The Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament can be divided into four distinct kinds of literature. First there is the Torah or the Law which we commonly call the Pentateuch. This is followed by the history books. The third kind of literature is that of the prophets. Finally there are some discourses that we call the Wisdom Literature. The first reading for today’s Mass comes from the Book of Proverbs, one of the books in that fourth group of the Old Testament.
If we were to try to boil down the Wisdom Literature into one succinct statement, we could refer to chapter nine of the Book of Proverbs which introduces us to two characters. The first of those characters speaks to us from the verses that we hear on this 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, using the B Cycle of the Lectionary for Sunday Mass. She has been called “Dame” or “Matron” Wisdom. She beckons us to enter her house and to participate in a meal that she has prepared for us. She asks us to forsake Foolishness and to advance in the way of understanding. Now if you had the text before you, you would notice that the word “Foolishness” is capitalized. That’s because a little later in chapter nine we meet a second character, Dame Foolishness or Folly. She too beckons us to come into her home to participate in a meal, a meal of stolen water and secret bread. These two characters, Wisdom and Foolishness, figure prominently throughout the Wisdom Literature which invites us to choose the former rather than the latter.
Banquets and meals figure prominently in the Scriptures. You might remember a banquet of rich, juicy food and choice wine which is served on the mountain of the Lord in the prophet Isaiah. God provides manna and quail for the people as they sojourn in the desert in the Torah. Last week we heard of how an angel of the Lord fed the prophet Elijah as he lay under a broom tree. A few weeks before that we heard of the prophet Elisha feeding one hundred men with twenty barley loaves. These stories usually refer to spiritual food or meals, food that will sustain us body and soul. The same is true of the meals we hear about from Dame Wisdom and Dame Folly.
The difference between these two meals, however, is that one of them will lead us to understanding the way of the Lord. The other meal will trap us in the tomb that is foolishness, a tomb from which no one ever escapes. Wisdom asks us to stay close to the way of God, the path of righteousness, a life spent obeying the commandments. Such a life will lead us to a closeness with God.
The reading from the Letter to the Ephesians picks up this theme and warns us not to live as foolish persons, but rather to understand the Will of the Lord. He uses the image of inebriation or drunkenness as one kind of foolishness and admonishes us to drink in the Spirit which will lead us to singing songs and psalms and hymns to God, giving thanks to God for the gifts won for us in Jesus. Last week’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians enumerated those gifts as kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. These gifts lead us to life with God, intimacy with God, closeness to God.
The Gospel reading for today continues our reading of chapter six of St. John’s Gospel in which Jesus delivers the Discourse on the Bread of Life. Once again, we are invited to participate in a meal. This time the meal consists of the flesh and blood of Jesus. Jesus tells us that those who eat his body and drink his blood will have life everlasting, life spent with God. He tells us further that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will remain in him and He in them. Again, we see that those who place their faith in the food which we call the Eucharist are destined for a life with God, a life of intimacy with His Son, a life that will last forever.
The Discourse on the Bread of Life was preceded by the story of the feeding of the multitude, a group of 5,000, not counting the women and children. The people who were fed by the five loaves and two fish were so astounded by this sign that they followed Jesus across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, hoping that they would be fed again. Their encounter with Jesus leads to a discussion of the manna that their ancestors ate in the desert, which then opens the way for Jesus to make his pronouncement about the food that He gives us. He sacrificed himself on the cross for the sake of our sins. Before he did that, however, he gave us the Eucharist – Bread that has become His Body, and Wine that has become His Blood. While the synoptic Gospels recount this in the story of the Last Supper, St. John’s Gospel has no “institution narrative” at the Last Supper. Rather, St. John tells the story of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Chapter six, however, explains what we read in the other Gospels. Every three years, the Church asks us to spend five weeks meditating on this Discourse.
The Church tells us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. When we gather around this table each Sunday and are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, we participate in a meal that unites us as a community with our God. This meal grants us the closeness, the intimacy with God which is promised in the Hebrew Scriptures. His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink for those who believe and who want to gain understanding into the ways of God. For in this meal we remember that the way of God consists in laying down our lives in service of others, just as Jesus laid down his life for our sake. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are to become what we eat, the Real Presence of Jesus in our world today. For the Church teaches us that just as surely as Jesus is present in the Scriptures and in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus is also present in us, the Church. If we accept the invitation, we continue to provide our world with the Real Presence of Jesus in our midst. This is our vocation as members of the Body of Christ, a vocation that will lead us to life with God forever.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator