Jesus’ ‘radical’ command inspires deep faith

| Deacon Mark Pavlak | August 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

In the readings this weekend, we arrive at a very pivotal moment in the great bread of life discourse. Until now, Jesus has only required belief in him as the one sent by the father, a belief difficult enough in itself. He has done many things to merit our belief, like feeding the 5,000 and walking on water. But in the Scripture for Aug. 16, he challenges us to put our belief into action in a very unpalatable way: to eat his body and drink his blood. For the Jewish people this would be not only unheard of, but also incredibly offensive. Blood signifies the very life source of man and beast; it is sacred to God. The consumption of blood is against Jewish dietary laws, so it must be drained before the animal is to be eaten (Leviticus 7:26-27; Leviticus 17:10-14). And now Jesus, a Jew, is calling us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. As if his teachings weren’t difficult enough to this point, this one ought to draw the proverbial line in the sand.

This leads me to ask: Wouldn’t it be easier to believe in Jesus without this difficult teaching? If Jesus had clarified his words as a mere symbolic meaning of eating his body and blood, then maybe those listeners in Capernaum wouldn’t have turned away. After all, many non-believers today even find our belief in the Eucharist to be foolish and, perhaps, disgusting. So it seems that accepting all of Jesus’ teachings would be a lot easier if some of them didn’t require this amount of faith, this amount of difficulty. But this is exactly what the Lord does to us. He stretches us and calls us to a deep faith in him. Perhaps after 2,000 years, we have taken for granted this radical command Jesus gave his disciples. Today, if someone were to command you to eat his body and drink his blood, you’d likely think it terrifying and frightening.  Imagine the reaction of the Jewish people in Capernaum when they heard these words for the first time. They are no less true for us now.

Why does Jesus demand this amount of faith from us? Why couldn’t he just offer us moral teachings by which to live? Because we have a God who desires to be close with us. We have a God who is Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14). “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:56). Contact with the divine no longer remains outside of ourselves, but rather it enters into our very bodies, our very selves. The veil of our ignorance is lifted away, and we encounter the very knowledge of God, which gives wisdom to the mind to turn away from foolishness and understanding to do his will (Proverbs 9:6; Ephesians 5:17). As a result, this sacrament generates a deep faith that stretches us, a faith by which we externally live what is now internally present: the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Deacon Pavlak is in formation for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His teaching parish is All Saints in Lakeville. His home parish is St. Agnes in St. Paul.


Sunday, Aug. 16

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings

  • Proverbs 9:1-6
  • Ephesians 5:15-20
  • John 6:51-58

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Category: Sunday Scriptures