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Body and Blood of the Lord, June 22, 2014

(Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14b-16a; 1 Cor 10:16-17; John 6:51-58)

Because of their use in the temptation scenes in the Gospels of
Matthew and Luke, most will recognize the words from Deuteronomy
(not by bread alone does one live). But the second half of the verse
is just as important: but by every word that comes forth from the
mouth of the Lord.
One Jewish commentator on this verse observes Note that it says
on and not by bread alone. Man is bidden not to stake his life merely
on gaining a livelihood: eating in order to work, working in order to
eat. His true purpose should be learning in order to teach, observe, do
and uphold Torah in truth and faith.
In other words, by learning what Gods teachings are (Torah) and
then doing them we achieve our true purpose as humans. Those of us
who were raised with the Baltimore Catechism might hear the faint
echo of one of the first questions raised there, Why did God make
me? The answer was to know God, to love God and to serve God in
this life and to be happy with God in the next.
But Deuteronomy also raises the issue of why God subjected
Israel (to test you by affliction) which included the affliction of
hunger. These afflictions were called chastisements of love in later
Jewish tradition, by means of which a loving father would educate and
purify children. That is putting its very best take on it.
The issue of God using hardship and affliction to test Israels faith
seems like the action of a less than sympathetic deity. If one were into
betting, its probably a safe bet that more than half would flunk any
test placed before weak humans. That is as true today as it would have
been in ancient Israel.
The great Jewish philosopher, Maimonides (died in 1204 AD),
argued that there were three types of affliction: that caused by nature,
e.g. earthquakes; that caused by social corruption like wars; and that
caused by ourselves. In that schema, there is little place for Gods
intention of testing us.
The surest way of guaranteeing loyalty would have been to see
that no one went hungry in the first place. But many of the Biblical
prophets interpreted the evils which befell Israel as the Lords
response to Israels unfaithfulness. It seems evident that Sundays
passage was written under the influence of the prophets. Indeed the
whole Exodus journey came to be interpreted as a showpiece of Gods
benevolent care for this chosen people, in spite of their infidelity.
Nobody would seriously try to sell the notion that God would
send a tsunami to test loyalty, or that famine in various African
countries has been brought by God so that manna could rain down
from heaven again. We are simply stuck with the reality that evil, real
evil exists as a mystery which unfolds before us daily.
The questioners of Jesus in the gospel ask How can this man
give us his flesh to eat? It seems they were not bothered by the more
obvious puzzle, i.e. how could this man have come down from heaven
in the first place? It has been argued that their question reflects a real
issue at the end of the first century about Christians eating human
flesh. John does not shy away from such talk. Indeed he strengthens it
by insisting that my flesh is real food and my blood real drink.
Whoever eats this food and drinks this blood has eternal life. And
this food is not the same as manna. Our ancestors ate manna and still
died. Whoever eats this bread from heaven will live forever. This too
is a great mystery.

Fr. Lawrence Hummer