Jesus – In the Flesh
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 23, 2009 (21B), by Fr. John Foley, S. J.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus has been distressing the disciples by his words. Last week he said we have to consume his flesh and blood in order to have eternal life. His followers could not possibly have understood this.
Sunday he takes it a step further (Gospel). He asks, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” Many of them were indeed shocked, and they went back to their old way of life.
A sad scene, and somewhat puzzling too. Why is Jesus saying such astounding things to the disciples and why are they deserting him?
In the Gospel of John one has to seek deeper meanings whenever an event or saying does not seem to make complete sense. There is often a delicious significance hidden behind events that are described in a bewildering way.
Why? John’s Gospel was written in the midst of a praying community that John had gathered about him after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Their continued contemplation allowed the Holy Spirit to bring out the deeper meanings of Jesus’ life and words. These then emerged in the Gospel, like taste does in a properly aged wine.
Here is what I think stands behind Jesus’ words this week.
After his resurrection Jesus would ascend back into the bosom of the Holy Trinity. This is what he means by “ascending to where he was before.”
God’s love had leaned out to us in Jesus life, death and resurrection, but when these were done, he could not stay on earth any longer. He had to “go to the next life” just as we all do. He was our example and our friend, but human lives are not built to go on and on within this world.
Does this mean he would desert us? No, he would be present on earth in a new form. The third person of the Trinity would come to dwell within the people who believe. Christ would be newly enfleshed. The Holy Spirit would offer to live deep within each believer, within each person who says yes to its presence. How? In one way and the other, and definitely through Baptism.
And of course, in his command from last week, to eat and drink his body and blood. The writer of John’s Gospel did not think it necessary to explain that Communion makes us “become what we have eaten,” the body of Christ. He just gave Jesus’ words by which we know this, and the disciples had to figure it out for themselves.
We are to let Christ have flesh again, in our hearts and in our actions. By communing each week, each day, we are more and more carriers of Christ. We are called “the body of Christ.”
Did you follow all this?
Never mind. Just notice that Jesus asked the apostles if they wanted to leave him like the others had just done, Peter answered: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Let us make that statement too. Let us open wide to this Holy One of God as we celebrate Mass this Sunday. Let us become bearers of the Word to the world.