Homily from the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B
For the last five weeks, we’ve been listening to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John in which we hear about Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish and one of the most shocking speeches of all time: Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse.
In his “Bread of Life” discourse Jesus tells his disciples that they must seek not earthly food that perishes, but heavenly food that endures for eternal life; that he himself is this living bread come down from heaven; that the bread he will give is his flesh for the life of the world; and unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood, they do not have life within them.
Last week, we heard how some of those disciples of Jesus could not believe what they were hearing. They took Jesus literally at his word. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink?” they asked. They are pious Jews who know the law of Moses which forbids them from drinking the blood of any animal, let alone the blood of a human being, let alone eat the flesh of a human being. But Jesus tells them again and again and again, “Yes, you understood me correctly. Eat my flesh and drink my blood.”
And then the line in the sand is drawn. “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?” And Jesus asks, “Does this shock you?” And indeed it does, for, as Scripture tells us, “As a result of this,” meaning, as a result of Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood in the literal sense and not a figurative sense, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
And Jesus let’s them go.
He does not running after them saying, “Wait, hold on. You’re right. I only meant ‘eat my flesh and drink my blood’ in a figurative sense.” Jesus said, “Eat my flesh, drink my blood.” They asked, “Do you really mean that?” Jesus said, “Yes.” They said, “Nope, we’re outta here.” And Jesus said, “Fine.”
Because Jesus meant what he said. Those listening to him understood him correctly. Jesus did not later alter his meaning. And those who left, chose to stay on the opposite side of the line Jesus drew in the sand.
This isn’t a popular way of looking at Jesus. Most would prefer a “nice Jesus.” There isn’t a more boring word in the English language than “nice.” Neil Armstrong, your the first human being to ever set foot on another celestial body other than Earth, what do you have to say about that? “Hmmm. This moon is nice.”
I had a professor in seminary who said when he is dead, if people say, “He was nice” then he failed in life.
Jesus didn’t come down from Heaven to be born in a feeding trough for animals and get nailed to the cross just so he could be a nice, cuddly Jesus.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with C.S. Lewis’ book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” or have seen the movie. You probably also know that the character of the lion Aslan is a figure for Christ. (If you didn’t know this, reread the book or watch the movie again with that in mind and get ready to experience one of the greatest stories of the 20th century.) Throughout the book, those citizens of Narnia who know Aslan well tell the children again and again, “Aslan is not tame lion. Oh, he's good... but he's not tame."
Jesus is not cute, and cuddly. He is not tame. Jesus is shocking.
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I just finished an outstanding book on this subject called, “Jesus-Shock,” by Peter Kreeft who is often described as this generation’s C.S. Lewis. And in it he asks the question, “Why is Jesus the most controversial and the most embarrassing name in the world?” “No one is embarrassed if you talk about Buddha, or Muhammad, or Moses.” But so many people are when you talk about Jesus. “If you’re not sure my assumption is true,” Kreeft says, “test it, in any... mixed company... The name will fall with a thud, and produce sudden silence and embarrassment.”
Why is this? Why is Jesus the most non-neutral name in the world? Because Jesus is the most non-neutral person in the world. “Jesus is a sword. He divides” Kreeft says. Remember Jesus’ own words, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter agains her mother.’” Peter Kreeft calls Jesus, “the razor edge of the round world?”
Jesus is not a boring, nice person. “Jesus is the only man in history who never bored anyone.” Just look at how every single person who encounters Jesus reacts to him in the Gospel:
In the Gospel of Matthew, when he finishes his sayings, “the crowds [are] astonished at his teachings.” (Mt 7:28-29)
When he tells the paralyzed man to rise, take up his mat and go home, “they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!” (Mk, 2:2-12; cf. Lk 5:18-26; Mt 9:2-8)
When Jesus calms the storm at sea, the Apostles “marveled” at him. (Mt 8:23-27; Lk 8:22-25)
When he raises the little girl from the dead, the people “were overcome with amazement.” (Mk 5:38-42; cf. Lk 8:51-56)
When Jesus himself appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, “they were startled and frightened.” (Lk 24:36-43)
And in today’s Gospel, when he draws the line in the sand over his command to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he asks “Does this shock you?”
Are we truly astonished and amazed by Jesus? Do we marvel at him? Are we startled or even frightened by him? Does he shock us?
If not, we haven’t truly met Jesus yet. We haven’t met the untamed lion. We’re still settling for the cute, cuddly, stuffed version of him that sits on the corner of our bed and says, “Oh, don’t worry about me. I’ll just sit here looking cute. I won’t challenge you at all.”
Jesus is not boring. He is God, who, as Kreeft says, “became a human zygote, fetus, baby, boy, teenager, man, and then corpse... [He gives] Himself to our mouths and our stomachs as well as our souls. That thing that looks like a little piece of bread - that’s Him. I certainly sympathize with most Protestants,” Kreeft goes on, “who do not believe that. It is nearly unbelievable. The priest puts God into your left hand, and you pick up God Almighty with your right thumb and forefinger and you swallow God Almighty, and He falls into your stomach. That is crazy - as crazy as the Incarnation” God becoming man in the first place.
If Jesus doesn’t shock you, you haven’t met him yet.