Words to the Wise
First Reading Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm Psalm 34:9-14
Second Reading Ephesians 5:15-20
Gospel John 6:51-58
“Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life.”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Today’s gospel is the third of four weeks in a row from the Bread of Life discourse. It may seem repetitive. The metaphor of bread may be getting stale. Some may be ready to go gluten free. But we should take note ... John's repetition and the lectionary's attention to the Bread of Life indicates how important this subject is for believers. And in an escalating invitation, today the focus shifts from “bread” to “life.”
The book of Proverbs begins by explaining it is written for learning about wisdom, meant for instruction in "wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity." These are necessary for living a life reconciled with God. Wisdom helps us recognize the rhythms and seasons and predictability of life, and act accordingly. Living life with wisdom also means discerning and navigating the unpredictability of life. Wisdom allows us to include God in negotiating tension and interrogating ambiguity.
The selection from Proverbs is about getting to know the personified “Lady Wisdom”, and discovering that what she has to offer is worthwhile. Lady Wisdom has created a house, prepared food, set the table, and invites us to "eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed" to live and walk in the way of insight. We are invited to live and grow in the knowledge and love of God. As Lady Wisdom offers us a nourishing, life-filled banquet, her nemesis Lady Folly is merely fast food. Proverbs tells us Folly leads to death, for "her guests are in the depths of Sheol," the place of the dead. Wisdom invites us fully to life reconciled with God, but we must make a choice.
Paul is inviting us to life in Christ, but warns of the choices we make. "Be careful then how you live." Paul shares a list of "not this ... but that." Live not as unwise people, but as the wise. Make the most of time, because days are evil, or numbered. Do not be foolish, but understand the will of the Lord. Do not get drunk with wine, be filled with the Spirit. And give "thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything."
We seek the wisdom to live the life God intends us to live. Against Folly, the moronic wisdom of the world, Paul prescribes life in well-defined Christian community ... regular worship, formation in the teaching and tradition of the Church, the indwelling of the Spirit. All of these shore us up against Folly, and lead us to accept the invitation of Lady Wisdom to live life reconciled to God and each other.
Jesus invites us to ultimate and eternal life, by consuming the “living bread that came down from heaven.” For John's first readers and for us today, consuming the bread of life draws us into the Eucharist. Participation in the Eucharist draws the believer into a relationship with Jesus, thus a deeper relationship with God. We can only wonder and wander through the holy mysteries of bread and wine, body and blood. Jesus explains, "Just as the living Father sent me ... I live because of the Father." Thus to an audience preoccupied with eating and drinking, Jesus reveals exactly what he does not mean. Jesus is not talking about just any flesh and blood. Those who eat "my" flesh and drink "my" blood have eternal life. Jesus refers to the incarnation, the Word made flesh, God's reaching out in the most intimate way to Creation. Eucharist is a remembrance of sacrifice and thanksgiving, and an invitation to life. Eucharist is celebrated in community because it invites us into a reconciled life with God and each other. Eucharist is the center of our worship because it is the spiritual food that sustains life. St. Chrysostom suggested that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will have such life in them, "to come back from that table like lions breathing out fire, thus becoming terrifying to the Devil."
But if the Eucharist causes us to focus only on Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, we risk fast forwarding through Jesus’ life. We risk ignoring the Good News that Jesus taught us how to LIVE! Consuming the living bread means to seek and learn and practice God’s ways and God’s will, revealed through the life of Christ. The Eucharist remembers Jesus' death and resurrection. It is the incarnation and the life Jesus lived in the gospel that invites us and shows us the way. This is the wisdom that invites us to live as God intends. God has revealed this way in the life of Jesus. This is what we seek in living a life in Christ. St. Irenaeus of Lyons said, "The glory of God is a human fully alive!" Jesus taught us this ... Jesus taught us to love each other as we love ourselves ... because we ARE each other. Jesus taught us to live as One, as He and the Father are One. Jesus taught us that no person should ever be cast outside of our loving care, all should be invited in, and we cannot accept any system that divides us from the love of God and each other. Jesus taught us to love God with all our heart and soul, and to engage in prayer and praise at all times, connecting us to our Creator and the source of life. Jesus taught us how to live!
Our primary lesson in living is in the incarnation. There are those who see God as passive, setting the world in motion, and then sitting back with a bucket of popcorn to watch the show. But God is loose, at large, and acting in the world. Incarnation was God's choice to reach out to humanity, to share life with us, to reveal how we are to live. In the incarnation, God is active, participatory, and present. God is intimately and scandalously available. Incarnation means we don't sit in our pew and watch the show. We must get up, approach the altar, hold out our hands, receive, consume, chew, sip, ingest, and digest. We must be active, participatory, and present in the gift of life. It is an intimate engagement. Whoever knows this, knows how to live forever.
Bill Coffin in his book "Credo" says, "We are on the road to heaven now if we walk with God. Eternal life is not a possession conferred at death; it is a present endowment. We live it now and continue it through death." We begin eternal life today, and continue in it every day. We are created in God's image, and that sacred nature is never lost, though we often stray from it. God is always inviting and calling us to life.
Jesus is life. The only possible source of it. Feeding on Jesus is our only hope. The world in which we depend on other sources of food is not the real world. The real world is fed only by Jesus ... created in him, redeemed by him, and sustained through him alone. Let us seek to live as Jesus taught us to live. “The one who eats this bread will live forever.” Amen.