In a debate class, the teacher presented hypothetical situations to encourage his students to talk and argue for their position. One case was: “If you were in a sinking boat with your mother and your sister, whom would you save?” In another case, the situation was modified such that a man had his wife and daughter with him. Whom would he save? The condition was that only one could be saved. One had to make a choice.
The word “choice” summarizes all three readings of today. In the first reading of today, wisdom invites all who are listening, and especially the unlearned, to choose the meat and wine that she has to offer in order that they have life of both body and spirit. This is in contrast to what folly offers namely, stolen water and pilfered bread which lead to death. It might seem obvious to make the choice for wisdom and life rather than for folly and death. However, the invitations issued by wisdom and folly are identical. One needs the gift of discernment in order to make the correct choice.
This gift of discernment is what the author of the letter to the Ephesians invites them to have. It will help them to choose wise conduct over foolish conduct and to choose to do the will of God rather than continue in ignorance. Accordingly, the presence of true wisdom should be obvious in the life of the believer who, by virtue of that wisdom, will not fritter away his/her energies in careless, thoughtless living. Rather, the grace-filled disciple of Jesus lives each day empowered by a full and thoroughgoing faith. The process of integrating faith with life is one which begins in prayer and finds its fullest expression in prayer, particularly in Eucharistic, liturgical prayer.
In the Gospel text of today, Jesus invited those who had their fill of the physical bread that he provided them, to realize that there was much more to life than merely satisfying physical hunger. Jesus invited them to choose to partake of the bread that he alone could give: the true bread that indeed comes from heaven. This they would do if they made the deliberate choice to eat his body and drink his blood. This scandalized and shocked his listeners. They could not accept that Jesus himself could be the sacrifice and so offer them his flesh and blood. They questioned, they quarreled, and they refused to make the choice for him.
Though on the rational level it seems clear that any person will choose wisdom over folly, meat and wine over stolen water and pilfered bread, and life over death, this does not always happen. Often, the choice we make is for untruth over truth, for darkness over light, and for death over life. This is because, at first glance, untruth, darkness, and death seem so much more desirable and easy to choose. It is because we think that the choice of truth, light, and life will mean that we have to make changes in our life styles that we are not prepared to make. It is because we mistakenly think that the stolen water and pilfered bread can bring us the happiness that we seek, which seems so elusive.
Even as we struggle with the choice that we have to make, Jesus invites us, beckons us, even challenges us to make the choice for him and for his kingdom. This is because to eat his flesh and to drink his blood is to become totally identified with his very person, with his deepest thoughts, with his vision of life, with his values, and with his mission to build the Kingdom of God. The flesh and blood of Jesus is, above all, that part of him which he totally surrendered in his suffering and death. He is inviting us to be with him, sharing totally and unconditionally his mission and destiny. To opt for Jesus means to make a choice for all that is positive and enhancing, for all that leads to life in all its fullness. It is to make a choice for selflessness over selfishness, for sharing rather than hoarding, for giving rather than receiving, for light rather than darkness, and for life rather than death. It is to opt for a life that is not closed in on itself but is lived in the full knowledge that, since one is loved unconditionally, one can only love in return.
To eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood means being filled with his spirit. This is a spirit of generosity, a spirit of freedom, and a spirit that will give thanks to the Father always, and for everything, in the name of Jesus Christ