During our series of reflections on Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse in John 6, we have seen repeatedly how the Old Testament passages chosen for each Sunday cast fresh light on Jesus and the Eucharist. Today’s selection from Proverbs 9 reminds us that the Eucharist is also Wisdom’s banquet.
In Proverbs and other wisdom writings, it was customary to represent wisdom as a female figure. She is frequently contrasted with Lady Folly. One of the motifs associated with Lady Wisdom is the banquet. In antiquity a banquet was an occasion to share wisdom, with food and drink for both body and soul. The practice survives in our word symposium, which means literally “drinking together.”
According to Proverbs 9, Wisdom builds a sturdy house and prepares a sumptuous feast of meat, wine and other choice foods. Having readied her feast, she sends out her maids to issue an invitation to come to her house. The invitation is worded in such a way that there is no doubt that those who accept it will gain the spiritual and practical insight to “advance in the way of understanding.”
In their hymns and creeds, early Christians often identified Jesus as the Wisdom of God. The bread of life discourse indicates that Johannine Christians regarded the Eucharist as Wisdom’s banquet, where they shared in the divine wisdom personified by Jesus. They viewed the Eucharist as holding out the possibility of greater friendship with God and a deeper personal relationship with the one whom they confessed to be the bread of life.
As Jesus draws near the end of his discourse in John 6, his language becomes stronger and more shockingly eucharistic. He talks about eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood. He speaks about feeding on his flesh and identifies his flesh as real food and his blood as real drink. The wording is graphic and even offensive, especially to Jews. It is intended to make explicit the connection between the eucharistic elements and the person of Jesus. John 6 more than makes up for the absence of a meal narrative in John 13–17. In this context the Eucharist is more than an analogy or metaphor or symbol. It is a realistic sharing in Jesus the Wisdom of God. And this sharing promises a share in God’s own life and therefore in eternal life.
Today’s reading from Ephesians 5 reminds us that the wisdom we have through Jesus must manifest itself in our everyday lives. It warns that the present time demands caution and practical wisdom from us. What gives shape and direction to Christian life is the continuing effort to discern the will of God. Instead of giving in to drunkenness and debauchery, Paul recommends being filled with the Holy Spirit and singing hymns to God. And he identifies the basic task of Christian life as “giving thanks always and for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” Giving thanks, of course, is exactly what the word eucharist means.