August 19, 2012 - Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:2-7
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

All throughout the Old Testament, the theme of redemption through eating is present. We repeated in our psalm today, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Did the psalmist even what they meant when they wrote that? But eating leads to seeing the goodness of the Lord. In the first reading today, Wisdom has prepared a meal for us to eat: “Come, eat some of my bread. Drink some of the wine which I have mixed!” And these things were written almost a thousand years before Jesus Christ came and fulfilled them.

Have you ever noticed that the original sin was eating, and that the greatest sacrament is eating? It was by eating that we were kicked out of the garden. It is by eating that we are restored to heaven. The first words which it is recorded that God spoke to man were “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat; for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” Now Jesus says, “"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.” This new meal will restore what that other meal took away.

After Adam and Eve ate the fruit they got kicked out of Eden. Why? God tells us why. There was another tree there, the tree of life. God said, “‘Now, lest he put forth his hand, and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever...’ Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden.” So God sent us out of Eden in order to save us from the curse of living forever. It would be a curse to live forever in this current state of sinfulness. We are so cruel to each other. Torture, war, and all the other evils we inflict on each other be so much worse without death to put an end to it.

Now, however, Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” This eternal life is not simply living forever; it is a participation in the life of God. It restores us to the blessed life before sin and even beyond that, for if 99 sheep stay in fold and 1 runs away and the shepherd goes and carries that 1 back on his shoulders, that 1 will be more in love with the shepherd than the 99 who never strayed.

The sin of Eden was so bad. We had everything we needed provided for us by the same one who gave us life itself, but we insisted on reaching out and taking more. Enough was not enough. We had everything we could ever want, but we insisted on wanting what we did not have. How ungrateful! So Jesus Christ, in order to restore us to grace, gave us the greatest gift that we could possibly have. What more could we want, now that we have God himself? But people doubt the gift. They say that the bread is nothing but bread and the wine is nothing but wine. We say that the bread is the Body of Christ and the wine is the Blood of Christ. We believe in the simplicity of taking Jesus at his word: “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” Trying to take that metaphorically requires a too complicated, convoluted way of thinking.

It is difficult to understand how what looks like bread is actually the Body of Christ. We have to choose to be humble and say that there are more things in this world than we know. I cannot say how it is that a piece of bread, while retaining the physical aspects of bread, is no longer bread but the Body of Christ, but Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, blessed it and said, “Take this all of you and eat it. This is my Body”, and who am I to doubt Jesus Christ?

I also want to also speak a little about the second reading today. The translation we have here is very unfortunate: trying to make things clearer, they made it more difficult to understand. What St. Paul actually says here is “watch carefully that you walk not as the foolish but as the wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” This line speaks to us today. Evil means empty, lacking in some good that should be there. When Jesus Christ redeemed us, we were lacking in something and he gave it to us. We were lacking life, and he gave us the life that he has with the Father and the Holy Spirit. So the days are evil, and St. Paul tells us that it is our responsibility to redeem them. These days are lacking something, and it is our responsibility to fill them.

It is possible in our culture to get obsessed with our rights and our freedom. People say, “I am free to do whatever I want. I have the right to do whatever I want.” But what about responsibility? Who cares what I have a right to do; what do I have a responsibility to do? What should I do with my time? We do not have a right to kill time. We have a responsibility to redeem it.

Please understand that this does not mean that we cannot rest. Real rest, a good night’s sleep, reading a good book, watching well written television is a necessary part of life. Real rest is one of the things lacking in our world. Real rest redeems the time. But, I tell you, Angry Birds?! I do not think that the time has ever been redeemed by Angry Birds. Facebook can redeem the time if it is building human relationships, but Farmville? If you do not know what any of these things are, congratulations. They are pointless games that waste hours upon hours, but we all have our own Angry Birds: certain books of no redeeming value, soap operas, game shows, endless hours of sports. It would be good to stop ourselves constantly and ask, “How is the thing I am doing right now redeeming the time?” If the answer is that it isn’t, stop doing it. It is not enough that we have a right to do whatever we want each day. Life only has a meaning if we redeem the time.