“Purity of Sustenance”
August 19, 2018
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 9: 1-6
Ephesians 5: 15-20
John 6: 51-58
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
This the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, and this is the fourth Sunday that we have been in John chapter 6. Jesus has been telling us about this Bread from heaven, about Him being the true food, the living Bread and the Light of the world.
As a Church, we believe and we share the faith of the majority of the Church in what is called the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in the form of bread and wine, which become the body and blood of Christ. We believe that God’s presence is substantially present in these elements. This is the context of John 6. Jesus was talking to kosher Jews, those Jews that were on a kosher diet all their lives that don’t eat or drink blood. Kosher cooking is such that every drop of blood is taken out of the meat. Jesus, a Jew, and in the synagogue is telling the Jews, “You have to eat My flesh, and you have to drink My blood because unless you do, you have no life in Me.” Naturally, the Jews asked, “How can this man give His flesh for us to eat and His blood to drink?” To them, it was repulsive and unthinkable, and it was against their religion. This was what they have grown-up to accept. Jesus is saying to them, “Unless you do this, even if it is against your religion, you have no life in Me.”
The Jews argued and protested which gave Jesus a chance to tell them, “This is just a metaphor. I am not physically present in the bread and wine. I am not talking about something literal.” He tells them, “Unless you eat of My flesh and drink of My blood, you have no life in Me.” Many people left and many asked the twelve apostles, “Are you also leaving?” Peter says, “You have the Word of eternal life.” Jesus did not explain further. Only at the Last Supper did He say again, “This is My body; this is My blood,” and Jesus was reminding them of what He said in the synagogue. The disciples accepted it by faith and this is what we do too. We cannot process it thinking how can God assume the form of bread or how can a huge infinite God take the form of a man? We believe this by faith. We believe that for us and for our salvation, God became man. He came down from heaven and became incarnate. We accept it from the One who has authority.
In the 13th Century, St. Tomas Aquinas wrote a hymn and it says, “Taste and touch and vision to discern fail; faith that comes by hearing pierces through the veil. I believe whate'er the Son of God hath told what truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.” The taste of bread is the same where we cannot distinguish the body of Christ and the bread. Touch cannot discern. As to our vision, the bread looks the same and the bread cannot take the form of a living being. We all accept it by faith – on the Word of One who has authority. In a basketball game, it’s the referee’s decision that is in authority. In any court case, the defendant can only have peace of mind when the judge says that he is not guilty. Until then, he is anxious and without certainty.
Things spoken by somebody in authority effects reality. God, the Ultimate Authority, said “Let there be light,” and it became a reality. He said, “Let there be vegetation,” and there was vegetation. Jesus became man, and He says to a young girl, “Talitha kum,” and she rose from her lifeless body. Jesus said to Lazarus, a dead man, “Lazarus, come forth!” and he came out of the tomb. Jesus said, “It is finished.” We believe it is finished! When He says, “This is My body,” then, believe that it is His body because He is the Word of God, the Ultimate Authority. The universe was made through Him, and nothing exists without Jesus.
The priest behind the altar, during the consecration, is “in persona Christi,” meaning he is in the place of Jesus. In some rubrics, the priest is to hold the bread at mouth level speaking to it, “This is My body.” With the cup, it should be tilted a bit because the priest is speaking into the wine inside the cup saying, “This is My blood.” This affects reality and the elements make them the body and blood of Christ.
Having said these, it is really a matter more than doctrine. Salvation is not through our spirituality or not by our works. Ephesians 2:8 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” It is not through spirituality because some believe that one has to reach a certain level of spirituality and then you get to nirvana. Our salvation is not by our works. Works have their place, but our salvation comes from the fact that God became man and we partake of His flesh. The Creed says, “For us and for salvation, He came down from heaven and became incarnate.” This is what our salvation is founded on. Our salvation is because of God taking on flesh and taking on matter; and we partake of this matter.
In 1 John, it says, “What we have seen, what we have touched, what we have experienced – whom we ate with, whom we walked with – this is what we proclaim to you because we have partaken of it. We have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord in a tangible form – in the flesh.” Our problem is that we got struck with a fatal disease, and this affected our whole being. If our problem is just ignorance, the prophets could have solved the problem and wise men could have taught us and helped us out of our ignorance. The problem is we need medicine – to partake of life itself so that we ingest and we imbibe life, and this is how we are cured and saved from death.
What takes away the sin of the world? The Lamb of God! The context of John 6 is the Passover and the Passover Lamb was eaten – literally eaten. We partake of the Lamb. Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast and partake of Him. He became flesh to heal our flesh; He became what we are to heal what we are. It is all by grace, not by works. It is God’s initiative. This is why Jesus is called Savior because He took the initiative to save us.
Jesus says in John 6:27 “Do not work for food that perishes, but work for food that last to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” It is not something we earn or we work for, but it something made available, and we simple receive. We always ask, “What must we do to inherit eternal life?” instead of saying, “What is God doing or has done and is making available for us?” We forget that the gospel is a proclamation of what God has done, not about what we do. Don’t act as if most of reality hinges on what we do instead of what makes us available to us and point us to. By grace, through faith, we are saved. Our part, our response is to believe by faith. Jesus says that work of God is, “If you believe in Him, whom He has sent - the Son of God.”
Athanasius said, “God became man so that man can become God.” This is man having His ability, His life and His nature. If we believe that God can take on human flesh, can’t we believe that He can also take on the form of bread and wine? Again, God assuming flesh is the basis for our salvation. For us and for salvation, He came down and became incarnate, and He calls into being that which does not exist – all for our salvation and for our life. It is more than just a doctrine, but to aid us in our goal of becoming like Him and having life in ourselves.
The whole point is: bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ so that we, the recipients, can be transformed into the image and likeness of God. Transformation of elements (the bread and wine) to effect the transformation of God’s people to becoming like Him. The bread is made Jesus’ body by consecration; we are made His body by consumption. As we consume His body, we become His body. It is He consuming us than we consuming Him. This is fulfilled in what John said, “He must increase, and I must decrease. His nature must increase in me, and my old nature must gradually decrease.” This is the righteous, the healthy and the correct “dagdag bawas.” God’s nature increases in us; and our nature decreases until we reach that point where we are like the Son of God because we are predestined to conform to His image. We are to become like Him as we ingest His life in us.
1Corinithians 10:16 says, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” Isn’t it a koinonia, a bonding in the Body of Christ? As we share in the body and blood of Christ, we don’t just unite ourselves to Him, but we unite ourselves to each other. We are of one Bread, of one Body. What caused division in John 6 was meant to unite us; to make us one as we partake of the same food. We are what we eat.
When we partake from the Table, this makes us one Body; one family. Remember, we believe that it is the real body and blood of Christ that makes us not just metaphorical or mystical brothers and sisters, but real brothers and sisters because the same blood flows through our veins. We have consanguinity – more than just figurative. If we believe that this is the real body and blood of Christ, and we partake of the same, this makes us real brothers and sisters – one family. This is not just us, but the whole world that partakes of the same body and blood of Christ. We have solidarity with the whole world. Jesus said, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven, which is given for the life of the WORLD.”
Becoming like Him, and recognizing that as we become like Him individually and corporately, we become part of each other too. Therefore, we should not reject anyone. We should not have an “us” and “them” attitude. We should not have a judgmental attitude to say who is in and who is out or who deserves to live or not to live. A mother does not have the right to decide if the baby in her tummy has the right to live or not. God gave the Son for the life of the whole world so man should not decide who makes it and who doesn’t make it. God has accepted all. God wants all. God gave His life for all – for the life of the world. We should not reject anyone by hatred, by unforgiveness or by judgment because we are all one Body and one family. The more we partake of Jesus – His body and His blood – the more we become like Him. Not just like Him, but the community of the Trinity, in which we see acceptance, love, respect, peace. It is more than doctrine. We have a goal: God wants us to be like Him more and more.
May He increase, and may we decrease. May we decrease in our being judgmental or in our weaknesses and increase in our compassion and mercy towards others. We are what we eat, therefore, as we partake of Jesus, we become more and more like Him. The more we partake of Him, the more we become like God. Grace doesn’t mean no good works, but the realization, the experience of grace makes us want to do good works.
Romans 2 says, “The kindness of God leads to repentance.” Before, our evangelism is by fear. We made people repent because we made them feel afraid of hell. This is not the way God operates. God draws us by His kindness. He makes us repent and turn from our ways through His kindness. This is the genuine motivation that we should have. This is a tangible experience, a tangible encounter of God Himself, in the second Person of the Trinity.
May we become more aware of His presence. May we experience the glory of His goodness. We do not follow Him because we are threatened. We don’t want people to respond to us because they are threatened. We want them to respond to us positively because they are motivated by something we have done that is good. Again, God’s kindness leads to repentance.
Ephesians 5 says, “Be wise; know what the will of God is.” He is wisdom from creation calling out, “Come, eat, drink, live.” In the story of Elijah running away in fear, he went to a cave and an angel of the Lord appeared to him and gave him bread and water. The angel encouraged Elijah saying, “Eat because the journey is too great for you.” Elijah was going to the mountain of God. Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord? It is he who is strengthened by heavenly food because he will have the ability to have cleaned hands and a pure heart. Elijah has partaken of grace, and he has tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord, and that is his strength.
Our journey is great. There are challenges and a part of its purpose is to make us one. Sometimes, we see aspects and manifestations of that which makes us one, but sometimes, we see manifestations of the opposite where sin and hatred is bringing out its ugly head. It has no place in the community of the body of Christ. May we be aware of His presence. May we taste and see the glory of His goodness. May this transform us to become like Him and to become one with each other for this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.