Not Calling for A Show of Hands

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Corpus Christi
June 11, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: When Jesus referred to Holy Communion as eating his body and drinking his blood, he did not consult a pollster, conduct a focus group or ask for suggestions. He told the rock bottom truth that we share the literal Bread of Life. Period.

There's an old joke that goes like this. The head of a big corporation calls in a mathematician, a statistician and a pollster to help him do a math problem.

The CEO asks the mathematician, "What's two plus two?"

"Four," the mathematician replies.

The CEO then calls in the statistician. "What's two plus two?" he asks.

"I've taken the answers of a million school-aged children from every state of the union, added them up, divided by a million, and the average comes out to three point nine seven."

Finally, the CEO calls in the pollster. "What's two plus two?"

The pollster locks the door, closes the blinds and then whispers, "What do you want it to be?"

We're living in an age when some people aren't as interested in the facts as they are in twisting the truth until it becomes what they want it to be. Everyone wants to have the answer they want, not a truth that makes them uncomfortable or calls them to account or makes their life the least bit inconvenient. Jesus said, "... the truth will set you free."1 but it's not clear if people would rather be freed by truth.

When we look over the list of the apostles we see fishermen, a tax collector, possibly a Zealot, but we don't see a pollster.2 Our Lord Jesus Christ does not seem to have included someone whose job it was to gauge public opinion and advise him on what to say or not to say.

Still, if ever there was a time our Lord might have wanted to consult a pollster, it might have been in this sixth chapter of the Holy Gospel according to St. John. Jesus proclaimed the blunt truth about Holy Communion, and according to the evangelist, "As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him."3

Although now that I think about it, St. Peter, the rock upon whom the church is built, acted something like a pollster when, after the Transfiguration, Our Lord outlined his platform as a Messiah. The Son of Man, Jesus told the three apostles who had accompanied him up the mountain, that he would be betrayed to the authorities - who would kill him - and after three days, he would rise again.

Peter tried to talk Jesus out of this position; it would not be popular with the masses, for the people were looking forward either to a military messiah who would drive the Romans to the sea, or else a teacher of righteousness, like the prophet expected by the Dead-Sea-Scrolls community out in the desert, who looked for a figure like John the Baptist to help them retreat from the world.

But as Jesus outlined to Nicodemus, God intended his Son to be active in the world and we with him, because God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son.

When Jesus told his disciples that the way to salvation was the way of the cross, St. Peter rebuked our Lord, which led to the harsh words of Christ, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."4 Our Savior knew that the truth is what it is, not what we want it to be, and that if we are to be truly kind, sometimes we need to receive the truth - whether it's a medical truth that forces us to make changes in our lifestyle or a spiritual truth that calls us to not only confess our sins but to change our ways!

Follow the signs

In this chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus set up a signpost pointing to the way of life, abundant life now and in eternity. However, many who had followed Jesus, when confronted with the truth about what constitutes the real Bread of Life, turned away. But not all. And we who need to receive most desperately the Bread of Life receive our Savior in truth.

Today's reading is part of a larger unit that begins with the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish.5 St. John refers to miracles as signs - virtual signposts that point the way, the correct direction to travel to get to where we want to go. A large crowd had followed Jesus, and despite St. Philip's doubts about their ability to feed such a multitude, Jesus multiplied the five barley loaves and two fish offered by a boy to share with others. Through the power of our Savior, more than 5,000 people who followed Jesus were blessed with more food than they could possibly eat.

However, knowing that the people wanted to make him an earthly king - not the Lord of Life who would hang from the cross - Jesus withdrew from their presence. Still, they followed him to Capernaum, because they wanted more bread, earthly bread that can only satisfy for a time.

The dialogs in John

The fourth Gospel is filled with dialogs. The question is: What is the level at which we are going to conduct this debate? At the lowest, dreariest level? Or at the highest? Nicodemus could not at first see past the idea of being born again from his mother's womb, when Jesus was really speaking about being born from above. The Samaritan Woman, however, despite being intrigued with the idea of living water and a jar that never runs dry, saw the truth that Jesus is the Living Water, and through her testimony led her whole village to Christ.

The people who pursued Jesus to Capernaum cannot get past the idea of bread and more bread. They want Jesus to be like an emperor in Rome, entertaining the masses with bread and circuses. Now certainly bread is good, especially when we share it with others. That is why it says in the Book of Proverbs "The generous will be blessed, for they share their food with the poor."6 But the earthly bread is a sign that points to something greater - it points to our Lord Jesus, the Bread of Life. The Bread of Life is the real thing, the lasting thing.

And so, the dialog continued. The people reminded Jesus that Moses gave them bread in the wilderness, the manna that kept them alive, and it was given to them every day. (Hint! Hint! Give us more bread!) But Jesus responded by reminding them that God, not Moses, gave the bread. They should strive for the Bread of Life.7

"I am the Bread of Life," Jesus clarified more than once.8 And Jesus reminded them their ancestors perished in the desert. He was offering something more. But when they complained further, Jesus said "Stop murmuring among yourselves,"9 Why wouldn't they remember that in the same way the people murmured in the desert, and they all died there?

Truth is truth

And this is where, in our Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells them - and us - that the truth is not negotiable: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day."

Here's where a pollster might have told Jesus to pull his punches. According to a footnote in the New American Bible, Revised Edition, with regard to the word "eats," "... the verb used in these verses is not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: 'munch,' 'gnaw.'"10 Ripping, tearing, gnawing - every bit as shocking and alarming as the Lord of Life brutalized and dying on a cross!

But this gift of God is not to be received as we would have it. It's what we must have! "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him," our text declares.

By contrast, if we are content with our earthly appetites and earthly food only, Jesus said, "Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Who's still in?

You'd think that if ever Jesus needed a pollster to prevent him from making shocking, alarming statements, it would have to be in this dialog. Chew, rend, tear, like an animal. As the gospel tells us, "As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him."11 But when Jesus asked the apostles if they, too, were going to leave, Peter, who had been rebuked on another occasion for suggesting there was an easier way than the cross, was able to say here, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."12

Here is the choice we face, and judging by your presence at this Holy Mass, you have made your choice - unless we eat this bread and drink this cup, we have no part in him. It's not subject to an opinion poll, a focus group or, for that matter, a discussion. And since it is a gift, the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, let us receive it gladly. Let us take hold of the words of eternal life, because we are those who have come to believe and are convinced Jesus is the Holy One of God.

And we do not need to consult a pollster or check public opinion. We only need receive - and adore!


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