Flannery O’Conner wrote, “There is a moment in every story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected even though the reader may not recognize this moment.”
We have been talking the last few weeks about Jesus being the Bread of Life and what that looks like for us. I mentioned last week that this conversation of Jesus and the Jews will take a turn this week to Jesus taking the next step forward in the conversation by saying, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Now, we know that Jesus can speak in ways that cause difficulty for the listener. Remember He told the story of the camel going through the eye of the needle…how that would be easier to occur than the rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. And remember how Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again.
But, when the rich man heard the words of Jesus, how did he respond? He walked away saddened by the fact that in order to gain his life and all the wealth of salvation, he had to give away all the wealth he had worked for. And how did Nicodemus respond to the concept of being born again? He was shocked and basically asked the question, “How in the world is a human being supposed to be born again? What in the world does this mean?”
One book in my Top 5 list of all-time favorite books, and in my Top 5 movies of all time as well, is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Scout has just had a terrible awful day at school and is either getting in trouble or saying the wrong thing at every turn. She and Atticus sit on the front porch talking about the terrible awful day. Scout, trying to figure out how to deal with the Cunninghams, asks Atticus how they’ll get through what’s going on. Atticus says to her, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” Scout basically says, “What do you mean?” Atticus says, “Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Now, I’m not proposing that we engage in some kind of Halloween costume party in regards to the flesh of Jesus Christ. Walking around like the living dead while we eat the Bread of Life. But what I am saying, is that if this Bread that we eat every Sunday, what everything in our liturgical movement points to each and every service, if we say that we believe, we have to flip our mindset.
We say we want to have eternal life. We say that we want to love Jesus. We say that we want to love our neighbor. Well, in order to have eternal life, in order to love Jesus and love our neighbor, we must be willing to lay ourselves aside. No, that word “aside” is incorrect. Inadequate. We must be willing to die to what we want for ourself SO THAT what is best for the whole is moved forward. I must be willing to give you all that I could possibly give, which is my life, so that you can have life.
Parents, don’t you often “die” to what you want so that your children have what they need. In the middle of an argument or fight, don’t you set that moment of frustration aside when your crying child enters the room because they’ve had a nightmare? Those in a relationship or marriage, don’t you “die” to what you want so that your partner feels secure. You both have been planning a vacation, but your partner’s parent is dying. Now you choose to use the money you had set aside for vacation so that your partner can go spend time with the family and take care of what needs to be done.
Are these decisions inconvenient? Yes. Are they the right thing to do? Yes. Are these situations exactly what Jesus is talking about with eating flesh and drinking blood? Not exactly. But these small deaths are what chip away at the crust of our self-protection and help us live into the life that Jesus models for us. Because what is on the other side of these little deaths are the possibility of living into reconciliation with our self and with our neighbor.
Is the time we are living in easy? No. Are there always clear-cut answers? No. Do we want to be able to live easily and not have this heavy fog of uncertainty hanging over us? Yes. Do we fail so many times in doing what we know is right, in loving our neighbor, in loving Jesus? Yes! When we make a decision for Jesus, will it be inconvenient? Yes.
It all comes down to love. Jesus loved us and gave Himself, His life, His flesh and His blood. For you and for me. We love Jesus. And because of Jesus, we love our neighbor. We love our neighbor more than ourselves. Please, get vaccinated. And please, wear a mask.
The words that Jesus speaks to the Jews offer reference to our Holy Eucharist. We will hear these words within the Sacrament in a few minutes. As we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, may we strive with everything that we have to serve him in unity, constancy, and peace. It is only through Jesus that we can live, and it because of Jesus that we must die so that at the last day He will bring us with all His saints into the joy of His eternal kingdom.