Can we see the bigger picture that Jesus reveals?

By: By Tim Irwin

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 19

Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:2-3,4-5,6-7; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Thousands of Christian denominations dot the America landscape. The vast majority believe that the Bible offers revealed truth that should be believed with unquestioned resolve. Ironically, these denominations also deny the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Ironic, because each week for the last month the Gospel according to John has made the point that Jesus is the Bread of Life.

This week the Gospel reports that the Jews quarreled among themselves in response to Jesus saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Perhaps the argument ensued because some people in the crowd thought that Jesus was warning of a Roman siege against Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that the people of Jerusalem would be reduced to cannibalism during the siege by the Babylonians. The crowds to whom Jesus spoke knew their Scripture, but they seem to lack the wisdom needed to make the connections and see the big picture that Jesus had in mind.

The first reading from Proverbs counsels us to listen with an open heart: “Let whoever is simple turn in here; to the one, who lacks understanding, she says, come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” In other words, don’t settle for knowledge, but seek wisdom.

The late British journalist Miles Kington said, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” The wise are those who make the connections and see the bigger picture.

The reading from Ephesians reinforces the warning against foolishness and notes drunkenness as a prime example of the way the fool falls into extreme self-indulgence. Skeptics might ask, “If foolishness leads to extreme self-indulgence, then why be wise?” Paul might answer that self-indulgence may briefly give us the feeling of happiness, but to be eternally happy requires wise choices.

Jesus explains the wise choice in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John: “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.”

Over the past month we have heard Jesus make the connections and reveal the bigger picture expressed in this statement. He referenced the hunger of the Israelites during the Exodus. The manna given to them in the desert connects bread and life. Jesus transforms the connection — bread to his body and life to eternal life. Through his crucifixion and resurrection the connection goes from metaphorical to metaphysical. Jesus actually is present in the Holy Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine. This is how we eat his body and drink his blood.

In chapter three of the Gospel according to John, Jesus tells Nicodemus that we must be born again in order to inherit eternal life. Being born again expresses the most popular understanding of salvation among American Christians and rightly so. Catholics call it the sacrament of baptism. But being born again is not the end of the message; it’s the beginning.

How do we remain born again? We receive the Holy Eucharist because to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and remain born again means to eat his flesh and drink his blood: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”


TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark’s Parish in Peoria.

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