Saturday, August 18, 2012

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
A Fad Or Life

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 33:2-3,10-15; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
Picture: cc foshie

Sisters and brothers, you probably know what a fad is, right? Something that many people may go crazy over, all of a sudden, but then is soon forgotten. And just as suddenly. Some of us may still remember, for example, the Hello Kitty craze that saw long lines of people queueing in front of stores for many hours just to buy a stuffed toy. If I recall correctly, some fights even broke out in public, and the police had to be called in. But the hysteria died down almost as quickly as it began. The popularity was as short-lived as it was widespread.

And it’s not just toys. Even diets can become fads. Some years ago, for example, low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets were all the rage among those seeking to lose weight fast. And the diets did seem to work. I personally know of someone who experienced dramatic weight-loss by drastically reducing his carbohydrate intake. But, as some doctors have warned, although such diets may appear effective in the short term, in the longer term, they aren’t good for you. Not only that, but people actually often end up regaining the weight that they lost. And sometimes just as quickly. This is because, not only do they find the diet difficult to maintain, they also fail to accompany the change in diet with appropriate adjustments in lifestyle. They may fail to get enough exercise and rest, for example. So it’s no surprise that we don’t hear much about these diets now. Their popularity was as short-lived as their apparent benefits. A fad diet might help you to lose weight fast. But, for staying in good shape in the long term, we need to do more than just watch what we eat. To maintain a healthy body, there is no real substitute for healthy living.

This contrast between a passing food fad and an ongoing effort at leading a healthy lifestyle is not unlike the choice that our Mass readings present to us today. As you know, for several Sundays now, the gospel reading has been taken from Jesus’ long speech on the Bread of Life, in chapter 6 of John’s gospel. You will recall that, after witnessing the miracle of the multiplication of loaves, the people had wanted to make Jesus their king. They wanted him to keep providing them with food for their bellies. In response, Jesus seems to warn the people to watch their diet. Do not work, he tells them, for food that cannot last, but work for the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you. The true bread, which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

But what does this mean? What does it mean to eat the bread from heaven? Is this just a new kind of diet? Does it involve nothing more than coming to church and receiving Holy Communion once a week on a Sunday? As it turns out, our readings tell us that there’s much more to eating the Bread of Life than simply watching what we put into our mouths. To enjoy the eternal benefits of what Jesus is offering us, it is not enough simply to munch periodically on a tiny piece of bread. Jesus is more than just the promoter of a fad diet. As he reminds us in today’s gospel, he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him. For Jesus, eating the Bread of Life has to do not just with what we put into our mouths on Sunday. More important, it has to do with how we live our lives on the other days of the week. Eating the Bread of Life involves living a spiritually healthy lifestyle. It’s not just a fad diet.

The first reading from the book of Proverbs reinforces this message by presenting us with the image of a feast prepared by Lady Wisdom. We’re told that she has slaughtered her beasts, prepared her wine, she has laid her table… Everything has been prepared for the feast. But that is not all. Again Wisdom is not just providing us with a special diet. Partaking of this sumptuous feast is not just a matter of stuffing certain kinds of food into our mouths. For we’re told that Wisdom has chosen a special location for the banquet she is hosting. The reading begins by telling us that, even before she prepares her table, Wisdom has built herself a house. So that, to eat the food she is offering, her guests need to first travel to her home. They need to move. To change their location. And the reading also tells us just what this movement entails. Leave your folly, Wisdom says, and walk in the ways of perception. Leave your foolish, spiritually unhealthy ways of life. Turn away from the kinds of living that keep you busy with so many different things that you fail to recognise the power and presence of God in and around you. Walk instead in the way of Wisdom. Live in such a way that your eyes are always fixed first firmly on God. As it is in the gospel, so too in the first reading, feeding on the bread of Wisdom has more to do with living a spiritually healthy lifestyle than with simply keeping to a fad diet.

And, just in case we still don’t understand, the very same lesson is to be found in the second reading as well. Be very careful, we’re told, about the sort of lives you lead. Again, the concern is with the whole of life. Not just with what we put into our mouths. And, as in the first reading, the second also invites us to change. We’re told to live like intelligent and not like senseless people. To move from thoughtlessness to the recognition of the will of the Lord. From drugging ourselves with wine and other intoxicating substances–like the internet and even our work–to being filled with the Spirit, and constantly singing the praises of God.

But that’s not all, the second reading adds a crucial, and immensely consoling, detail. This may be a wicked age, the reading tells us, but your lives should redeem it. In other words, if we continue to change our lifestyle in this fashion, if we continue to keep fixing our eyes on God, as Jesus did, we do not benefit only ourselves. We accomplish far more. Nothing less than the redemption of the whole world.

And this is what is actually at stake, sisters and brothers, when we gather here to eat the Bread of Life. Nothing less than the salvation of the whole world. This is what is actually happening when we allow our special diet on Sunday to have a positive and lasting impact on our lives the rest of the week.

Perhaps what we need to do, sisters and brothers, is to examine our own personal attitude towards the Eucharist. Do we truly consider it a power that can change our whole life? For all eternity? Or do we treat it like nothing more than a fad? Popular today, but quickly forgotten tomorrow.

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