Jesus makes some incredible claims in the Gospel for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. He claims to be the Bread of Life, which obviously references the ways that God has used bread to feed and save His people through the generations. What makes Jesus’ claim so incredible is that He makes it personal and He identifies Himself as God. He also makes the claim that anyone who eats His body and drinks His blood will have eternal life, again that promise of divinity.
There were many claims of blasphemy against Jesus. What His listeners seemed to miss was His promise that He would give His life for the sake of the world. Many people were threatened by His references to being the son of God, because they had images of this Messiah who would overthrow the current power structures and claim to be the ruler. It would be easy to be threatened by someone who you think is trying to take your place and do away with you.
Even today, after Christianity has been developing for about 2,000 years, we still seem to miss the message of real power coming from service to others and giving of our lives for the sake of the world. Jesus gives us this pattern of the Bread of Life as one whose life is used up for the sake of others. When Jesus invited us to eat His body and drink His blood, He wants to be our nourishment for the entire journey of our lives. This would give us the same warning that Elijah was given about the journey ahead of us. We must take the nourishment we need day by day so that we will have what it takes to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
If you participate on a regular basis in the weekend celebration of the Mass, you notice as I do that our gathering together as a community gives us encouragement and challenge. Feasting on the word of God at each Mass gives us great teaching, wisdom and direction. Our prayer together unites us in voicing our praise of God and our worship of the one who has made our lives possible. Our sharing in Communion is literally the food that will keep us alive forever. This gift of the Bread of Life in the Eucharist is not just for a special occasion or a place to run when things get bad or tough. We could gain some wisdom from the Olympic athletes that we see performing. Imagine the daily, weekly and yearly practice that it takes to get where they are. They need to eat right, sleep right and build the habits that will get them where they need to be.
As we enter into this second week of Scriptures focused on the Bread of Life, let us make a daily commitment to open ourselves to the eternal food that Jesus offers to us. Whether you attend Mass on Sunday only or every day, ask what might you be able to do during the week that makes that celebration on the weekend as fruitful as it can be. Can you spend some time this week trying to pay attention to what it is that you truly hunger for, and bring that to Mass this coming weekend? Can you read the Scriptures ahead of time so that you are familiar with them before you come to Mass? Can you pray this week for the gift of humility, so that you might be open to the will of God and not just your own plans?
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.