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JUNE 22, 2014: BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

Readings: 

Deuteronomy 8:2-3. 14b-16a
I Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

Serious students of Scripture quickly learn to abandon their catechism frame of mind and approach our sacred writings from the viewpoint of Tevye, the hero of Fiddler on the Roof. Trained from youth to look at the truths of our faith with an “either/or” mindset, it’s difficult for many of us to shift to Tevye’s oft-repeated “But, on the other hand . . .” way of looking at things and people. For that traditional Jewish patriarch and philosopher, there’s almost always “another way,” another dimension of someone or something that continually surfaces.

In many situations, Scripture doesn’t provide us with answers; it provides us with options. Different authors present different theologies. The readings for today’s feast of Christ’s Body and Blood, for instance, offer us classic examples of “both/and” ways of looking at the Eucharist instead of the either/or catechism mentality with which we’re more familiar and comfortable.

We old-time Catholics feel reassured when we hear John’s Jesus proclaim, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” We’re convinced that “whoever eats this bread will live forever.” It’s the risen Jesus’ actual body and blood, made present among us when the priest says those special words “This is my body; this is my blood” over the bread and wine during celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. Witnessing such an amazing transformation we’re expected to be silent, avoiding all distractions, focusing just on the transubstantiated elements before us. Only we Catholics – who have the true priesthood – are privy to such an otherworldly event. We were taught that Jesus isn’t present in that unique way in the Protestant church down the street, or in the “services” in which its members participate on Sunday mornings. Having Jesus’ body always in our tabernacles is one of the perks of being Catholic. Though it entails certain obligations - genuflections, tipping our hats or bowing our heads when we pass a church - these are small potatoes compared to the awesome privilege of Jesus actually being in our churches 24/7.

But on the other hand, writing at least 35 years before John composed his gospel, Paul of Tarsus approaches the Eucharist from a completely different direction. In the earliest biblical reference to the Breaking of Bread we possess, the Apostle directs his Corinthian community to look at “the cup of blessing” and “the bread that we break” as outward signs of our being the blood and body of the risen Christ. He doesn’t seem to be concerned, as John is, with comparing Yahweh’s feeding the Chosen People in the wilderness to Jesus feeding his followers with his body and blood.

At this point of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul’s simply interested in the unity of that particular church. That’s why he makes a comparison that most Catholics don’t even know exists. “Because the loaf of bread is one,” he writes, “we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (It’s obvious we don’t know the metaphor exists, or we’d immediately get rid of our small individual “hosts” and replace them with one big loaf.) According to Paul’s theology, looking at the consecrated bread and wine should force us to look at ourselves; to see everyone participating in the Eucharist as Christ’s body and blood.

I presume one of the reasons we as a church conveniently forgot about Paul’s “other hand” was because John’s Eucharistic theology creates less of a hassle to implement. As any pastor can testify, it’s far easier to have the community just zero in on Jesus in the bread and wine than on Jesus in the community; especially if one or two of those participating with us in the Lord’s Supper are Republicans.