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ACTA  

 

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

 

The Body and Blood of Christ

Year C

Year of Luke

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READINGS

 

A reading from the book of Genesis                       14:18-20

 

Responsorial Psalm                             Psalm 110:1-4. R/. v.4

 

A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians

  11:23-26

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke    9:11-17  

 

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A reading from the book of Genesis                       14:18-20

 

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

possessor of heaven and earth;

and blessed be God Most High,

who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

The word of the Lord.

 

Perhaps if we accept that Salem is intended to refer to Jerusalem (Jeru -salem), then we can begin to make sense of this strange excerpt from the story of Abram (soon to be re-named Abraham).  There are some grounds for this in the opening lines of Psalm 76:

 

In Judah God is known;

his name is great in Israel.

His abode has been established in Salem,

his dwelling place in Zion.

 

The psalm insists that God is known in Judah, the southern part of Israel, and Jerusalem was its capital.  Israel may refer to the northern kingdom or to the people of the covenant as a whole. “Zion“ is the hill on which the city of Jerusalem  was built. The abode of God refers to the Temple in Jerusalem. So there is good reason to believe that Salem was an ancient name for Jerusalem.  The point of this is that Jerusalem, long after the time of Abram/Abraham, became the city of God’s Presence for there King Solomon built the Temple wherein dwelt the Lord God.  So at this sudden and mystifying appearance of Melchizedek it is significant that he was king of Salem.  

 

   Bread

 

The word “bread” occurs 331 times in the ESV translation of the Bible.  The words “wine”, and related words such as “winepress”, “wine-drinking”, and “wineskins” occur 268 times.  The word “bread” occurs 81 times in the New Testament and “wine” and related words occur 54 times. The word “bread” occurs 18 times in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.  It is fair to say that both bread and wine, both as reality and metaphor, are frequently part of our story. The first time that bread and wine are mentioned together is in the extraordinary meeting of the Priest-King of Salem and the wandering Aramean named Abram.  

 

   It is not surprising that bread is prominent in stories of welcome and hospitality.  A priest of Midian had seven daughters that were driven from the well by rough shepherds but were saved by Moses (himself in flight after committing murder) and their flock was watered.  The story is enlightening:

 

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.”

Exodus 2:16-20

 

What the story is intended to show is the stuff Moses was made of, even before he received his call from God.  He is already in the business of protecting, saving, and helping. And, of course, he marries one of the girls.  Surprise! Surprise! Reuel, with seven unmarried daughters, wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity.

 

   Strange stuff fell from heaven:

 

In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake- like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.      Exodus 16:13-15

 

   The manna is food from heaven.  God is with the people that God is leading to the land flowing with milk and honey.  

 

   Of course it is Moses who identifies bread falling from the heavens:

 

And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat”.

Exodus 16:15-16

 

   In the theologically rich short story that is the Book of  Ruth there are sentences that must surely resonate with Christian readers.  Boaz greeted his reapers with “The Lord be with you!” and they answered, “The Lord bless you!” In this context of mutual blessing Boaz is enlightened as to who this foreign woman was and he immediately welcomes her, protects her, and feeds her:

 

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied.  And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.                     Ruth 2:14

 

The Book of Lamentations mourns the destruction of Jerusalem and especially its Temple in 586 B.C., and the exile to Babylon that followed.  The ruin of the Temple is especially poignant. Their very heart was torn from them: they had lost the Presence of their Lord. Everywhere there was deep lamentation.  Even babies cry out for want of food:

 

As babes and sucklings languish

In the squares of the city,

they keep asking their mothers,

“Where is bread and wine?”

as they languish like battle-wounded

In the squares of the town,

as their life runs out

 in their mothers’ bosoms.  

                                      Lamentations 2:12 (JSB translation)

 

   A line from the Book of Proverbs will resonate with all who know the story of Jesus:

 

Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed,

for he shares his bread with the poor’

Proverbs 22:9

 

That the Priest-King of Salem brings out bread and wine with which to celebrate a victory will also resonate with the story of Jesus and so with our story.

 

    Melchizedek is King of Salem, we are told, and “a priest of God Most High.  This requires careful attention. He was not a Jewish priest of the Temple; he was not a priest belonging to the priestly caste of Aaron for that priesthood had not been called into being as yet.  The designation God Most High is El-Elyon in the Hebrew text. There was a Canaanite god worshipped in the Mediterranean coastal area of Ugarit, a city in southern Syria. El means God, as in Dani’el (My God is Judge) or Gabri’el (Man of God), or Micha’el (probably One who is like God).  The God who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth is El’ohim. El Elion is usually translated as “Most High”, as in Psalm 47:

 

Clap your hands, all peoples!

Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,

a great king over all the earth.

 Psalm 47:1-2

 

The title Lord Most High is not used very frequently in the Hebrew Bible.  Here it probably is intended to convey that Melchizedek is a priest of a Canaanite god.  The priest of this god blesses the future father of Israel. The blessing may indicate that in Abram the future dwellers in the land of Canaan are blessed by the gods of land they made their own and to which they brought their own God.  The God of Israel is recognized as the Lord even over the native gods.

   The offering of bread and wine suggest a royal banquet.  That Abram offers a tithe of everything he owns is a down payment, as it were, on the land that will, in God’s good time, be inhabited by his descendants.

   The eight references in the New Testament to the Melchizadek quote the reference in Psalm 110:

 

You are a priest forever

according to the order of Melchizedek.

Psalm 110:4

 

Since Melchizedek appears out of nowhere and leaves no subsequent trace in the Bible, he is deemed to have an eternal existence.  If there is no reference to his death, then he didn’t die. The same fanciful idea occurs in the story of Elijah the prophet who was taken up into the clouds in a fiery chariot and, therefore, his departure gave rise to the belief that he had not died and gone to Sheol.  He would return to signify the coming of the Messiah. The last sentences of the Book of Malachi come from the mouth of God:

 

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.                                         Malachi 4:5-6

 

The eight quotations concerning Melchizedek in the Letter to Hebrew Christians are intended to emphasise that the heavenly priesthood of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus is given a heavenly priesthood that is eternal and his heavenly ministry will be forever effective.

 

   The meal of bread and wine in the story may be imagined to be a foretaste of the Eucharist, the sacrament of the Presence that endures forever.   

 

Responsorial Psalm                             Psalm 110:1-4 R/. v.4

 

              R/. You are a priest forever

after the order of Melchizedek.

 

The Lord says to my Lord:

“Sit at my right hand,

until I make your enemies your footstool.”     R/.

 

The Lord sends forth from Zion

your mighty sceptre.

         Rule in the midst of your enemies!       R/.

 

Your people will offer themselves freely

on the day of your power,

in holy garments;

               from the womb of the morning.      R/.

 

The Lord has sworn

and will not change his mind,

“You are a priest forever

          after the order of Melchizedek.   

 

R/.         You are a priest forever

             after the order of Melchizedek.

 

Psalm 110 makes only one appearance in our Sunday Lectionary.  It deserves a wider and more frequent exposure. It is a difficult psalm because it declares war on God’s enemies whereas God is bound by the same ethic as we are.  In God’s name, Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who persecute us. Leaving that difficulty aside for the moment, Christians have seen in the psalm a messianic purpose.  This is especially evident in the Letter to Hebrew (Jewish) Christians that refers to the heavenly priesthood of Jesus eight times.  Christian tradition has seen in the psalm an eschatological dimension.  That is, they have read it as referring it to the life to come. On the occasion of his resurrection and exaltation Jesus was, according to the letter to Hebrews, named priest and our heavenly intercessor.  

   Jewish understanding is that Psalm 110 is a royal psalm.  There are a number of psalms that probably are to be understood as concerned with kings, especially King David (Psalms 2; 18; 20; 21; 45; 72; 89; 101; 110, 132; 144).  No king is named in these psalms but it is possible these hymns may have been sung at royal coronations. This may very well be the case with Psalm 110.

   The author of our Hebrews letter certainly read it this way.  The officiating priest, speaking in the name of God (The LORD) addresses the king-to-be as “My Lord” and bids him to sit on the throne, to be seated at God’s right hand.  The rest of the psalm outlines how Lord God will protect the king from enemies, recognise the priesthood of the king just as the ancient King Melchizedek was a priest forever, and ensure his place among the nations and overthrow hostile powers.  

 

   St Mark’s Gospel makes an odd use of this psalm:

 

And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.                 Mark 12:36-37

 

The preacher is spared since this text does not occur in our Lectionary.  However this occurrence in Mark illustrates how Christian writers sought intimations of messiahship and kingship in the Psalms and elsewhere to explain the person and purposes of Jesus of Nazareth.   

A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians   

    11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

The word of the Lord.

 

The reading from St Paul’s first letter to the house-churches in and around the busy port city of Corinth raises a second issue of concern.  It is to do with what happens when these recent pagans, now baptised into the Lord Jesus, “come together as a church”, to break bread and share the cup.  The first matter concerned the unity of the members of these little churches. It is important to realise that St Paul, in his seven authentic letters, never speaks of a universal Church. In our terms, Paul is talking to parishes, not to the Church in the whole world.  That is why sitting in the pews we can hear Paul talking to us who are enacting in our time and place what our fathers and mothers were doing in their little communities as the busy world passed by outside.

  The first concern of Paul is that those gathered together are behaving as if the matter was an individual exercise:

 

When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.                                             I Corinthians 11:21-22  

 

Each one may have brought bread and wine but there is no sharing. The well-off people begin to indulge themselves immediately and show up the brothers and sisters who are poor.  Their personal indulgence is totally at odds with what “the church of God” is about. The Eucharist is not a private affair. The Lord’s Supper—and Paul is the first one in history to give a name to what is happening—is not a matter of private indulgence.  It is a communion or it is nothing.

   We must know that the Lord’s Supper came at the end of a communal meal.  Whoever was able to afford it, invited the brothers and sisters to a meal at the end of which the Lord’s Supper was added. Apparently, and its no surprise, the wealthier ones turned up first and tucked in, thus making division between themselves and those whose poverty did not give them as much leisure time as “their betters”.  As Paul so neatly and bluntly puts it,

 

One goes hungry, another gets drunk.

I Corinthians 11:21

 

What they have forgotten is what Paul declared to them about the first Lord’s Supper, the supper in which Jesus urged to do this in memory of him.

   Paul’s account of the Lord’s Supper (I Corinthians 11:20) is the first to be written, much before our Gospels came into this world.  He claims that he received the account “from the Lord”. That must mean in his instruction when he first accepted the truth of the Jesus story from Christians in Damascus after his experience on the way to that city.  It is enriching to pay attention to the words Paul uses in his account.

 

   … received from the Lord

 

What Paul knows about the Lord’s Supper has been handed on to him.  Each generation that received the Jesus story from the one before is thereby bound to hand it on.  Each generation must be sure that what it receives and what id passes on is “from the Lord”. To receive all that Jesus means is a joy and a burden.  The fullness of that joy must not be tarnished (as it has been so hideously in our time); rather, the burden of watchfulness must ensure that what is received must not be contaminated.  What Paul calls “the gospel of God”, the fullness of what God has done and does in Jesus, must be gifted to those who come after us. What we must do is this:

 

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us …                     2 Thessalonians 2:15

   I received … I delivered

 

These words became the words to describe coming to faith and instantly understanding that that faith must be handed on.   What we receive must be delivered. What is handed on is given in order to be hand on.

 

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.

I Thessalonians 2:13-14

 

From the beginning of his call Paul realised that what he received had to be delivered:

 

… when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.

              Galatians 1: I5

 

   The word “delivered” needs careful inspection.  A Greek verb that means “to hand over” is used by Mark in a number of contexts but especially when reporting betrayal.  When Judas is mentioned almost always he is referred to as “Judas, the one who handed him over”. Indeed, Mark emphasises that the handing over of Jesus into the hands of his enemies begins in his own adopted family of disciples.  At the end it is a kiss of friendship that identifies Jesus for the enemies who have come to seize him in the dark of the night. When Jesus warns his disciples that he will be handed over into the power of the hands of those who will kill they were unwilling to listen. It is, therefore, sad but no surprise that they all fled from him and ran away.  At the end Pilate handed him over to be crucified.

   Yet this very word became to word for tradition, for what must be handed over from one generation to the next.

Tellingly, the first of New Testament documents to use the verb “to hand over” in reference to the betrayal of Jesus is Paul’s letter to little Corinthian house-churches.

  The phrase he uses is “on the night he was betrayed” or “on the night he was handed over”.  This is by no means merely an indication of the timing of the Lord’s Supper. Paul emphasises that it is during this time of handing over to death by friend and foe, by Jewish and Roman authority, that Jesus looks to ensure that all who believe in him will never lack his loving presence.  The bread he breaks and the wine he shares is his body, his real presence, that is, an everlasting covenant that he will be with his own. His words will forever be repeated when his people meet to do this in memory of him. The context Paul describes (“on the night when he was betrayed”) stresses the nearness of Jesus and the circumstance of betrayal when he breaks bread and shares the cup. This context of death and betrayal must forever be brought to mind when Christians meet “as often as you drink”.  In his death is life; in his leaving is presence. This is his covenant with all who gather to “do this in remembrance of me”. Tradition, what we hand over to those who come after us, may always be tested. If it does not start at the foot of the in the rush to the empty tomb before weeping is done, then there is something amiss. Underlying all this talk of handing over must never disguise the irony that is rife in these sentences of handing over. It is this: Jesus is handed over to death by God. In the letter to Roman Christians Paul states the fundamental rock on which all else is built:

 

He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?                                                              Romans 8:32

 

When we “do this in remembrance of me”, we must forever understand that the Father handed over his beloved Son in order to overcome the sin of the world.   A story that does not tarry awhile in the shadow of the cross is not “from the Lord”. Paul’s account of the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

   … he took bread

 

Taking a piece of bread and breaking it is a simple act of sharing, an act of solidarity.  But this broken bread is more than that:

 

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 there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.                       I Corinthians 10:16

 

The bread must be broken.  The cup must be shared. The sharing of the bread and the cup is a participation in the body of Christ Jesus and in all that that body endured that humanity may be blessed:

 

Likewise, my brothers and sisters, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.                 Romans 7:4

 

In breaking the bread and sharing the cup we are forged anew.  We belong to each other as one Body in order that “we may bear fruit for God”.  To receive the Body and Blood of the Lord is to be joined with everyone around you to proclaim and witness the truth of God in our world.  

 

   … this is my body for you

 

Those who take and eat, those who share the cup, partake

in all that Jesus is, his body and blood, in order to be what he is to the world.   There are three words, each significant in the vocabulary of Paul, that speak to the reality of the Body that is “for you”.  They speak of identification, and participation (κοινωνíα, koinōnia).  

   First, identification.  To begin with, by baptism we are become God’s Temple:

 

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.                                                I Corinthians 3:16-17

 

The Temple in Jerusalem was where God placed his name, that is to say, adorned with God’s Presence.  Such is the person and the community (these are indistinguishable in Paul’s thinking):

 

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.                                                        I Corinthians 12:27

 

God’s work in us is this:

 

For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:29-30

 

We who share the bread and the cup are transformed and the transformation is a conformation into “the image of his Son”.

 

   Paul is very fond of the word κοινωνíα, koinōnia.  He uses it in a variety of contexts but always with a nuance of participation, of sharing, of being in it together with God, with Jesus, with each other.  All of the togetherness is the wok of the Holy Spirit. Consider:

 

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship (κοινωνíα, koinōnia) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord …                                                           1 Corinthians 1.9

 

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (κοινωνíα, koinōnia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation (κοινωνíα, koinōnia)  in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

I Corinthians 10:16-17

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

                                                             2 Corinthians 13:13

 

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.                                                      Philippians 1:5

 

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Philippians 2:1-2

 

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and sharing (κοινωνíα, koinōnia) (in) his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  

                                                               Philippians 3:8-11

                                       

What Paul is emphasising in his various uses of this word is that our participation in the bread and the cup is the basis for all our participation in God, in Christ Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, and so in our oneness, our unity.  Baptism is the door to the Sacrament and our sharing in the bread and in the cup conforms us into that which we receive.

 

   …you proclaim

 

Before we receive, we pray.  The prayer sums up all that is given to us and all that we must give:

 

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us’

 

W pray that in our partaking of the Bread and the Cup we may be mercied but that the sins of the whole world be forgiven.by the one who gave his life that we might live. But our prayer is quite specific in what we and all the world most need:

 

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

 

The consummation of creation is everlasting peace, the shalom that only God can give.  Always before partaking together in the bread broken and cup overflowing, we pray Thy will be done on earth.  Our prayer is ever that the peace of Christ be with us now as we know it will be in the time to come.  

 

   … in remembrance

 

To remember is not to exercise our memories of the past merely to call to mind an incident of former significance.  When we are commanded “to remember the poor”, this does not mean to think about the poor. It means to befriend the poor so that they are no longer poor.  It is to fulfil the command to take them off the streets and bring them into our prosperous world. To remember God is not merely to recollect that God exists.

 

  When God remembers, then God acts.  Pharaohs arose in Egypt who did not remember Joseph and that he had been a saviour in a time of famine. The people descended from Jacob reduced to slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue came up to God’s ears.

 

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.  

Exodus 2:23-25

 

   Remembering is essential if faith is not to wane:  

You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 8:18-19

 

This is what happens when the remembrance of things past is dimmed:

 

As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal- berith their god. And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.              Judges 8:33-35

 

   Remembering ensures that prayer is done, that worship is given, that trust is maintained and obedience is observed.  Paul had never been to Rome and is polite in addressing house-churches in the imperial capital. So he is circumspect but still insistent in reminding his brothers and sisters there:

 

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:14-17

 

Very polite.  Very much to the point.  

   Why does he think it necessary to remind the Corinthian house-churches of the basics? -

 

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

I Corinthians 15:3-5

 

  Remembering is essential if the present is to be faithful to the past.  Remembering is necessary if the past is to be effective in the present and in the future.  Without remembrance of the past there is no hope for the future. When Jesus commands those at the table to remember he is insisting that what he has done must be done in order that who he is and why God sent him into our world. Twice Jesus insists that we remember the bread, and again that we remember the cup.  The reason is that thereby “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

 

   By participation in the breaking of the bread and the cup—because body is separate from blood—the death of the Lord is brought to mind and all that that death implies must never be forgot.  Not until the coming of the Lord when humanity will be called to its eternal home must remembering cease. To forget the Supper is to forget the Cross and to forget the Cross is to forget that our destiny is the same as that of the man who died that we might live.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke    9:11-17  

 

On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

 

The twelve apprentice apostles returned from their practical, a beginner’s lesson in proclaiming the gospel and healing the people.  They did well but still had a lot to learn. They returned to Jesus and witnessed “the crowds” flocking to Jesus. Jesus welcomed these people, spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.  When the sun was going down, the Twelve, fresh from their experience of, so they thought, doing what Jesus did, advised Jesus to send the crowds away for they were in a desert place. The villages and towns around are the places where bread may be bought.  Sensible chaps.

   But they did not know that when Jesus welcomes and teaches and heals, sending away is not part of what the kingdom is about.  So the response of Jesus is curt: You feed them.

 

   Eating and drinking

 

Why is it that the only miracle story told in all four Gospels is the Feeding of Five Thousand (or Four Thousand)?  This story is told six times, twice in Mark, twice in Matthew, once in Luke and once in John?

   And why do all the Gospels take up so much precious and expensive place on a scroll to record that Jesus was constantly eating and drinking?   Why is there so much eating and drinking in the urgent need to proclaim the kingdom of God? So much time wasted that Jesus and his crowd became a byword   for partying (a glutton and wine-drinker, eating with tax collectors and sinners of that ilk? And why does Jesus revel in the accusation? Why does he insist that eating and drinking are at the heart of his mission to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19:10)? And why at the death, when he wanted to leave a remembrance that would forever speak of his abiding Presence on this earth did he leave a table, a loaf of bread, and a cup of wine?

   What is it about eating and drinking that somehow embodies the kingdom of God?

 

   The kingdom of God

 

What is the message of Jesus?  It is not love of God and of your neighbour.  It is not keep to the commandments. It is not to avoid sin.  It is not even to be a Christian. It is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is God’s rule on earth.  As we pray incessantly,

 

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

The purpose of the coming of our Lord Jesus was to tell by his words, to show by his actions, how to live as God intended humanity to live in order that there be peace of earth.  Shalom is the very essence, the very heart of God’s intent.  Our destiny is eternal peace. To live in peace of this earth is a foretaste of that peace that will be ours for eternity. To come together to eat the Bread and drink the Cup is always to call to our minds who we are, what we are

for,  and to where we are bound.  

 

     … and were satisfied

 

   Why, in John’s Gospel does Jesus himself distribute the loaves and the fish (John 6:11), whereas the story as told by Mark, Matthew, and Luke insist that “he gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd”?  

    In each telling of the story everyone is satisfied and in each telling the disciples gather up twelve baskets of bits and pieces. St Luke’s version puts the word  “all” in his last sentence in his telling to emphasise that all were satisfied.  Only five loaves and two fish began the story.  At the end twelve baskets full are left over.  That is the kind of generous God Jesus of Nazareth reveals to the world.  Remember even Ruth, a foreigner, an immigrant, and a woman ate and was satisfied!

 

Joseph O’Hanlon  

     

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