Week 20, Sunday. Words of THE WORD.

“Turn Your eyes, O God, our shield; and look on the face of Your anointed one; one day within Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10-11)

O God, Who have prepared for those who love You
good things which no eye can see,
fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of Your love,
so that, loving You in all things and above all things,
we may attain your promises,
which surpass every human desire.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. (Psalm 34:9).

GOSPEL EXCERPT (click for all readings)
Jesus said to the crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats (φάγῃ, phage) 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 (φαγεῖν, phagein)?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat (φάγητε, phagete) the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats (τρώγων, trogon) 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 (τρώγων, trogon) 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 (τρώγων, trogon) 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 (τρώγων, trogon) this bread will live forever.”

Do not eat or eat? Eat or eat? These are two questions at the heart of Jesus’ blunt teaching about Who He is and how His followers are to act. Let’s take a look at the first question.

Do not eat or eat? The question is simple and the response: a common sense, emphatic declaration, “Yes (otherwise, we - as humans - die)!” But to gain a bit more insight on this question, we must turn our attention to Genesis 3. Why  ... given that Deuteronomy, not Genesis is the First Reading this Sunday? Part of the answer lies with the Evangelist, Saint John himself. The Gospel that bears his name opens, “In the beginning,” a clear signal that as far as he is concerned the saving, sacred record of Jesus that is about to unfold in the Text is a New Creation. Much in the Gospel according to Saint John presents a New Creation and this is important for us this Sunday because in the Creation account, eating plays a significant (quite an understatement) role in humanity’s relationship with God and the world.
In keeping the question ‘Do not eat or eat?’ before us this Sunday, it is clear in the Creation Account that humanity is not given carte blanche to eat anything. Boundaries are placed on what humanity can and can not consume in the Garden. The question of what to eat becomes important because we learn through Eve’s dialogue with the Snake that the Creator has imposed at least 1 restriction on food and Eve (along with Adam for that matter), while she may not have known the exact reason why the food is prohibited, she knows that it is forbidden to eat.

(As a slight aside, I want to stress here that this food prohibition is not whimsical nor capricious on the part of God nor are any of the episodes of this Sacred Account of the Beginnings to be casually declared ‘just a story’ that can be dismissed because ‘we know better.’ We don’t. There is much bound with the fruit and the entire Garden experience that is crucial for grasping what it means to have been created in the “image and likeness of God.” Such a creation has implications, not only for the rest of Creation, but very importantly for the relationship of God of humanity.)

Physiologically, as food deals with what we choose to put into our bodies and consequently our lives, in Genesis 3 fruit is food AND a whole lot more! Even our doctors and nutritionists remind us, ‘you are what you eat.’). Hence we were told not to eat of a particular food in the Garden. So long as humanity did the work that was entrusted to them by the Creator and did not eat of a particular fruit, Genesis teaches that Divine Harmony - Original Justice - flourished. But when humanity choose to grasp (as opposed to receiving graciously) for that which Divinity forbade, life took a noticeable turn, to say the least, and the relationship that humanity enjoyed with God changed utterly. That which was forbidden (for our own good) was grasped, taken and consumed. Adam, Eve and the whole of humanity were filled with shame and alienated from the Loving God because the command “Do not eat!” was ignored.

Out of love, the Creator sounded the ‘first Gospel (known by the Fathers of the Church as the Protoevangelium, [Genesis 3:15])’ and promised healing. Since the wound and the rupture were so grave, healing would take time because the human heart, caught in the addiction of selfishness and doing things ‘my way,’ took (and continues to take) a long time to be healed and to re-fashioned. It is interesting to note that as Salvation History unfolds, food plays a role in God healing humanity’s relationship with Him - the covenant meals, the hospitality meals, the Passover, the Messianic Banquet envisioned by Isaiah, and the meal prepared by Wisdom: food plays a role in the healing of relationships, Divine and human.

This brings us to the Person, Jesus. In the Garden, humanity was instructed ‘not to eat of a particular food.’ Now, Jesus commands the consumption of a particular food: HIMSELF! Because humanity ingested that which was not of the Creator’s Will, humanity is now commanded to consume the Body and Blood of Christ that He - JESUS! - says is true food and true drink. The path from the rupture of the Garden to new life as children of God requires the consumption of His Body and His Blood. Hence it is no longer “Do not eat” but “Eat!”

Now this raises the second question, “Eat or eat?” It is an important question because the Evangelist John employs two distinct Greek verbs in this Sunday’s proclamation - and both of them are translated into English as “to eat.” In the first part of this Sunday’s pericope, the Greek verb ἐσθίω (esthio) is used. ἐσθίω (esthio) refers to a physical act of eating and it is the verb used to translate the Hebrew אָכַל (ʾakal) that appears in Genesis 3. אָכַל (ʾakal), while its primary meaning and principle usage is the physical act of ‘food into mouth,’ it can refer – on occasion – to a metaphoric or poetic ‘eating’ that is akin to ‘taking in a lesson or a message.’ The Greek ἐσθίω (esthio) functions in a similar way. In its major uses, ἐσθίω (esthio) is the physical act of eating but on occasion it can refer to a metaphoric or poetic ‘eating.’

But then there is the other verb in Greek that is translated into English “to eat,” the Greek verb τρώγω (trogo). Interestingly, in antiquity this verb did not specifically refer to the action of eating but rather how one ate: gnawing and chewing … and the gnawing and chewing were often accompanied by sound. In other words, τρώγω (trogo) is an exceptionally graphic action, often used to describe how animals and barbarians ate, not the way our moms and dads taught us to eat and behave at the supper table! What τρώγω (trogo) does here in the text is TO REMOVE any hint or suggestion that Jesus is speaking about a metaphoric, poetic or solely spiritual eating. The action is quite physical. The action is quite messy – AND – it points directly to the Cross. The only way that anyone can consume the flesh and blood of a living being is for that living being to be dead. Jesus’ command “to eat” and “to eat” in a specific way: τρώγω (trogo) is a declaration of giving Himself completely in fidelity to the Father’s Will that results in His Sacrifice on the Cross that we may live fully.
Thus the “do not eat” of Genesis is replaced by Jesus’ command “to eat” and “to eat” in a very particular way: τρώγω (trogo).

Biblically, this is a significant Text in the Church’s teaching of Jesus’ Real Presence, a teaching and experience that requires sound catechesis as upwards of 60% of practicing (yes, practicing Catholics) have become quite lukewarm (to be charitable) on this fundamental and privileged Gift to Encounter the Savior Who heals us of what went wrong in the Garden. At the Easter Vigil in the Diocese of Hippo some 1600 years ago, Saint Augustine addressed the newly Baptized and Confirmed prior to the reception of Holy Communion for the first time, “Become Who you consume.” In the Garden, our nature ingested a poison; our nature welcomed sin into our very being – not just into our spiritual nature, our physical nature as well. We are in need of an antidote for the ingested poison: spiritually and physically (sacramentally). No wonder that Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Gregory of Nyssa referred to the Holy Eucharist as a Sacred Drug! Saint Ignatius wrote of the Eucharist as the “medicine of immortality” and Saint Gregory wrote of the Eucharist as the antidote for poison of sin swirling around in our souls and bodies.

Graciously coming before our Lord, receiving (not taking) with hearts open to His Real Presence is our healing and our strength for the journey - a healing that we can receive no where else and from no one else.