Father Donald Senior, CP

Aug. 19: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Life of the World


Prv 9:1-6; Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Eph 5:15-20; Jn 6:51-58

The Gospel for this Sunday continues to draw on the Bread of Life discourse from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. In fact, the opening line of this week’s passage repeats the closing line from last Sunday: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 

Similar to last week, the accompanying readings all dwell on the metaphor of food and life. From the Book of Wisdom: “Come, eat of my food and drink of the wine that I have mixed? Forsake foolishness that you may live.” The Psalm response drawn from Psalm 34: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” The second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians warns: “And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” 

In the perspective of John’s Gospel, Jesus compares himself to bread and wine, food that gives life. It is obvious that Jesus speaks not simply of the ordinary food we need to keep our bodies healthy. The bread and wine more fundamental for the human spirit is Jesus’ own presence with us — his “body and his blood” that are offered to us.

A significant word that appears throughout this Sunday’s Gospel is flesh. Jesus speaks of “my flesh for the life of the world” and “For my flesh is true food.” As used in John’s Gospel and by other New Testament writers, flesh means more than simply the physical human body. It takes on a broader sense of what we might call the human condition, that is, everything that makes up a human life. A body, yes, but also our heritage, our relationships, our experience, our setbacks, our mortality. 

When at the beginning of John’s Gospel, for instance, we hear that the “Word became flesh,” it is not referring simply to Jesus’ conception, but that he lives a complete and truly human life as we do. “Becoming flesh” means becoming human.

What is needed to sustain human life? Obviously, food — the vital physical nourishment our bodies require. But we need more than that. To truly thrive, humans need the love and support of family and friends, the security of a home and protection from harm, the opportunity to learn and do something worthwhile with their talents. 

When John’s Gospel speaks of life — one of the most frequently used words in this Gospel — it certainly includes this fundamental level of human sustenance. But it also speaks of another profound dimension of human life.  

In this Gospel, Jesus refers often to “eternal life” — literally, “life of the ages” (“zoe aionos”). This ultimate level of life brings us into intimate union with the very being of God revealed through Jesus. Christian faith dares to believe that, like Jesus himself, we are not only flesh living ordinary human lives, but we have the capacity to participate in the divine life, to be fully alive. 

We have the capacity to be loved by God and, in turn, the capacity to return that love. This is a fundamental conviction of the Scriptures affirmed in Genesis and emphasized by John’s Gospel — the human, male and female, is created “in the image and likeness of God.”

It is that spark of the divine incorporated into our human existence that compels us to dare to believe in life beyond death, eternal life. But this spark of the divine is not only a guarantee of life beyond life. It also prompts us to live a worthy human life here and now, a life emblematic of those virtues we associate with the divine: mercy, compassion, forgiveness, justice.  

It compels us to care for all created life, even the earth and the universe itself, as sacred. It means, as Pope Francis recently stated in condemning capital punishment, that we do not forget that even human beings whose lives are warped by evil, are still made in the “image and likeness of God” and still, in the infinite mercy of God, have a capacity for eternal life. 


  • scripture