“I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God. No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire…..
…I no longer take pleasure in perishable food or in the delights of this world. I want only God’s bread, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, formed of the seed of David, and for drink I crave his blood, which is love that cannot perish.”
This is a quote from the letter that bishop Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 – c. 107) wrote to the Romans on his way from Syria to Rome to be torn to shreds by hungry lions in the Circus Maximus.
Let us add the following to that quote: “Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Mt 13:30)
That was the order that the heavenly Householder gave to his harvesters as we heard on the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Today, on the 17th Sunday, we have a similar setting: “When the fishnet is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.” (Mt 13:48)
Do we realize that the best scenario foreseen by Jesus is for us to be wholesome food: wheat saved in our Father’s barn until it is ground and made into bread as well as good quality fish?
St. Ignatius of Antioch understood and lived this unusual, yet incredibly true insight to the very end of his life, to his martyrdom.
Last Sunday, we found out that the parables of Jesus are much more than symbols or metaphors, they are challenges directed at our minds and hearts so that, in freedom, we can make the right existential choices to make our journey to the Kingdom successful. Today, we are instructed to react properly and effectively to God’s love-filled overtures.
Jesus points out that the Father, the single-minded merchant, is incessantly scouring pearl markets to find THE pearl that has been always the obsession, the driving force of his untiring quest. We have to imagine that, at this very moment, Jesus whispers into the ears of each one of us: “Hint, hint: you are THE pearl that my Dad is looking for. You are priceless. To acquire you he sacrificed me, his only Son on the cross.”
The desirable result comes solely from our proper reaction to this revelation; that the Father will not rest until he “finds us.” On the other hand, our part could not be any easier. As we go about whatever we are doing and thinking and desiring and talking about and dreaming of, we are “besieged” by grace.
Anywhere in the world if a person stumbles upon a buried treasure and gets to keep it must consider himself/herself lucky. Yet, Jesus assures us that this is never the case with the Kingdom of God. It is never a question of merits, special skills, methodical planning, or luck, or chance. NO, it is exclusively grace. The Father has hidden the treasure in such a way that we must work hard not to find it!
Are we curious, then, as to the nature of the treasure that the Father has buried with the sole purpose of helping us find it as soon as possible?
If we appreciate St. Ignatius’ desire to be fed the Eucharist so that he could become bread broken for Christ; if we place much value on St. Paul’s rejoicing in his sufferings because he was filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church (cf. Colossians 1: 24) we would know that the true treasure is the desire to become Christ-like, “Eucharistic people,” to become bread broken for and offered to others and blood poured out for their sake.
The treasure consists also in being “found” by the Father, the divine merchant; and become convinced that our joy is in living out the New Commandment of loving each other as Jesus loved us when he allowed his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out for our redemption. We are called to be wheat in the Father’s barn only for a short while. According to his design we are destined to become bread for others. We are meant to be good fish selected to feed the various “hungers” we notice on the faces of those around us.
These seemingly innocent parables teach us a lesson that can be embraced only if the treasure of the Kingdom makes sense to us; is worth enduring many sacrifices and is embraced wholeheartedly as a source of lasting joy.
He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…” (Lk 22:15)
Jesus’ eagerness to feed us his Flesh and Blood should be echoed by our eagerness to become food and drink for our neighbor. Today, we realize that whenever we hear Jesus’ solemn words: “Do this in memory of me” we should take them as his burning desire to have us step forward and be counted as those who are willing to be sacrificed in union with him so that his Life may quicken in many more people.
By now it should have dawned on us that every time we gather to do Eucharist, some of us are guided by the Holy Spirit towards the treasure hidden in the field of their life, while others are enlightened to value the call to be broken bread and poured blood as the treasure worth all they possess.
The cycle of joy in our self-immolation in union with Christ might begin with these words: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.”
Right after those words settle in our hearts, although completely unworthy, we cue up to feed on the Body of Christ to become Eucharist ourselves, mindful that our willingness to be sacrificed for others is a foreshadowing of the endless Supper of the Lamb and the joy that we experience now is but a little taste of the joy that will never cease.