20th Sunday Per Annum 2019 GSC
Well, dear friends, here we are again with the Gospel reading picking up where we left off last Sunday. Yes, the Church is quite deliberate in the way in which she arranges the readings for our Sunday Masses. There is always purpose and, in Sundays of Ordinary Time, usually continuity. To emphasise this point today`s Gospel reading begins by repeating the last verse of last Sunday`s Gospel reading with Jesus saying to the crowd, `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.` No beating about the bush but direct and powerful words.
In reality we are continuing to look into the sermon that Jesus had preached at Capernaum, the day after his Feeding of the Five thousand, making the bold statement that he is the “living bread” that has come down from heaven. In reality, by saying this, Jesus is proclaiming himself as the Messiah! This would have amounted to blasphemy in the minds of the rabbis in his audience for we need to remember that the Manna on which God had fed the Hebrews in the Wilderness for forty years would return with the Messiah when he returned. Note the response to today`s Mass Psalm: `Taste and see that the Lord is good.`
Jesus` statement that he is the bread of life will serve to drive a barrier between him and some of his followers because he equates this bread from heaven with his flesh which he will give up on the Cross for the life of the world. The quarrel starts almost immediately, and with the background of the Jews, not altogether surprisingly: `How can this man give us his flesh to eat ?` It would sound like cannibalism!
Was Jesus speaking symbolically ? His audience clearly did not think so since the Manna of the Wilderness was not symbolic but provided on six days of each week, with a double provision on Fridays to cover the Sabbath, for forty years as they journeyed through the wilderness. We find too, in Exodus 16 verses 32 -34, that a golden vessel was filled with this miraculous manna and was placed in the Ark of the Covenant with the Tablets of the Law. The New Manna of which Jesus speaks must be greater than that of the Wilderness and so must be literal! No wonder there was confusion in Capernaum`s Synagogue.
Jesus does not back down on his teaching in any way. He re-emphasises that his disciples will have to eat the flesh of the Son of Man ( a title for the Messiah which we find in the prophecy of Daniel 7:13) and drink His blood if they want to have his life within them. It is not yet revealed how to eat his body and drink his blood but the teaching could not be more direct: `I tell you most solemnly if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.` However, Our Lord`s teaching is clear and to the point for Jesus states quite clearly: `…my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink…` and later in the same passage: `This is the bread come down from heaven; not like the bread our ancestors at: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.`
It is the difference between the Old Covenant of the Old Testament and the New Covenant of Jesus Himself so perhaps we need to give some thought to the difference between the Manna of the Wildnerness and the Bread of Life which is Jesus Hmself.
The Manna of the Wilderness was Yahweh`s generous provision for the Children of Israel in their wanderings in the wilderness as they left Egypt to make for the Promised Land. It was a miracle from beginning to end with a daily supply from Sunday to Thursday and a 48 hour supply on Friday so that the Sabbath was covered without the necessity for work. Such significance did it have that Moses, you will remember, commanded Aaron to lay up some of this Manna in a gold vessel to be carried in the Ark of the Covenant with the Tablets of the Law – The Ten Commandments. This was done so that it would remain fresh forever as a constant reminder of God`s provision and care for his people.
On Wednesday last, the 15thAugust, we kept the Solemnity of the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary who became the Ark of the New Covenant by carrying the Bread of Life in her womb that the Son of God might become fully human for our salvation and who, at the end of his earthly ministry gave us that Bread of Life and Blood of Salvation at the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday before pouring out His very life on the Cross on that first Good Friday. The eternal aspect of that self-offering is re-lived every time we come to Mass and the priest takes the bread and wine at Our Lord`s command that he, by the power of the Spirit, makes it his very Body and Blood that we and all his faithful people, in all ages that have continued for over two thousand years, may receive that Precious Life into our own bodies and souls. The provision of this New Manna will only cease when Jesus returns again to judge all humanity and gather the redeemed to His Heavenly Kingdom.
I found a wonderful prayer on the website Faith and Worship. It goes like this:
When the journey is long and we hunger and thirst, Bread of Life, sustain us. When the road is hard and our bodies weak, Bread of Life, heal us. When our spirits are low and we can`t carry on, Bread of Life, revive us. When the challenge is great and the workers are few, Bread of Life, empower us. And when the victory is won and we see your face, Bread of Life, you will rejoice with us. Amen.
The challenge of today`s Mass Readings is to pay special attention to the Eucharitic Prayers of the Mass which are drawn explicitly from the scriptures. Read Chapter 11 of St. Paul`s First Letter to the Corinthians, verses 23 -26 and know that these words were written about AD52 thus predating the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the Last Supper accounts we have witnessed how Jesus gives us His Body and Blood as true food and drink and the story is not only being told but being lived out over 2000 years later, and is as compelling now as it was in the time of Lord on earth.