Today I invite you to meditate on the words of Peter to Jesus when Jesus said, “Will you also leave me?” He said in reply, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of ETERNAL LIFE.”
I invite you to reflect on “eternal life” as the mission of Jesus Christ? The word “eternal” does not mean much anymore to many educated people nowadays. They tend to associate it with the realm of the unrealistic or the impossible, knowing that in this world there are limits to everything, whether we like it or not. Our physical existence is limited by time and space. Don’t we hear young people nowadays saying jokingly, WALANG FOREVER (There is no forever)?
Many years ago, I met a group of doctors who had volunteered to provide health care service in countries that have no adequate health care system. They call themselves in French “Médecins Sans Frontières,” in Spanish, “Medicos Sin Fronteras,” and in English, “Doctors Without Borders.”
Today, let me use their concept of a discipline “without borders” for a more practical understanding of ETERNITY. In plain language, I propose to understand eternity as LIFE THAT GOES BEYOND BOUNDARIES, or a life that defies boundaries.
For Jesus, this was the life that God has always wanted to share with us humankind from the very beginning of creation. A participation in divine life, having been ourselves created in God’s image and likeness. In the process, according to the biblical narrative, something had gone wrong because God had exaggerated that participation by giving us free will, which led to sin, which brought about death, the ultimate boundary of all boundaries. But for love of us, God also gave us his Only Son to fulfill his plan. By embracing our humanity, he also embraces our mortality. But by participating in our mortality, he makes it possible for us to share in his immortality.
Jesus’ mission is to teach us how to regain the eternal life that we have lost, by working against all the boundaries. And his formula for eternal life is simple: UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Sin sets a boundary to relationships. It leads to a lot of conflict situations, to falling outs, to breakdowns and relationships falling apart. Unconditional love defies the boundaries through forgiveness and reconciliation—the stubborn option to go on loving, even when hurt or rejected, even at the cost of so much suffering, the option for the love that redeems, the love that defies death, the love that resurrects.
We are confronted by life’s boundaries and limits when we deal with evil, with things that can cause a lot of suffering like this seemingly endless pandemic. And when life only means more suffering some people begin to actually wish death instead.
A few days ago I saw this video of a man who looked like a bum in a park in London, but who spoke like prophet. Let me summarize by way of paraphrasing what he said. “If we want a future for humankind, we have to go back to what we were meant to be: a symbiotic life form that supports the life of its host planet, and stop behaving like a parasitic life form that is devoiding its host planet of its ability to support or sustain life. We have to see beyond the artificial boundaries that we have put on this planet, like boundaries of nations and exclusive territories and learn to treat each other as friends, as family living in one home, on the same ball inside the same bubble.”
Jesus has taught us that it is only love than can defy all these boundaries through a consistent choice to be life-giving rather than parasitical, to live to the full by living a generous life.
In the Gospel which concludes his Bread of Life discourse, Jesus speaks about inviting us to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, so that we can change and grow and be configured to him, so that we too can rise above our limits, so that we too can experience living beyond all borders.
There is however a catch—we can only do it by sharing in his suffering and death. And that’s the reason for the falling out of some disciples. They found it too much; they felt that Jesus was asking too much of them. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is saying, “Sorry, that’s the deal. If you want to have a share in the life of the SON OF GOD and be counted among the saints or the holy ones, you must first learn to participate in the life of the SON OF MAN. The Son of Man gives up his life like bread, down to the last morsel, or like wine, down to the last drop. This is the reason why we use bread and wine for the Eucharist. They are both very pregnant with meaning.
Like BREAD made from many grains of wheat, crushed and powdered, watered and salted and leavened, and mashed into a dough and made to rise so that it is eventually baked and served, blessed, broken, eaten and consumed. Like WINE made from many grapes that are also crushed and pulped, and juiced, and aged and fermented, until it is ready to be drunk and consumed at banquets. As it is with bread and wine, so it is with the flesh and blood of the Son of Man who is the Son of God.
We face boundaries all the time as human beings: the limits of our strength, the limits of our age, of our physical condition, our capacity to love and forgive.
But in Jesus’ name, we are able to go beyond all these limits, rise above borders by eating his body and drinking his blood and entering into communion with him. By receiving his life and allowing him to change us into children of God, into creatures without borders.
This is the mystery we call the EUCHARIST, which we call the SACRAMENT OF LOVE. It is through this sacrament that the same Jesus of 2000 years ago carries on with his mission until today 2021—his mission of sharing his life without borders, through you and me, through us members of his body the Church, in a here and now that already anticipates the hereafter.
Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug 22, 2021, John 6:60-69