CORPUS CHRISTI (A) 2017
(Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17; John 6:51-58)
Dear People of God, today we learn what lengths Jesus went to in order to make people think about, pay attention to, what He was saying; He did not aim to be popular, but He did, most passionately, want to be understood.
In the gospel reading He declared:
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.
As you heard and can well understand, the Jews were outraged 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 do not have 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 (Leviticus 7:26-27):
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.
What then is the significance of the blood? Let us learn more from the Old Testament books of Leviticus (17:11) and Deuteronomy (12:23, 27):
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.
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.
Our faith teaches us that God is Life, and there we are told that the life of the flesh is in the blood, indeed the blood is the life, therefore we can understand why the Law said that blood of what lives belongs to God and cannot by drunk by man but must be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God.
Why, therefore, did Jesus speak so provocatively to the Jews by first of all saying, “eat My flesh” and then following it up by the even more provocatively objectionable 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?
First of all, He wanted to show the sacrificial character of His forthcoming death:
The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God.
However, and above all my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, here we are given a startlingly clear picture of the uniquely Christian awareness of the mystery of God’s love for us, as also of the divine humility of Jesus. For, although Jesus’ blood -- the Blood of the God’s only begotten Son -- was most sinfully poured out by us, nevertheless, as St. Paul (Ephesians 2:4) assures us:
God, Who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
turned that supreme evil into a supreme blessing:
Even when we were dead in trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ.
In the light of the Christian revelation and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we learn that, by being allowed to eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus we are thereby able to imbibe life – divine life, eternal life -- and ultimately to attain to a share in the Sonship of Christ Himself!
How great is the Father’s love for us, People of God! The blood of all creatures pertains to Him Who is the Lord of Life; how dear beyond all measure, therefore, and how unutterably precious, is the Blood of His only-begotten Son-made-flesh? How unimaginable is the humiliation which Jesus so willingly and lovingly embraced out of obedience to His Father and out of compassion for us: pouring out His own Blood, His Most Precious Blood, willingly for our sins, and consequently for our use, our profit, our blessing, and our salvation.
How sublimely, then, is that text of Leviticus thereby 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 (because it is the Precious Blood of the Risen and eternally living Son of God made 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 seek for pleasure rather than practice discipline; to use others, not to serve them; to seek advantage and success rather than strive for honour and integrity. However, in response to God’s wondrous love, we -- as disciples of Jesus – must remember the wisdom of Proverbs (9:6) where we read:
Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.
And it is here that we can advance by appreciating another, essential, aspect of Jesus’ insistence that we eat His flesh and drink His blood.
In our world money is supreme, and most of it -- and consequently most of the world’s advantages and benefits -- goes to those who are top-dogs or already rich, the important ones, the famous and the popular; while the underdogs, the poor, the insignificant and the unpopular, 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 genius or power of whatever sort. Personal salvation cannot be won or acquired by personal endeavour using natural talents, it can only be received as a gift subsequent on a personal encounter with and response to Jesus.
Jesus speaks 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. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life;
to make it absolutely clear that the supreme blessing of salvation and eternal life can, ultimately, only come to men from without ourselves; that is, as Jesus’, God’s, gift.
In Jesus’ Church, in preparation for the coming Kingdom of God, all thus 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 one cup’ are the source of all grace and every blessing for us, and on receiving them we encounter Christ, the Risen Lord, Himself; and, in that encounter we are in the presence of, and alone with, Him: there is no one else listening to our conversation; we are free to say, ask for, what we want, totally free to be ourselves with Him Who knows, and what is much more, appreciates, not only who we are but also what we want to be. St. Paul puts it this way:
Now you have known God, or rather are known by God. (Galatians 4:9)
My dear People, whatever natural gifts each of us may have are not given us solely to further our own personal advancement and salvation, they are bestowed upon us also for the benefit of the society in which we live and, indeed, of the whole world. Eternal salvation will, or will not, be ours as a result of our personal encounter of faith and relationship of love with, and in response to, Jesus present among us as Christ and Saviour in the Eucharist; an encounter and relationship to be sustained, developed, and deepened by our correspondence with the inspirational guidance of His own Most Holy Spirit in our daily living and final dying as St. Paul advised his converts:
Watch carefully then how you 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. (Ephesians 5:15–20)
Indeed, giving thanks above all for the wondrous beauty and goodness, the infinite mercy and compassion, of God our Father made 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 ultimately receive -- 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.
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