Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed - Scripture Soundings
First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 27:1, 4, 7 and 8b and 9a, 13-14
Second Reading: Romans 5:17-21
Gospel: John 6:51-59
The image of a great banquet was one of the most important symbols in the Jewish scriptures for God's abundant mercy and love. Not surprisingly, banquet symbolism became associated with the final days, when God's lavish care for the Chosen People would be revealed in its fullness.
Today's passage from the book of Isaiah is a classic example of how the image of an incredibly lavish meal was used to portray the fondest hopes of the people of Israel for a time when God would provide for all of their needs. So great, in fact, is God's care that the prophet even foresees that God will remove the sting of death itself from those called to the banquet.
The Gospel verses proclaimed today form the heart of what many scholars regard as John's version of Jesus' institution of the Eucharist. While earlier verses are unclear about whether the "bread" being spoken of is primarily Jesus' teaching/revelation or the Eucharist, in the verses read today it seems much more likely that the reference is sacramental and eucharistic in nature.
Once again, as in previous readings, it is the misunderstanding of the crowd that offers the occasion for Jesus to explain in more depth the true meaning of what he is saying. The Jews question how he can give them his flesh to eat. Jesus' response is deliberately insistent about the realism of what it is that he offers--his own body and blood. Common sense rejects a cannibalistic interpretation of these verses in favor of a sacramental realism. Later tradition in Paul and the synoptics used the term "body" instead of the more shocking "flesh," but John here probably reflects earlier usage.
It is not a merely spiritual encounter with Jesus that gives life, much less an intellectual grasp of the revelation he offers as Wisdom incarnate. Rather, John presses for a sacramental/eucharistic participation in the life of Jesus that is real and true.
With what great care has Jesus prepared his disciples for his death. With what great care has he laid out the truth of God's limitless love and made certain that all feel welcome to believe and know lasting life in the Spirit.
With what great love does Jesus give his "flesh and blood"--his mortal life--"for the life of the world." The eternal life that we seek, the unending love for which we long, is thus given to us who are baptized and to all who have fallen asleep in the Lord.
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Updated: October 25, 2008