Sunday Reflection for August 23rd by Eleanor Rabnett
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:32-5:1-2, 21-23
Gospel: John 6:53, 60-69
“And you – do you also wish to go away?”
In preparing for this reflection I looked at the readings, first Joshua and then Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I didn’t have to go too far before wondering if I wanted to leave. So I stopped – and then I read it again.
I needed to remember that Paul was speaking to people of a time that was 2000 years ago. We don’t usually speak in that way now because OUR understanding of God and the world has changed – it’s grown – just as we grow from childhood to adulthood. Paul begins; “Brothers and sisters: Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” And then goes further telling us how to do that: by becoming imitators of God – living in love and in being subject to one another. There’s the word: “subject”. A synonym of “subject” as in subjecting oneself to another is to “expose oneself to another” – to open oneself to another. We open ourselves, our inner being to God and to one another- that is a part of our loving. We surrender ourselves to God and to each other in love.
Paul finished it saying: “This is a great mystery…” He did not say that we have to explain it or even understand it – he said only that this is a great mystery.
In the first reading Joshua asks “who will you serve” and the people responded with “we will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” And in the Gospel we have Jesus asking almost the same question. Turning to his disciples, noting to them that his teaching is difficult, he asked “who will accept it?” Just as the people of Israel answered Joshua that they would follow the Lord – so Peter told Jesus the same when he said” Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. ”
“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Strong words, really strong words. Even today with all that I have learned and experienced, those words of Jesus are not very comfortable.
Scripture scholars tell us this is John at his best – John was not quoting Jesus but rather after having reflected for many years on all that he heard and saw – he was sharing what he thought was the meaning of the words Jesus had spoken. One theory is that when John spoke of the flesh he was speaking of the complete humanity of Jesus –that in Jesus we see God taking human life. Barclay says ‘it is as if Jesus said: “Feed your heart, feed your mind, feed your soul – [all] on the thought of my humanity.” So when you feel beaten down, or ready to give up all hope, Jesus is saying – remember – I’ve taken this life of yours and all of your struggles upon myself.
As for the blood – For the Jewish people blood stood for life itself so that “as blood flows from a wound it takes life away with it”, and for the Jewish people blood belonged to God. So perhaps what Jesus meant when he said that we had to drink his blood was that we have to take his life into the core of our hearts, the very core of our beings.
I have a bookshelf full of wonderful books, many of them written by a few favorite authors and I would really like to emulate, to live and be like some of those authors. But that won’t happen if leave those books on the shelf, looking pristine and well kept. No I need to open those books, read them, take them in and make them mine. Not memorizing the words, but rather “breaking open the words – eating them, digesting them and making them a part of myself. Then I will be able to take on the spirit of the author. I need to do more than simply hear the words of the gospel if I am going to live by them.
There is a line from Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” that I have carried within me since the 9th grade and I think of it now:
I am a part of all that I have met;
I am a part of all that I have met – those words once external are now within me, a part of me. So it is with Jesus. If he is just a good person in history who is spoken of in the bible then he remains outside of us –impersonal. But “when he enters into our hearts he becomes a part of us!”
Jesus said that we must eat his body and drink his blood, that we “must take him into us and that we must come to him” – only then will we have real life.”
The word “Oneness” comes to mind. Think of it – Oneness – with Jesus, with our God.
We are here today, together, surrendering our very selves to God – to each other – in a gift that is quite beyond us. In our ritual together, participating in this celebration of the Eucharist – we become a part of God, a part of each other, a part of all that we meet.
As Paul said “This is a great mystery…”
Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete) – Joshua
William Barclay – The New Daily Study Bible – The Gospel of John
William Barclay – The New Daily Study Bible – Letters to the Galatians & Ephesians