Sunday, August 19, 2012

Year B Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Prvbs 9:1-6; Ps. 34:2-7; Eph. 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

What is wisdom? After hearing today’s readings, it might be more appropriate to ask, Who is wise, or, even more precisely, Who is Wisdom? In Sacred Scripture it is almost always the case that simplicity and wisdom go together. Simple is the opposite of complex. Very often, instead of simplifying the Gospel, seeking just to live it in humble obedience, to order our lives by it, we make it complicated and difficult, thus giving ourselves and others ample excuse not to change, not to live in imitation of Christ, but leave that to the professionals, to those who have studied philosophy, theology, and who seem to know the Scriptures front-to-back.

At the risk of violating my own injunction to cultivate simplicity and avoid unnecessary complexity, but in order that I might impart some wisdom, we must grasp that at the heart of the Gospel, which itself simply means “the good news,” is a paradox. Now a paradox is something that can easily be mistaken for a contradiction. George Santanyana gave a great example of a paradox, one that can be verified by looking no further than the Bible (I suggest comparing Proverbs to Ecclesiastes): “Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise to balance it.” This is so because truth is symphonic, not only leading us to what is good, but possessing a certain beauty.

The paradox at the heart of the Gospel can only come from the mouth of Jesus Christ. Looking at only one of several instances in the Gospels where He utters this paradox, we turn to the sixteenth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, where He says to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Matt. 16:24-26a)

Like most people these days, I use social media, especially Facebook. Over and over again I see all these banners, pictures with sayings and ruminations about how happiness is realized by putting yourself first, single-mindedly and selfishly pursuing your own your wants and needs. What I find sad is that these are posted by the same people who time and again express how unhappy they are.

As the author of the Letter to the Ephesians notes, even way back then, the days are evil. Hence, we cannot afford to remain fools content to live foolishly, that is, seeking happiness and fulfillment in all the ways the world entices us, or seeking fulfillment by giving in to the timeless temptation, which constituted the original sin, to live only for yourself, to determine for yourself what is right and wrong, good and true, to gratify and satisfy your whimsical, often impulsive, and indulgent appetites.

So, we come to our Gospel for this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the fourth of the five Sundays we read from John chapter six during Year B of the three year Sunday lectionary cycle, which is about as simple and straightforward as words can be. Jesus teaches that He himself is “the living bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51a). He then says clearly that “whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51b). Notably avoiding both parable and paradox, metaphor and hyperbole, speaking so clearly that it causes those who hear Him to complain that He is telling them to eat human flesh, He says, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51c). To those who are appalled at what He teaches, He reiterates, in even clearer terms: “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” (Jn 6:53-55).

Each time we come forward to receive Christ in the bread and wine, to eat and to drink Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, we act wisely. The proof of our wisdom is that it confuses, confounds, and baffles so many, especially many who consider themselves wise. We act wisely because we act in accord with what is real, with what lasts, with what is both true and good only because it is so beautiful. In the Eucharist Jesus proves that true happiness is achieved only by giving ourselves away entirely. He proves that God is so big, so complete, so secure in His own Triune Being that He does not hold back from becoming so small that you can hold Him in your hands.

So, to those who believe, who have been baptized and reconciled to God through the sacrament of mercy, come forward and acknowledge your hunger and thirst for holiness, for life eternal, the life that only can be yours because Jesus gave Himself up for you. Express your deep desire, which burns likes a flame at the core of your being, to receive a down payment on your destiny, or, in the words of our second reading, “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Stated simply in the words of Proverbs, commit yourself anew this day, as you did in baptism and again when you were confirmed and received a new and fuller outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to “[f]orsake foolishness that you may live” and to “advance in the way of understanding” (Prvbs (9:6). Wisdom “has spread her table” for you (Prvbs 9:2). “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 34:9).

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