Sunday Gospel Reflection for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Sunday June 19th By Brian Maher OMI
From the very beginning of time we are told that God created us “…in his own image and likeness.”
In the very beautiful Psalm 131 we read, “…As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my soul is quiet within me.” The Prophet Isaiah said, “Can a woman forget her own child, or show no compassion on the child from her womb? Although mothers may forget, I will not forget you.” (Is 49:15). The opening message of Jesus was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is very near.”
The recurring message here, as we find it through all of the Old Testament and the message of Jesus, is the closeness of God to his people. And not just a ‘closeness’ as a kind employer might have with a loyal employee. No! the closeness of God is based on personal relationship, on friendship and love, and a desire to walk with his people.
The ultimate expression of this ‘closeness’ is found in the Christmas Story, the Incarnation, when our God chose to enter into our history and personally show us what the closeness of God looks like. His Death and Resurrection signalled the truth of his life and message, while Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, revealed beyond any doubt, the God would be with his people “…always, even to the end of time.”
So, from the ‘beginning of time’ and to the ‘end of time’ the message is exactly the same: We are eternally loved and cherished by God, in the same way as a mother loves and cherishes her new-born child. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was the supreme expression of God’s love for us and relationship with us. Pentecost promises that God’s love for us will never end.
It is, as the 1965 epic Hollywood movie named it, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
Today’s Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) is another facet of this same story. The Eucharist is, quite literally, the embodiment of God’s desire to be ever present with his people. It is the way Jesus chose, on the night before his death, to remain forever present with us.
Thinking about it in the context of the overall story of God’s closeness to his people, the Eucharist might almost be called a logical outcome of the God revealing himself to his people. Gerard Manley Hopkins, brilliant poet and Jesuit priest, certainly saw the Eucharist like this. His own conversion was based on the conviction that once he could accept that God took on human nature and became the man Jesus Christ, then why would it be hard to believe that God continues to come to us in the bread and wine of the Eucharist? For him, the Eucharist is no more make-believe than was the human nature of Jesus.
The Eucharist makes real, in a vivid way, the promise of Jesus to continue to be with us. The mystery is not whether bread and wine can become the Body and Blood of Christ, but why God would choose to be with us in such a personal way in the first place! This is the real mystery, which we can only accept as a gift. Indeed, acceptance of it is all that is asked of us.
For me, the Eucharist is part of the same mystery of Creation, Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, Pentecost. It is part of the unfolding mystery of God.
Any one aspect of God’s relationship to us, taken in isolation, can seem incredible or strange or just impossible. Aristotle’s saying that, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts…” may be apt here.
Our God is One God, who has been gradually and gently revealing himself to us since the beginning of time. In Exodus 33:11 we find this incredible statement: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. (Ex 33:11)”. The relationship expressed here, of God to a human person, is beyond understanding – a miracle, a mystery.
When Jesus said to people as he healed them, “Go, your sins are forgiven.” he was making an incredible statement about himself.
Any one of them, taken alone, can simply be written off as impossible, unbelievable, even preposterous, but taken together they become a narrative, a story of a God who loved us so much that, when we were unable to grasp it in words, deigned to become one of us to show us that love.
What we celebrate today is the reality of God’s closeness to us. To be with us in his body and in his blood is as close as a person could be to another. To some it is offensive; to others it is unreal; to others it is real but symbolically so, and, for some it is more than that; it is the real presence of Jesus with us, continuing what he promised, to “be with us always, even to the end of time.”
We celebrate the Feast today, not with the Gospel of the Last Supper, where Jesus left us the Eucharist, but with the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. While this miracle is not overtly Eucharistic, it has, from early times been viewed as prefiguring the Eucharist.
The Last Supper was not a happy occasion for Jesus. He was about to be taken from his disciples to endure a cruel and unjust death.
The feeding of the five thousand, on the other hand, was a much happier occasion, an occasion of energy, conversation, life. It was a true meal given by Jesus to a hungry crowd, who had spent time with him. In it we meet Jesus as a sensitive, caring, compassionate man, willing to give his people whatever they need, be it his words, his healing or simply a meal of bread and fish.
This is what we might call a ‘joyful’ celebration of Eucharist and how appropriate that is. Meeting Jesus in the Eucharist is the same as “the Lord speaking to us face to face, as a person speaks to his friend.”
What a gift, what a mystery, what an incredibly wonder-full God we have.
Let me conclude with the words of St. Therese of Lisieux.
“Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart… … go without fear to receive the Jesus of peace and love.”
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Gospel||Luke 9:11-17 ©|
The feeding of the five thousand
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