August 10, 2003 Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (1 Kings 19:4-8) Reading II (Ephesians 4:30-5:2)
Gospel (St. John 6:41-51)
Saint Paul, in the second reading in his Letter to the Ephesians, tells us that we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, that Holy Spirit which was given to us and with which we were sealed for the day of redemption. Certainly, the day of redemption is the one that we look forward to at the end of the world, but far more than that, we have already been redeemed. We have been baptized; we have become members of Jesus Christ. And more than just simply that, the Holy Spirit comes down upon the bread and wine at Mass to make them into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ Himself. So when Our Lord tells us that He is the living bread that came down from Heaven and that whoever eats this bread will live forever, we recognize that the redemption has already occurred within us in a spiritual way. We are still awaiting the day of redemption when our bodies will rise from the dead, when we can enter into that eternal life with God, but in the meantime, the eternal God has entered into life with us. He has come to dwell within our hearts. Every time that we receive Him in Holy Communion, we receive God Himself, we receive life and redemption. This is the gift that the Lord offers, and we have to be able to see it in the context in which the Church gives it to us.
We hear, for instance, in the first reading from 1 Kings about Elijah and how after he had slain the 450 prophets of Baal, after God had accepted his sacrifice, Jezebel (recall, the evil queen) had threatened Elijah telling him that if she did not kill him by the same time tomorrow may the gods do thus and so to her. And so Elijah fled from the queen, afraid for his life – an amazing thing, considering that he had just taken on the 450 prophets of Baal and killed each one of them. Now he runs from the queen. He goes down under the broom tree, and the angel wakes him up and tells him to eat and drink. There he finds a hearth cake, some bread. He eats and lies back down, and the angel awakens him a second time and tells him to eat or else he will not have strength for the journey. Strengthened by that bread, we are told that he walked for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. Horeb, recall, is the exact same mountain (just a different name) as Sinai, the place where the people of God had gone when they came out of Egypt, the place where Moses had gone up to receive the Ten Commandments, the place where they received manna in the desert. It is also the place where they murmured against God and against Moses.
When we put that in the context of the Gospel reading, we hear the people murmuring against Jesus. Our Lord even uses that very word: “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draw him.” And so when we think of Who He is, putting it in the context of this, He is the mountain of God, He is the mountain spoken of in Elijah. But He is also the mountain spoken of in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews when he says to us, “You have not drawn near to Mount Sinai, but rather you have drawn near to Mount Zion, which is the mountain of God,” the mountain from which all teaching and truth will flow, the mountain to which all peoples will be drawn, because truth is going to come forth from God’s holy mountain. It is the mountain spoken of in Daniel, that is, the mountain that started out as just a stone that was hewn from a huge mountain but not touched by human hands and became a huge mountain that filled the entire earth. It is the kingdom of God and it is the Person of Jesus Christ, of which each of us is a member.
And so, when Saint Paul speaks about Mount Zion, he tells us that we have drawn near “to the mountain of the living God; to myriads of angels in festal gathering; to the firstborn enrolled in Heaven; to Jesus Christ, the mediator of a new covenant whose blood speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” That is precisely what we come to every single time we come to Holy Communion. That is the dichotomy Our Lord is drawing for us. It is the new covenant. As we say every time that we (the priests) consecrate: “…the blood of the new and eternal covenant that will be shed for you and for all.” This is the dichotomy between the two covenants. This is what Saint Paul recognized when he was writing that Letter to the Hebrews. Recall that it was written to Jewish priests who had become Catholic priests. He was laying out for them the difference between the sacrifice they had offered and the sacrifice they were offering now as Catholic priests.
It is precisely, then, what Saint Paul tells us in the second reading: to “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” That is the sacrifice of Christ; it is a sacrifice of love. And we are to imitate that because we are drawn into it, just as we are drawn to the mountain of God, according to Isaiah. We are drawn to the holy mountain who is Jesus Christ. We are drawn to the holy mountain which is His Church. And we are drawn to the Eucharist which is the source and the summit of this entire mountain, of this entire hill of love which we are called to climb. It is a hill of truth and a hill of love so that we will be able to find our fulfillment, so that we will find there the bread to eat and never die, so that we will find there the life of God. And we will not murmur because we will know the love of God, and no matter what happens we will know that we are loved. When one is loved, one can trust without doubting. When one is loved, one will not murmur no matter what happens because love seeks only the beloved, knowing that the beloved is seeking the one whom he loves.
Our beloved must be Jesus Christ, Who is seeking us in the Eucharist; and we must seek Him in the Blessed Sacrament. We need to draw near to the holy mountain, to the mountain of the new covenant, to the mountain who is Jesus Christ, and to receive Him – the living bread that came down from Heaven – so that we can eat and never die. And the bread that He gives is His flesh, His very Person, the fullness of His being as God and as man – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – the fullness of Jesus Christ truly present in the Blessed Sacrament for us to eat and never die.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.