Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Moses said to the people: “Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD. “Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery; who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its saraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers.”
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Brothers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
Gospel Cycle Cycle A
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
I doubt that I could have lasted through a testing of 40 years, the way that the chosen people were tested. Lots of them did not last those 40 years and turned away from the Lord. On the other hand, many of us are well over 40 years of age and we are still trying to follow the Lord. Perhaps we need to look at our own lives as part of the desert experience.
No matter what age we are, we have to ask ourselves: why do I continue to follow this God? What keeps me on this path of trying to understand Him and to do His will? We can also ask God: give me perseverance!
The first reading today wants to tell us about the manna in the desert, about how God feeds His people even when they are being put to the test. We need to be aware of those things that sustain us in our search for God. It is not always something very religious that may sustain us. For some, beautiful music is a way of being sustained in the search for God. For others, just a hike in beautiful country. Some people find God in some hobby or are at least sustained in their search for God by having a hobby to distract them when things get rough.
Food on the journey is what we need. A truly starving person will eat anything that promises to be food, even rotten things or raw things or really disgusting things. One who is truly starving becomes desperate for food. Are we desperate for God? Probably not. Instead we take our time in looking for Him and are willing to ignore Him for long periods of time when something else more interesting is in our lives.
Some people begin to search for God with great intensity even when they are young. Lots of us don’t do that. But as we get older, often we begin to realize that this world will come to an end and we shall die. The whole meaning of our life is about the life that is to come, eternal life. As we begin to realize that, our search for God intensifies.
The second reading, from the First Letter to the Corinthians, and the Gospel from John are both about the reality of this bread and wine being truly body and blood. Not many people believe that today even when it is the clear teaching of our Catholic Church. More important, perhaps, it seems to be the clear teaching of Scripture. We hear the reaction even of the followers of Jesus in the Gospel of John: surely you can’t be serious! We are not cannibals!
The words used in John’s Gospel are very clear in Greek, indicating eating real flesh and drinking real blood. The followers would have been more content with symbolic words and symbolic references. But Jesus does not mince His words: if you want eternal life, you must eat His flesh and drink His blood. There is no other way around it.
This is why we celebrate this great solemnity of the Body and the Blood of Lord today: to remind ourselves of the great mystery, this great reality, which is given to us to draw us to everlasting life. We don’t need to argue about the words used to describe this mystery (transubstantiation for us Catholics), all we need to do is listen to the reaction of the early followers of Jesus: we can’t follow you if you are going to tell us to eat your flesh and drink your blood! And so lots of his followers left Him.
Do we want to share His life? I hope so! Do we want to do His will? Again, I hope so. Then we need to listen to Him and to His words and believe Him: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Let us ask for His life today. Let us ask that the Holy Spirit would show us more profoundly the depths of this mystery of our faith. Let us give thanks to this God who loves us so much that He gives His only Son as our food.