Body and Blood of Jesus
For St John Chrysostom (347-409) the person begging at the church entrance is a superior altar table than that inside the church: ‘The temple of our afflicted neighbour’s body is more holy than the altar on which you celebrate the holy offering. You are able to contemplate this altar everywhere, in the street and in the open squares.’ The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting John Chrysostom says, ‘the Eucharist commits us to the poor.’ This statement prompts us to question treatment through neglect and indifference to people sleeping rough, women having to ‘prove’ they are being violated, family violence, threats against neighbouring countries, the violence Israel perpetrates against Palestinian people, never-ending gun violence in the USA, and war in Ukraine, and many other countries.
To follow Jesus as seem daunting where our world is living with overwhelming violence in the form of war and conflict, in famine, structural injustices. In all these cases bodies are not honoured as sacred. The challenge for us today is to recognise the Presence of Jesus in the Body and Blood as just as true in our neighbour. When we hear the words ‘This is My Body’ we are being invited into an awareness of the sacredness of all humanity, of all creatures and all that exists.
Today’s feast is about bodies. Christ’s body and our bodies, and how we are present to and engage with one another. This feast has a powerful political and social justice dimension. In the past, this feast consisted in a strong focus on private devotions, processions, adoration, and prayer rather than being concerned with the transformation of our world. Processions were carried out, and still do, where we ‘saw’ the Blessed Sacrament. Martin Luther lamented that ‘the church has turned an action (the Eucharist) into a thing.’ It was a thing. We look but did not act/follow. It is a call to do justice. At the story of the multiplication, Jesus told his disciples to continue his work and share his concern and respond for the well-being of people
People dispute the Eucharist’s political edge in being connected to the bodies of our sisters and brothers. In 2004, John Paul ll referred to the Eucharist’s social implications: ‘The criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged will be our mutual love and in particular our concern for those in need’. Continued injustice, discrimination and other structural injustices reflect either a lack of understanding of its social dimensions or an unwillingness to act on its social imperatives. The body and blood of Jesus, the Eucharist, is not a thing but a presence calling us to relationship and solidarity.
Pope Francis has pleaded for a global solidarity all people: “In God’s family, where all are sons and daughters of the same (Father), …..there are no ‘disposable lives’” (2014 World Day of Peace message). He insists that we are all required to be in solidarity with each other; caring for each other where those with resources are responsible to those without them. This is where we offer our bodies to build up fraternity, solidarity, sisterhood, and brotherhood of people, and promote a society that provides security and protection for all, especially the most vulnerable, as well as growing peace between nations. Today, we experience ‘God's solidarity’ with humanity. God draws near to us in Jesus, sharing our journey and opening for us the path of service, sharing, and giving. The Incarnation continues every day.
We see this as people put their bodies on the line for others to resist what they see should not be. It means standing with Indigenous people needing protection from loggers and miners in the Amazon or Queensland or speaking out for people seeking asylum and protection or for young people not at home in their bodies. People out their bodies on the line because they recognise that the whole body of Christ is at risk when oppressive systems and greedy politicians promote an uncaring and unjust society- when greedy politicians, entrepreneurs, corporations and oppressive systems organise themselves in a society where the few hold the majority of resources and power.
The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is often labeled as a ‘miracle’ but the gospel writers never used the word. It is even unclear as to what happened. It seems that it is more important to reflect on what the gospel writer may have wanted to tell us. I have explained it as the sharing of a little food by Jesus and his disciples prompted the people to share what they had. Of course, I have been attacked for this explanation, which of course is not the only explanation. Jesus invited the disciples to share with him in feeding the people. Earlier, the disciples responded with the default temptation and position: get the people to look after themselves. Is this not how we can treat people on the street, people who are homeless, or seek asylum. Luke today is talking about people with empty stomachs. The disciples, as many people today, had not heard the full message of Jesus’ teaching about sharing, love, compassion, service, solidarity. Jesus challenges the disciples and us: ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’
For Father Pedro Arrupe, the celebration of the Eucharist is incomplete when there is hunger in the world. The Eucharist is incomplete whilst people go hungry, live without adequate shelter, are neglected, forgotten, thrown on the social dung heap. If our celebration of the Eucharist is to have any real meaning, it must translate into what we do all week. Father Frank Andersen msc challenges us in his song Bound in Truth: ‘Take your bread and feed God’s hungry, open wide your welcome door.’
The Gospel todays shows Jesus’ compassion and love which is renewed every day. Our celebration cannot be divorced from the world’s injustices because the Eucharist is a proclamation of communion and inclusiveness. We share one table open to all. Our receiving ‘communion’ has everything to do with how we live our lives. This sharing is the real power of reaching out to a broken world.
Jesus is still turning our thinking upside down: ‘the last shall be first’ and ‘least are the greatest’ which is not the way we think about celebrities, successful people and powerful people. God’s eyes and options are elsewhere. And a 4th century saint also challenges such common perceptions.
As we celebrate this feast, let us proclaim that we are here, Jesus is here and our neighbour is here present with us, in our hearts, and in our minds. We do not run away from suffering and pain in whatever form it takes. ‘Christ meets the absurdity of violence with the absurdity of real presence.’ (Jenny Wiertel, Catholic Women Preach). We can lament and proclaim with Paul that Jesus is present, living and dying in each person affected by war, poverty, famine, racism, and violence. We admit our own complicity in these sins. But, we believe, in the rising of Jesus, that death does not have the last say. Today, we say that war, poverty, famine, racism, and violence do not have the last say. Whereas many see it as strange that the transformation of ordinary bread and wine takes us into the darkness and death as well as the beauty, love and the gifts offered to us. God is present in our food, our sisters, and brothers, in us and all of creation. All need to be cherished. There may not be a lot we can do at times, but we can always offer presence with compassion and that Jesus can fill whatever is missing and transform death and darkness into life and light.