Aug. 19, 2012
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 9:1-6
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

After years and years of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, nothing is more difficult for me to explain to non-Catholics than the Eucharist. Even though it is at the center of our faith, no matter what I might say I will be omitting something important. To say that we really and truly believe that we are receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ is  not enough and speaks on only one level. Their response would be (and often is) like the response of the Jews in today’s Gospel: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Neither is it enough to simply tell the story of the Last Supper and repeat the words of institution.

The Gospel of John is the most theological of all the Gospels. Yet, this Gospel has no account of the institution of the Eucharist. Instead, particularly in chapter 6, the Gospel writer speaks of the significance of what we do when we participate in the Eucharistic celebration and links it with an experience the Jews knew. In the Old Covenant the supreme dwelling place of God on earth was the temple in Jerusalem. In the New Covenant God is with us in Jesus whenever we celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus gives himself to us in the bread and wine changed into his Body and Blood during Mass. In the Old Covenant God fed his people with manna when they were wandering in the desert. In the New Covenant Jesus feeds us with his own Body and Blood through his Real Presence in the Eucharist.

 When we receive the Eucharist with faith, we receive the power of Jesus’ lifeblood. When Jesus says “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” he is reminding us of his death and pointing to the time when he will be nailed to the cross.   

The story of the Last Supper was familiar to the first Christians for whom John wrote and he stresses that Jesus is the one given by the Father. The Eucharist is life-giving because Jesus gives it and because it is Jesus who is given. In other words, we cannot understand the Eucharist unless we see it as participation in the life and death of Jesus himself. A relationship with Jesus is at the heart of Eucharist.

The implications are staggering. In his Angelus address on July 30, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI said, “It is not the Eucharistic food that is changed into us, but rather we who are mysteriously transformed by it.”

While the evangelist does not record the institution of the Eucharist, he does provide the larger context that tells us how we are to be transformed. Jesus took on the role of a servant and washed the apostles’ feet.   This is what Jesus is like — he washes feet, even the feet of the one who will betray him!  He knew true honor came from being a servant. This is what he expects of us.