Taste and see the goodness of the Lord

In today’s Gospel reading, many of those who were listening to Jesus were unable to understand His teachings, especially Jesus’ discourse on eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

Aug 22, 2021

                                                     Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Joseph Lubula

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Readings:
Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b;
Ephesians 5:21-32; Gospel: John 6:60-69

In today’s Gospel reading, many of those who were listening to Jesus were unable to understand His teachings, especially Jesus’ discourse on eating His flesh and drinking His blood. One by one the disciples deserted Him for they could not understand His teaching of the Eucharist.

If Jesus’ own disciples could not understand Him, imagine how our ancestors reacted upon hearing such messages preached by foreign missionaries who evangelised our cultures. They must have gazed at each other in dismay, simply because cannibalism was, and still is, detested across almost all social-cultural dispensations. “This is scandalous!” — They might have retorted, not any different from the Jews we have heard about in today’s gospel.

But why would the Jews grumble despite Jesus spending a good amount of time ministering to them? They followed Him in droves because they had seen “… the signs he had performed by healing the sick” (John, 6:3). In fact, today’ gospel text precedes one of the signs – the feeding of five thousand people “…with five small barley loaves and two small fish…”. So small was the amount that Peter himself retorted, “…but how far will this go among so many?” (Jn 6:9). But how did the story end? They all had enough to eat, and then the disciples filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the signs Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (Jn 6:12-14). Their vision of Christ was crystal clear – a “political messiah” Who would save them from the colonial distress they had suffered for centuries; their impatience was evident by their wanting to violently kidnap Him and force Him to be their King. But being aware of their plans, Jesus withdrew to the mountain by Himself. So, as much as the “eating of flesh and drinking of blood” may have sounded absurd and maybe even shocking to our ancestors, it was not so with the Jews who saw and recognised that indeed Jesus was a Prophet that had come in their midst. But again; why did they rebuke Him, having heard and witnessed (first hand) the signs that He performed?

Perhaps it was because their vision and plans to restore the Kingdom of freedom were far from Jesus’ master plan. “My Kingdom”, Jesus says, “is not of this world … my Kingdom is not of this realm” (Jn, 18:36). They dreamt of spilling the blood of their adversaries and making them feel pain for their historical transgressions, but instead of a “fiery speech” which would instigate tribal or nationalistic sentiments, hence pulling off the best military takeover in history – as was always the case for populists – all they got from Jesus was simply “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed”.

We could, therefore, imagine their disappointment. Had we found ourselves in similar circumstances, we too would have questioned Jesus’ state of mind and completely rejected this narrative for the “weaklings”. But as our first reading puts it clearly, the wisdom of the Lord is patient to all, especially to us “slow learners”. That wisdom never lets go of the weakest within her flock but calmly invites them, restores their health of body and soul, so that having regained their strength, they could enjoy whichever place of their choosing within the flock.

Let us pray for our Mother Church and for her servants around the world who strive to continue this messianic approach in situations that sometimes overwhelm them. May they find strength of body and soul from Jesus’ flesh and blood which nourished our ancestors in faith.

(Fr Joseph Lubula is from the Diocese of Lugazi in Uganda and is currently doing his doctorate in Social Communications at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In 2017, he did his internship with the Social Communications Ministry of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.)

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