sustains physical life to the nourishment that gives eternal life. LIfe here comes to mean more than just physically existing. Life here means being incorporated into Christ and Christ being incorporated in us so that we are enabled to give life to the world and to share in eternal life. We shall live forever!

Who wants to live forever? If life forever is more of this kind of life we live in this valley of tears, then living forever would not make sense. If life forever is a life of “eternal happiness,” then we may wish to live forever. What is eternal happiness? Here we can only use images or analogies. Medieval theologians described it as beatific vision, where one sees God and as it were, meets God face to face. Seeing God is enough.

Biblical images however give a different desciption. It is described as a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more tears and sadness (Rev. 21). The gospels many times described it as a heavenly banquet. It is a gathering of friends and family. It is like coming home (Jn.14:1-3).

The concept of life forever or everlasting happiness would make more sense to many of us when understood in a community context, rather than an individualistic one. It is a gathering of God’s family. It is what Jesus prayed for, “that they may be one” (Jn. 17:21).

The celebration of the Holy Eucharist is making this heavenly banquet present here on earth. It is in the Eucharist that people of different social status, economic background, and political persuasions come in fellowship. It is where sinners and saints kneel together in worship. As St.Paul warns, it is an event where discrimination has no place. Hopefully, to experience the Eucharist is to experience a bit of heaven.