Sunday: 19 August, 2012 –– Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 9:1–6 / Ephesians 5:15–20 / John 6:51–58
You Are What You Eat
We’ve all heard the old adage “you are what you eat”, but have you ever stopped to think exactly how true that is? Super Size Me is a 2004 American documentary film that follows a 30-day period during which Morgan Spurlock ate only McDonalds’s food three times per day, and eating every item on the chain's menu at least once. The film documents this lifestyle's drastic effect on Spurlock's physical and psychological well-being. As a result, the then-32-year-old Spurlock gained 24½ lbs., his cholesterol level rose from a healthy level to 230, and he experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver. It took Spurlock fourteen months to lose the weight gained from his experiment. You are what you eat!
The Wisdom writer gives an invitation from the Lord: Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed. The Psalmist sings: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. It is true spiritually: You are what you eat! The effect may not be as evident to those who have not been taught to discern spiritual cause and effect, but it is no less true. This is one way to understand Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians: do not get drunk on wine.... but be filled with the Spirit....
We live in a spiritually rebellious world that seeks to blind us so that we do not recognize who God really is. We live in a spiritually rebellious world that seeks to seduce us so that we do not perceive the connections between belief and behavior. We live in a spiritually rebellious world that seeks to deceive us so that we deny the connection between breaking God’s Commandments and experiencing both personal and societal dysfunction and pain.
How can we keep our bearings in this world that so discourages faithfulness? One way is to stay in touch with reality, and that happens when we faithfully receive Jesus in the Eucharist (and I mean faithfully). This is the most important practice Jesus left his followers as an outward expression of our union with him and our unity with one another.
Most of you know I am a relatively “new” Catholic. My wife and I came into the Church after more than 30 years of pastoral ministry in Evangelical churches. Although I had no idea at the time, my journey into the Church started in 1999 when I began to use The Liturgy of the Hours for my daily prayers. Here I read things from the Church Fathers I had never heard before (after two Masters degrees and a Doctorate); I remember thinking “these guys sound so Catholic!” One theme was the centrality of the Eucharist in Christian worship, with evidence that the Real Presence of Jesus had been the understanding of the Bread and Cup from the beginning.
I am among you this way today because I came to see Jesus in the Eucharist, and I want to follow Jesus Christ above all other things in this world. How can we keep our bearings in this world that so discourages faithfulness? One way is to stay in touch with reality, and that happens when we faithfully receive Jesus in the Eucharist and remember that he said, in this most explicit and literal section of what is called “The Bread of Life Discourse” –– 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. 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.
I know that a fifteen-minute homily is not the place to try to develop all that is here. This passage calls for careful interpretation, looking at Old Testament covenant background and the earliest writings in the Church. The Didache (or, “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles”) is one of the earliest Christian documents following the New Testament, and it gives this explicit witness: “On the Lord’s Day, when you have been gathered together, break bread and celebrate the Eucharist....” Ignatius of Antioch, who died in A.D. 107 is a very early post-New Testament witness to the meaning of Christian Communion:
But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins. . .” (Epistle to the Smyraens, VI, VII; in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: William D. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979], p89 ― underlined emphasis added).
When Jesus died on the cross it was the ultimate sacrifice for sin. We enter into that sacrifice when we come together to the Lord's Table. We are proclaiming that the Son of God gave his life’s blood for us and there is no condemnation! Jesus Christ has done a perfect work that goes beyond time, and yet Jesus has given us a tangible and ongoing way to bring the temporal and the eternal together.
In the next section John tells us that when Jesus said Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood... the people took offense. Some who had followed him to that point turned away. The same rejection and offense happens today. Even among Christians who are passionate in their commitment to Jesus there is objection and sometimes hostility. The usual “explanation” is that Jesus is speaking figuratively. It is said that just as he is not a literal “gate” or “vine,” neither does he mean this literally. But.... first, the idioms are very different, and second, Jesus offers no correction to the crowd’s response, but rather he intensifies it as the dialogue progresses. I considered these things in my own journey.... and then I had this epiphany: Christian Faith is based on the belief that Almighty God, the One who is both Creator of the universe and yet greater than the universe, was able to come into our world in a human body and still be fully God. Yet, people saw Jesus and did not recognize God. If that is true, then it is not such a different miracle and mystery that the Incarnate Son of God can be physically present in what appears to be bread and wine. Neither is it surprising that unbelief cannot “see” it. But for those who believe, the Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ death for us and gives us his life. God wants us to become what we eat!
That itself is sometimes the basis for skepticism and unbelief. If the Lord Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist and physically enters us when we eat, then why isn’t there more spiritual power and glory in our lives? The answer is, You are what you eat! How many of us feed on Jesus once a week, in a hurry and possibly rather absent-mindedly? How many of us “feed” on other things through the week–– things which hinder and even kill the life of God in us? What does it do to us to take into ourselves the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and then try to mix in the list from last Sunday’s epistle reading: bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling and malice (Eph 4:31)? What about the immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed that Paul adds to the list in his letter to the Colossians (see 3:5–9)?! We do not receive the intended benefit from the Eucharist if we are casually embracing sins that choke the life of our Lord in us. Disobedience can cause what God gives for blessing to turn into impediment. Paul even warns the Corinthians that anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself (1Cor 11:29). This does not sound like carelessness with a mere “symbol.” Jesus says here: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you (6:53).
We need to take care and pay attention. People brought up in the Church can develop an immunity to worship. It’s as if we get inoculated so that we’re dulled to the reality of God. Jesus can become a mere mental association, some historical figure we know about, but not a living person close to us so that our day to day lives are truly changed. “Church” gets reduced to something we “do” ― something to scratch off our to-do list so we can get on with the things we really want to do (get to the restaurant or watch the ballgame –– which has something to say about the things we think are most important).
When we come to Mass we are treading on holy ground. "But it's so repetitive," critics say. "It is so mechanical. It gets so boring just doing the same thing..." Love is what keeps beauty and wonder from becoming "repetitive" and "mechanical." Like little children who cannot get enough of a father's playful attention, we come into the mystery of the Eucharist with the need to say to our heavenly Father, "Do it again, Daddy, do it again." This is not boredom with the "same old thing."
What I wish for you for the rest of your lives ––and what I hold before myself –– is that when doubts come or when the world offers us its meager fare of spiritual junk food, we'll find a time and place to pray: Lord.... I’ve been going too often to the wrong table and not coming to your Table with clean hands and pure heart.... Feed me, Lord, with your Body and Blood and let it fill my soul....
Remember: You are what you eat!