Today we learn to what lengths Jesus went to in order to make people think about, pay attention to, what He was saying: Our Lord did not seek popularity, but He did, most passionately, want to be understood.
In the gospel reading He declared:
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.
As you might well understand, the Jews were disturbed, some even incensed, at such words, and murmured among themselves:
How can this man give us His flesh to eat?
What did Jesus do? He went on to say something yet more difficult for pious Jews even to hear let alone accept:
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
For a Jew, that last statement was absolutely outrageous because it seemed quite contrary to the command God had given Noah and his sons in the beginning:
God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” (Genesis 9:1-4)
This same command was, moreover, given its crowning confirmation in the Law itself given to Moses on Mount Sinai:
You shall not eat any blood in any of your dwellings, whether of bird or beast. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people. (Leviticus 7:26-27)
What then is the significance of the blood? Let us learn more from the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy:
The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. (Leviticus 17:11)
Be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life; you may not eat the life with the meat. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God, and you shall eat the meat. (Deuteronomy 12: 23, 27)
God alone is – absolutely and uniquely -- the Lord of life, and so:
The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God, and you shall eat the meat.
Why, therefore, did Jesus speak in such a humanly provocative manner to the Jews by first of all saying eat My Flesh, and then following it up by the far more objectionable and religiously provocative words, drink My Blood ? What was He trying to express that was so important, so sublimely important, that He felt the need to go to such lengths in order to make His hearers give close attention to, and think deeply about, what He was saying?
The reason is, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that here we are given a most startlingly clear picture of the uniquely Christian awareness of the nature and the extent of God’s love for us, as also of the divine humility of Jesus. For, although Jesus’ blood -- the Blood of God’s only begotten Son -- was most sinfully poured out by us, yet, St. Paul (Ephesians 2:4) authoritatively assures us that:
God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us
has turned that supreme evil into the unique source of supreme blessing. Since Jesus poured out His blood so willingly for us, God – pitying our sinful state -- allows us to make use of that poured-out blood for our own benefit! In the light of the Christian revelation and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we learn that, being allowed to drink the Blood of Jesus we are thereby given to imbibe life – the beginnings of divine, eternal life -- and ultimately enabled to receive, thereby, a share in the divine sonship and eternal blessedness of Christ Himself! As Paul continues:
Even when we were dead in trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ.
How great is the Father’s love for us, People of God! The blood of all creatures pertains to Him alone; how dear beyond all measure, therefore, and how unutterably precious, is the blood of His only-begotten Son made flesh? How unimaginable is the humility with which Jesus so lovingly embraced and willingly undertook out of obedience to His Father and compassion for us to allow His own His own blood, His most Precious Blood, to be poured out by us, in divine Providence for our sins, and so for our use, our benefit, our profit, and our salvation.
How sublimely, then, has that text of Leviticus thereby been fulfilled:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it (the Blood of the Immaculate Lamb of God) to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul (being the Precious Blood of the Risen and eternally living Son of Man).
People of God, we live in evil times, we live in a society which condones, and indeed admires, all sorts of excesses: a society which, too often, teaches its children to get, not give; to enjoy pleasure rather than practice discipline; to use others, not serve them; to seek success rather than strive for honour and integrity. We, however, in response to God’s wondrous love must, as our first reading said:
Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.
And it is here that we can appreciate another, essential, aspect of Jesus’ insistence that we eat His flesh and drink His blood.
In our world money is supreme, with most of it -- and consequently most of the world’s advantages and benefits – going, first of all, to those who are born rich and/or privileged, then to those able and prepared to fight their way, tooth and nail, to the position of top-dogs; before finally being bestowed upon the charismatic ones, both famous and the popular. As for the underdogs -- the poor, the insignificant, those deemed dull and unpopular – they have to be satisfied with what remains over. Jesus saw it all and warned His disciples:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. (Matthew 20:25)
Jesus knew that such a situation was the expression of sin’s presence in the world, and having become man in order to conquer sin and bring redemption for mankind, He therefore went on to say:
It shall not be so among you
To that end, therefore, Jesus insisted repeatedly that no one could be saved by their own native gifts or endowments of whatever sort: personal salvation cannot be won by personal endeavour using natural talents, least of all can it be acquired by human force, cunning, or deceit in any way. It can only be humbly received as a longed-for gift subsequent on a personal encounter with and faithful response to Jesus.
Jesus spoke -- with brutal clarity, the Jews thought -- of His own Body and Blood:
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in you;
And He did this in order to make it absolutely clear that the Gift of eternal life, and ultimately, of salvation, can only come to us from without ourselves; that is, as a gift, and also through a personal faith in Jesus.
In Jesus’ Church, and in preparation for the coming Kingdom of God, all of us, in that way, start once again on an equal footing:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
That one bread and the one cup are the source of all grace and every blessing for us, and we receive them in Mother Church through a faithful encounter with Christ, the Risen Lord, in which, St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians (4:9):
Now you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God.
In that encounter we are in the presence of, and alone with, the One Lord and Saviour of all mankind: there is no one listening-in on our conversation with Him; we are free to say, ask for, what we want; free to be ourselves with Him Who not only appreciates what we are but also knows what we aspire to be. Above all, we are, totally free before Him Who is aware of what, in His Father’s plans we might become, before Him Who sacrificed Himself on our behalf for the fulfilment of those plans.
My dear People, the natural gifts each of us possesses have been bestowed upon us for our life in, and the benefit of, Mother Church, society in general, and the world in which we live. Eternal salvation, however, only comes to us as a result of our personal encounter with and faithful response to God in our recognition of the One He has sent, as the ultimate fruit of our humble awareness of and personal love for Christ in the Eucharist, and as the crowning fulfilment of our commitment to the guidance of His own Most Holy Spirit in our daily living and final dying.
As we heard in the second reading we should:
Watch carefully how (we) live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord; giving thanks always, and for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
Indeed, giving thanks, above all, for the wondrous beauty and goodness, the infinite mercy and compassion, of God our Father made supremely manifest to us in and through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus His Son and our Redeemer.
We must realize, therefore, that although we are obliged to struggle at times in order to resist and overcome earthly inclinations which would lead us, through sin and self-indulgence, to death beyond the grave; nevertheless, as disciples of Jesus, our life as a whole should rather be experienced as, and characterized by, an ever deepening and developing awareness of the love and beauty both surrounding and awaiting us, as we learn, in Jesus, so to love our heavenly Father, that we can ultimately embrace -- as children of God ourselves -- a share in the heavenly inheritance of His beloved Son, thanks to the saving grace won for us by Jesus and bestowed upon us throughout our earthly pilgrimage by His Most Holy Spirit.
To the One God, therefore, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be all glory, praise, and honour, for ever and ever. Amen