First Reading: Prov 9:1-6
Psalm 34: 2-7
Second Reading: Ephesians 5:15-20
Gospel: John 6:51-58
You are kindly invited…
It is so easy to get a meal nowadays. You don’t have to ‘waste’ time shopping for food and then preparing it, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. All you have to do is make a stop at one of the convenient fast food restaurants. Once there, you don’t even actually have to enter the confines. All you have to do is sit in the car, place an order at a small metal voice box, drive a short distance around the building, make your payment, and food is handed to you, all prepared, hot, and ready to eat. But things are quite different when you are invited to a banquet. In such a situation, you may not have to prepare the food, but you certainly have to get yourself ready. You will be very concerned about your appearance. You may even want to purchase new clothes for the evening, because a banquet is usually a memorable event.
When you are invited to a banquet, you seldom ask about the menu, nor are you generally consulted about your personal preferences. If it is a genuine banquet, you presume that the food will be of high quality, expertly prepared, and appetizingly presented. Besides, the point of many banquets is not the character or quantity of the food served, though these certainly are important. Rather, it is the significance of the event, the importance of the host, and the status of the honored guests.
Today’s readings invite us to two banquets. The first comes from the Wisdom tradition of ancient Israel. Wisdom, personified as a woman, spreads out a sumptuous banquet to which she invites “whoever is simple…the one who lacks understanding.” The dressed meat and mixed wine that she offers is really insight and understanding, and one would be a fool to turn down her invitation. Still, this is an invitation to accept what is freely given; it is not a command. Nor is it a reward for those who are deserving of it. Woman Wisdom seeks those who are not wise so that she can offer them the riches of wisdom that she possesses.
In the gospel reading we see that Jesus too spreads a banquet. In this part of his discourse, the bread of which he speaks is clearly Eucharistic: “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” His body, not merely his teaching, is the true bread that came down from heaven. As was the case in the passage from Wisdom, this banquet is not for those who are deserving of it. In fact, some of those in the crowd that had gathered around him, to whom the invitation had been extended, not only refused it, but also challenged its legitimacy: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Just as the fare of Wisdom’s banquet metaphorically stood for a reality much deeper than meat and wine, so the food that Jesus offered was much more than simple bread. He offered them, and us, his flesh for the life of the world. Any one who might turn down his invitation would be more than a fool. Such a person would be rejecting life itself.
The wisdom theme is found in the second reading as well. Paul warns against foolish living and counsels wisdom. His words of warning are startling: “The days are evil.” Some of the evils he warned against are with us still, evils such as drunkenness and debauchery. Though we might be inclined to overlook such behavior, it obviously presents obstacles to a life lived wisely. However, there are other evils that may not be as apparent. In fact, they may not even be considered evil. There is the national or religious arrogance that presumes that our point of view is the only legitimate point of view; there is the abuse of power that denies the more vulnerable individuals or groups the self-determination that is rightfully theirs; there is the personal or corporate greed that deprives whole societies of the necessities of life; there is the glorification of violence that destroys both the victim and the perpetrator. Paul could easily say to us as well: “The days are evil.”
Despite the fact that we have all been invited to be enriched at Woman Wisdom’s table and to be transformed by the body and blood of Jesus, there are times when we prefer the fast food of a life of complacency. We would rather stay comfortably in the lives that we have fashioned for ourselves than have to go through all of the trouble required of reform or renewal. We are satisfied to continue in ignorance. It has served us to this point, so “Why fix it if it ain’t broke?” Why? Because ignorance is not bliss; because we cannot long survive on the fare of foolishness or obstinacy; because whoever eats the body of the Lord and drinks his blood will live forever – and we are all kindly invited.