20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

16th August 2015

The book of Proverbs is just that – a collection of wise sayings. Among the significant Jewish people there were priests, prophets and wise men. The priests had control of the rituals and the externals of religion, often working with the rulers to keep up national unity and spirits. The prophets tried to preserve and even develop the central insights of their religion and apply them to the current situation, often upsetting nearly everyone else by railing against wrong-doings; with the decline of the nation and the captivity in Babylon, prophets mostly went out of operation. But it was at that time that the wisdom of the past was appreciated and some of it put together in this book. In the first reading (Proverbs 9:1-6) we have the last few verses of a section introducing some of their oldest wisdom sayings – some practical and some spiritual; it leads into these older proverbs by picturing a welcoming house preparing a great feast in noble surroundings – a feast of wisdom that we should all take, digest and live by. Wisdom is, of course, female.

The second reading is another short section from the letter to the Ephesians (5:15-20). The phrase translated as ‘making best use of’ can also mean ‘redeeming.’ Notice that the passage regards the people addressed as already having wisdom, but because they are only human, also as still needing encouragement to act wisely, and being Christian, their wisdom is Christ; and this living is celebrated with the singing and praise at the celebrations they had, probably each week, in memory of all that Christ meant to them. The original Greek translated as ‘giving thanks’ is the word for Eucharist (ευχαριστουντες). Since the passage is wise sayings it should be read accordingly – carefully, thoughtfully, more than once and then acted upon!

Chapter 6 of the gospel accorded to John has been trying to ease the readers from a superficial understanding of miracles, of bread and of the Old Testament manna, into something deeper. The reading today (6:51-58), takes this more challenging step. It is now about the Eucharist. It reflects the words of the Last Supper according to the tradition which Paul knew and which the other gospels record in their own ways. But two differences stand out in John, namely, the use of ‘flesh’ in place of ‘body’ and the phrase ‘for the life of the world’ rather than ‘for many.’   In John’s gospel he generally uses the word ‘flesh’ to mean humanity and many people are familiar with the phrase ‘the Word was made flesh’ (John 1:14). This reminds us that for Jesus and the Jews the word ‘body’ refers to the whole person, probably with reference to the impact the person makes; and we are also led to realise that ‘many’ was their way of saying all people – at least in this context. Jesus has already said in this chapter that belief is necessary, but we also have to grasp the deeper meaning of ‘belief.’   Belief is more than just the acknowledgement of certain truths like God exists and Jesus is really present in our Eucharist; faith is defined in the chief document of Vatican II as “an obedience by which one commits one’s whole self freely to God” (Dei Verbum §5).   Notice also that the feast in the first reading from the book of Proverbs invites eating and drinking food and wine, not literally but taking on a wise way of living; and the recipients of the letter to the Ephesians must be filled with the Spirit rather than wine. So, with these readings, we are urged for our communion in the celebration of the Last Supper, to see a deeper understanding; the reception of and belief in Jesus’ presence, means committing our whole selves to living Jesus’ way of life – an enactment of taking on in our everyday lives the life of Jesus, and a reminder of how things will be when we complete our lives here on earth.

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