Eucharist, Feast of Wisdom
User's Guide to Sunday, Aug. 16
Sunday, Aug. 16, is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).
Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:2-3, 10-15; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
Jesus makes the great announcement of the Eucharist in today’s Gospel.
The last few Sunday Gospels have led up to this announcement; next week’s Gospel will spell out the crowds’ reaction to it. But this week, the Church wants us to focus on the announcement itself.
Jesus couldn’t be clearer:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Why would Jesus want us to feed on him? The Church often brings up this mystery, offering other readings to give it context. Sometimes the context is the Passover feast. Sometimes the context is the manna in the desert.
But this Sunday, the Church doesn’t choose either of these. Instead, the readings focus on the wisdom of God. The first reading, from Proverbs, focuses on the lady Wisdom building her house, setting her table and calling the simple to join her. If we read on in Proverbs, we get a description of lady Folly, calling passersby to share in her stolen bread and water, to their ruin.
The second reading, from the Letter to the Ephesians, contrasts the wisdom of Christian living with the folly of pagan living: sobriety and worship compared with drunkenness and debauchery.
In the Gospel, these two visions of wisdom are followed with Jesus saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever,” causing the crowd to quarrel and oppose his words.
Clearly, the Church wants us to see the Eucharist as the fulfillment of God’s promise of wisdom, which we reject to our ruin.
Wisdom has quite a history in Scripture. In the Old Testament, wisdom predated the creation of the world. Wisdom is the pre-eminent gift given to Solomon. Wisdom is summed up in the Ten Commandments. Wisdom is the touchpoint between man and God in the covenant.
By placing the Eucharist within a discussion of wisdom, the Church is strongly associating Christian life with the life of wisdom. The house of Wisdom in today’s first reading is a house of seven columns, with an offering of food and wine there. It’s a clear image of the Church, with its seven sacraments, a place where we commune with God.
The wise ones in the Church are not the great and learned who are too smart to accept what Jesus says at face value, but those simple enough to hear Jesus’ invitation and respond.
If we are among those who accept it, we should be grateful. Generations dreamed of a palace where the simple share in the riches of God’s wisdom. We have achieved it. What they heard about in visions, we have in our tabernacles. If we sit in his presence, he makes us wise.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at
Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April,
his wife and in-house theologian
and their children.