Homily for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2009
Did you hear of the man in the news last week who bought his wife expensive jewellery every time he was unfaithful to her? By the time he died she was a wealthy woman!
How do you be faithful? One of the hardest questions I have seen people struggle with is this: When does being faithful to a spouse who is abusive or violent or unfaithful cease to be fidelity and become self destruction? Is it dying to oneself, as the Gospel asks, or is it killing oneself which the Gospel doesn't? We know what unfaithfulness is like. We have experienced it in different ways or seen it in others. But we do have difficulty sometimes knowing what constitutes faithfulness. There are plenty of examples of heroic faithfulness as people care for sick or dying partners or children. What can we do to strengthen our fidelity to one another in the ordinary moments of life? We need to seek out ways to express and strengthen and celebrate our fidelity to God and our neighbour.
In this sermon about the Eucharist in John's Gospel Jesus speaks graphically about eating his flesh and blood. Of course, we are not being asked to chew on Jesus' finger or munch on his big toe. It is the risen, glorified Christ, not the Jesus of Nazareth who walked the roads of Galilee, that we receive. That is the language the Catechism is always careful to use. Some legends and popular piety about the Eucharist do a disservice to it. It is Christ we receive. He is personally and truly present to each of us in the Eucharist but not in some gross materialistic way.
This chapter six of John we have been reading from concerns the Eucharist. At the same time it is about Jesus' passion and death and our mission to follow in his way. How are we faithful to that? The Eucharist and Jesus' passion death and resurrection are inseparable. Unlike Moses, who gave bread alone to the people of Israel in the wilderness, Jesus also gives himself totally in his death and resurrection. This giving happens sacramentally in the Eucharist so that his death and resurrection gives us life. The Eucharist in turn empowers us to go out and live that kind of love and transform our own lives and the world.
It is in fidelity to the person of Jesus that Peter responds to Jesus' teaching. Peter is not just saying that he believes in the real presence of Jesus. He, like the other disciples, probably would not know what is meant by that phrase from later theology. But he is wanting to be faithful to what Eucharist means: following Jesus and digesting his every word so that it becomes part of him. In spite of being confused and seeing other disciples walk away from Jesus' teaching Peter stays there. He does not know what the future will bring. Although he must have had some foreboding. It is like someone hanging in there with a sick spouse does not know if there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is being faithful in those great and small challenges to us personally, that is the key to eternal life. Our participation in the Eucharist is saying with Peter, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Our gathering each week for Eucharist is an important way that we can express, strengthen and celebrate our fidelity to God and each other: and God's fidelity to us.