20th Sunday in ordinary time: Wisdom that redeems
Today’s readings: Proverbs 9, 1-6; Ephesians 5, 15-20; John 6, 51-58.
The Frankenstein story is a piece of science fiction written back in 1818 that tells the story of a scientist who tries to create a superior being and instead creates a monster. Frankenstein is also known as the modern Prometheus, meaning ‘forethought’, who in Greek mythology is credited with the creation of man from clay and who defies the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity, an act that enabled progress and civilisation.
Prometheus, in Western tradition, has always represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of unintended consequences. Author Yuval Noah Harari, in his Sapiens. A Brief History of Mankind, refers to all this when speaking of the end of Homo sapiens, and warns of an impending danger. He writes: “History teaches us that what seems to be just around the corner may never materialise due to unforeseen barriers, and that other unimagined scenarios will in fact come to pass”.
What humanity has always been capable of achieving is beyond any doubt laudable. But the story about the superior being and the monster has a very deep meaning for us today and for all the aspirations of humanity. Not calculating risks can at times be sheer folly and can end up in tragedy. This comes out very clearly today, particularly in the Scripture readings from Proverbs and from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
The constant alternation between wisdom and folly, referred to in Proverbs, is characteristic of our way of behaving. We cannot expect to always be wise or foolish. But at the end of the day it depends on our dose of wisdom, or on the extent to which we are duped, whether to see the difference and weigh the consequences.
St Paul speaks in terms of drugging ourselves with wine or being filled with the Spirit. To the Ephesians he writes: “Be very careful about the sort of lives you lead, like intelligent and not like senseless people. This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it”. It is not easy in a culture that makes us believe we know it all, to accept humbly our limitations and our precariousness. It is wisdom that makes us discern between intelligent and senseless behaviour.
When Jesus in the gospel claims that “my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink”, he is speaking of the totality of his being, he is referring to his commitment to lay down his life for those whom he loved. But he is also referring to our own commitment as disciples of his. We should not simplistically take this gospel text today as stating the traditional Church doctrine on the Eucharist.
I am not denying that. I am just affirming that there is much more to it than just that. In our age it is no use struggling hard to convince people that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. People quite naturally would tend to react in much the same way as the Jews at the time of Jesus. And rightly so.
The Eucharist in the journey of faith is never the starting point, even though we persist in putting it at the forefront in instructing five- and six-year-olds in the faith. To come to the Eucharist and grasp its true and deep meaning for life, one needs first to journey on and to aspire for the wisdom that makes one discern between real and junk foods.
Before being convinced that Jesus, in his flesh, gave himself “for the life of the world”, people need first to be touched by the testimony of those who claim to be Jesus’ disciples. If as Christian believers and as communities we fail to become eucharist ourselves, it will continue to be difficult for the world to grasp what Jesus meant when he claimed to be the living bread, and that his flesh is real food. The world can only find nourishment in the Eucharist when those who are disciples of Christ and who partake of the Eucharist demonstrate concretely, in flesh and blood, that they possess the wisdom that redeems all that is senseless in the way we live.