Sunday, August 19, is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).
Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:2-3, 10-11, 12-15; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
The past Sundays’ readings have been focusing on Jesus’ words from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. Those words — the command of Jesus to eat his flesh and drink his blood — can sound extreme. They need a little background to understand — or, better, a big background
Scholars, poets and storytellers throughout history have told and retold the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.
The poet Milton emphasizes the degree to which the Fall transformed Adam and Eve. He describes the cosmos being separated into two camps: the rebellious demons and the good archangels.
When Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, they don’t just commit a sin and doom themselves personally; they move themselves and their children from one camp into the other. They leave the huddle of the archangels’ team and cross the line.
Says the Catechism: “By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free. Original sin entails ‘captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil.’”
This dramatic shift in our allegiance presented God with a problem. He had to win us back. And the remedy for the Fall had to take into account the nature of the sons of Adam and Eve: free human beings, soul and body composites, who make choices for themselves.
The remedy Jesus offers is the sacraments, culminating in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the crowning achievement of salvation history. It is the surprising counteroffer God gives to mankind. Adam and Eve believed the devil when he said they would be “like gods” if they ate the fruit. But they were already made in God’s image. Moreover, God gave us the Eucharist — which really does make us sharers in divine life. The Eucharist is an answer that fits mankind’s nature, soul and body.
In it, we receive Christ, whole and entire. Thus, the Eucharist allows us to choose God, directly, again and again, reversing the eating of the forbidden fruit by eating Christ’s body and blood.
With the forbidden fruit, we left the intimacy of life with God to become his opponents. Through the Eucharist, God offers us a way to regain that intimacy.
“Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me,” says Jesus.
Today’s other two readings relate to this Eucharistic life as well. They underline an important corollary: To regain the camaraderie with God that Adam and Eve first had, we have to radically leave our way of life and enter his.
St. Paul reminds us how we ought to behave and warns that we are just one significant betrayal away from leaving God behind.
We need to always be watchful and live according to the rules of God’s family.
The first reading today describes God’s home. The description matches descriptions of ancient Palestinian homes, with seven columns. The seven columns recall for us the seven sacraments that support our life in God’s home. And the impressive spread of food and drink recalls the wedding feast at Cana, the heavenly banquet and the great meals of Christ’s parables.
This is what life in God’s family looks like: grand provisions in a cozy house.
It also looks like church on Sunday morning.
And if we live worthily, we will find that this beautiful house is ours for all eternity: “Unlike your ancestors, who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.