…From anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.’ Matthew 13:12-15
These words should make us feel a cold shiver running up and down our spine. They are simply chilling. Hence, how can we avoid making the fatal mistake of closing our eyes to Jesus’ light, of stopping our ears to his words and of shutting our hearts to his counsel? How can we avoid this self-destructive attitude?
In order to appreciate what Jesus is teaching us about himself as the Word that the Father sows in our hearts, we can start from the sixth chapter of the gospel of John, and reflect on what Jesus teaches us about this aspect of his mission. In that chapter John introduces Jesus to us as the Bread of life.
Most Catholics would immediately think of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; Jesus giving his Body in Holy Communion for us to feed on him as the Bread of Life. Well, this would be only partially true and, actually, it might give rise to a dangerous attitude of focusing on the Eucharist …prematurely! God the Father has not given us a minor Jesus as his Word and a major Jesus as Eucharistic Bread.
The Bread of life that came down from heaven (from the Father) to feed us is Jesus, the whole Jesus. The Father’s Gift is whole. Jesus is given to us in the totality of himself, i.e., in his Word and in his Sacrament. Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:68
Yet, how many Catholics focus their attention and their devotion only on Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist and have little time for him as Word of eternal life! The Catholic faith on the Eucharist is taken heavily from the Gospel of John. However, surprisingly enough, in the same gospel, whatever we are taught about Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament we are taught also about him as Word. The main and most comforting aspect of feeding on the Body and Blood of Christ is eternal life; it is the solemn promise made by Jesus that whoever eats his Flesh and drinks his Blood shares in God’s very life. Well, the same is affirmed by Jesus about whoever feeds on him as Word.
John 5:24 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.
John 8:51 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”
John 8:52 So the Jews said to him,”Now we are sure that you are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’
The other very important tenet of our faith about Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is his real presence in all his components, in his humanity and in his divinity. God is truly present under the humble species of Bread and Wine. But the same is true of those who keep Jesus as Word in their hearts.
John 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
If any of these biblical quotes shock and/or surprise someone, it would be an indication that some have not benefited as they should have from the Gift (Jesus) whom the Father has given to the whole world. Failure to open one’s heart to Jesus as Word of Life, inevitably creates the obduracy, the resistance to grace fulfilled by Isaiah’s prophecy quoted by Jesus. It is the prophecy that, as I said earlier, should send cold shivers up and down our spine.
The Table of God’s Word is not a generous smorgasbord from which, occasionally, we pick up a morsel or two. By divine decree, it is the only viable and wise choice because it alone offers the Words of eternal life. But there is more food for thought here. There is another vital concern to address.
Again, by divine decree, the Words of Life pack so much power and efficacy that, oftentimes, they need to be broken down into smaller pieces for complete and total assimilation. This task falls on Jesus’ priests and bishops:
John 15:20 Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
Luke 10:16 Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
If, at every Mass, Jesus Christ offers himself to us as Bread of Life in the Word and in the Sacrament; if he is truly present and generating eternal life in both, why do we need both? It is because the Giver of life is God, a most generous God, driven by life-giving love; and because He desires to fill with Life every aspect of our existence. It is not a question of either Jesus as Word or Jesus as Sacrament; but of both one and the other and in that order.
Every time we open the Bible to read it or we open our ears and our hearts to hear it in a liturgical setting, we are challenged, comforted, guided, enlightened and motivated by Christ precisely within our personal, actual situation.
Again by divine decree, after that first encounter with Jesus as Word of Life, necessary to fend off self-delusion and spiritual stagnation, we open our mouths and our hearts to be nourished, strengthened and sustained by his Flesh and Blood so that we may be able to truly enjoy the eternal life that has been made available to us. This we shall do until we are sealed in the Father’s eternal embrace.