19th of the Year, 8 Aug 2021
For a priest who has more than a little devotion to his belly I feel more than gratified with our Gospel and other readings of the last few weeks – and not least those of today with their great teaching points and, perhaps even more, the revelation of Almighty God`s unending generosity so beautifully contrasted with the carping moods of the self-righteous. The longer I spend in the ordained ministry of Christ`s Church the more I am convinced, maybe quite wrongly, that the sin against the Holy Spirit is the sin of self-righteousness. No wonder we find Jesus, throughout the Gospels, enjoying the company of “sinners” rather than the powerful – especially the powerful in positions in the Temple and the synagogues and, indeed, in government whether religious or secular and that imposed by the occupying power of Rome! Sinners, after all, are usually aware of their need of God.
We Christians, from time to time, need to remind ourselves that our faith is the fulfilment of the hopes of Judaism of old. The great prophet Elijah, who we witness today having had enough of trying to carry out Yahweh`s will, we find sitting under a furze bush wishing he was dead! How he worked for the God of Israel, not least in his opposition to the Ahab the king and his queen the evil Jezebel and her prophets of Baal – and what a pointer he was towards Jesus the Messiah and, remember, that he was to appear at Mount Tabor, with Moses, to acknowledge Jesus in all his glory before Peter and John and James ( and this before our Lord`s last missionary journey from Galilee up to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday, through holy Week to Good Friday and the Glorious Resurrection on Easter Day). We see the prophet Elijah at the end of his tether and the wonderful response of the Lord God feeding him twice that he might make the journey to Mt. Horeb – the Mountain of the Lord for there was work still to be done by Elijah and Elisha. The point of this great passage is that the Lord provides food for the journey, our pilgrim journey, as we find fulfilled in the Gospel reading from St. John chapter 6 verses 41 – 51 which we have just heard.
The Jews knew that God had provided bread from heaven to their people in the wilderness in the time of Moses and under the form of quails and manna as we heard last week. But now that He, the Son of God, who is truly the Bread of Life, and here at His Table he feeds us day by day with his very Body and Blood, they are unwilling to see the truth being blinded by the letter of the law and complaining to one another because he said, `I am the bread that came down from heaven.` Because they knew his foster-father Joseph and Mary his mother they would NOT accept him. Indeed, the were minded to think of him as a blasphemer by what they thought was his presumption. Jesus initially shuts them up by saying, `Stop complaining to each other and then goes on to explain, most wonderfully, how it is that He is Bread of Life by referring back to the gift of manna in the desert and then declaring, `I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.`
In saying these things Jesus indicates his divine nature and also his self-offering which is to come at his passion and crucifixion and his glorious resurrection and who, on the night that he was betrayed commanded his followers to `Do this in remembrance of me.` The great and eternal miracle is that every time we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we make present the living Body and Blood of Jesus that his followers may have the food of salvation.
It is always a wonder to me how Jesus uses the simplest and commonest things of life to make real his presence: Water in Baptism for the washing away of original sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit whereby we are bound to the Body of Christ, the Church, and so become his brother and sisters and, then, bread and wine – the first a staple of life and the second symbolical of celebration – of the `…joy that maketh glad the heart of man (and woman)` as he gives himself to us in the Mass in the Holy Communion.
It is because of all this that St. Paul in his wonderful letter to the Christians at Ephesus (4:30 – 5:2) is able to instruct: `Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God who has marked you with his seal for you to be set free when the day comes.` He then goes on to remind them how to treat one another following the example of Jesus and ending with these words: `Try, then, to imitate God, as children of his that he loves, and follow Christ by loving, as he loved you, giving himself up in our place as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God.`