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Feasting on the reality of Jesus

  • August 13, 2015

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Aug. 16 (Proverbs 9:16; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58)

What is wisdom? It is certainly not intelligence in the usual sense of the word, nor is it human cleverness. Quite the opposite: wisdom is the divine gift that flows from humility, simplicity of heart and thoughtful, prayerful, reflection on one’s life experience.

Wisdom is portrayed in feminine terms in the Old Testament, and as in numerous examples of God’s gracious gifts, the gift of wisdom is illustrated with the symbols of fine wine and food. Wisdom begs passersby to attend her feast, often unsuccessfully. This is echoed in the New Testament, where the symbol of table and feast often expresses the kingdom of God, although getting people to attend is strangely problematic. The key to the problem is in the text. Lady Wisdom is unsuccessful with those lacking sense because they have to lay aside immaturity in order to feast and live. Humanity clings desperately to its immaturity, mistaking it for intelligence, realism and know-how. Wisdom offers not facts, technical skill or worldly competence. She offers insight, the ability to intuit the inner spiritual, moral and transcendental meaning from the mass of sense data, facts and experience. This enables one to make correct and life-giving choices that reflect justice, compassion, generosity and righteousness.  

Wisdom is a tough teacher — she allows no shortcuts. There are countless examples of immaturity all around us, but if we are honest, we find a dismaying number of these characteristics in ourselves. Only when we can admit that these are empty and self-destructive attitudes can we have the courage to admit how ignorant we are in so many ways. Ironically, this is the first and most important step to wisdom and enlightenment.

Leading a life of wisdom is the key to the spiritual life, according to the author of Ephesians. It is treating each day  as something precious and living it in a richly spiritual manner. This includes a profound sense of gratitude to God for all that one has received, and centring one’s life on the highest spiritual ideals. We are urged to fill ourselves with the Spirit. This life in the Spirit can only be experienced by one that has put aside immaturity in order to live.

Jesus also offered a feast to all who would listen. This banquet was attended as reluctantly by the crowds as by those whom Lady Wisdom called. He had used the symbols of “living bread come down from Heaven” and “living water” as metaphors for the sustenance and life that only God — and the Son — can give. But then He raised the bar by using the deliberately shocking symbolic language of “flesh and blood.” What could be more of a turn-off to one who heard these words and understood them in an overly literal way?

Just like Lady Wisdom, the challenge was not to be overly analytical or clever. The hearer was called to push beyond the superficial meaning of the words and ponder their inner meaning. He or she was invited to step into the Spirit’s current in trust and experience the truth rather than figuring it out. To those willing to feast on the reality of Jesus Christ, He offered an awareness and experience of the divine presence within. Just as we are transformed by what we eat and drink as it becomes part of what we are, Jesus invites us to the feast so that we can become the God whom we seek.

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