Today's first reading sounds like a description of a feast of fools. Who would brag that they were singled out to receive a special invitation addressed to the ignorant or a reserved place at the supper for the simple? Yet when Lady Wisdom sets the table in her mansion, she is very particular about her guest list -- she invites only the unpretentious.
|Twentieth Sunday in
Billing it as a free lunch, she still holds to one requirement: Her guests must be willing to forsake their foolish ways. Unlike the sophisticated, who can conceal themselves under the finery that disguises their fragility, her invitees come more like clowns who must be unmasked to reveal their real dignity.
What better way to describe the evangelical reversal of worldly values than Lady Wisdom's banquet? It makes you wonder who will accept her invitation.
That selection from Proverbs sheds a curious light on today's Gospel, in which Jesus identifies himself as the living bread who gives his flesh for the life of the world. Throughout the bread of life discourse, Jesus has been doing his utmost to draw his followers to a deeper vision of what he has to offer.
It all began when a child offered him a little food for the crowd, and all were able to eat their fill. The people took that as a sign that he should be their king, so Jesus sneaked away from them.
Once the crowds found him again, Jesus talked to them about bread from heaven, the deepest kind of sustenance humans can receive, the food that nourishes God's life within them. In trying to explain himself, Jesus referred to their ancestors' experience of divine providence during the Exodus, when God sustained their ancestors through Moses and the bread from heaven. He then told them that he himself was God's offering of bread for them -- his life, his flesh and blood. Everything that he was as a human person was God's outreach to them.
In trying to explain that, he revealed his own experience of God. Jesus bared his soul and told them that he knew that the Father had sent him, that he knew that everything he was, his entire life and vocation, was rooted in the Father.
Some of the crowd blocked the depths of his message by remaining on the literal level and asking how he could be food for them. Jesus did not respond superficially. He reiterated that his mission was to nourish them, to give his entire life to them so that they too could share in the life of the Father. It was just that simple.
As we listen to this week's readings, we recall that John wrote a Gospel, not a newspaper account. He wrote as a believer and he wrote for a community in the habit of sharing the Lord's supper. This Gospel is a theological reflection developed in a community not unlike that of the Ephesians, whom Paul encouraged to let themselves be filled with the Spirit by joyfully sharing their prayer and discerning together to understand the will of the Lord.
On one hand, this Gospel passage gives us an insight into Jesus the preacher, who longed to share his experience of grace with his followers. On the other hand, it invites us to take up our own place among his followers and respond to his words.
The bread of life discourse of John 6 is broken up in our liturgy, allowing us to appreciate it bit by bit and over and over again. This week's Liturgy of the Word is extraordinarily appropriate for us as eucharistic communities.
The reading from Proverbs reminds us of God's option for the poor and the evangelical demand that we let ourselves be unmasked of all pretension as we approach the altar together. The reading from Ephesians urges us never to forget that discerning the will of God is the work of a praying community; we cannot do it alone.
The Gospel invites us to communion. It invites us to have faith in Christ's presence among us; it challenges us to believe that we really can live in him, and he in us.
The more often we accept the invitation to this communion, the more we will understand its meaning. We will find ourselves frequenting the table among the simple, and together we will be moved to offer all we have and are for the life of the world.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]