Food for Immortality
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - August 19, 2018 - 12:00am

According to a story by John Ortberg of Willow Creek Community in Illinois:  During the Second World War the Red Cross made blood available to all who needed it – even the enemy.  The Red Cross would also provide the soldier with the name of the donor so that, if he wanted, he could write a letter or note of thanks.


A custom developed among the medics in Europe that if a Nazi officer needed blood, they would find a Jewish donor. The medic would then tell the Nazi officer, “The bad news is – if left to your own strength and resources, you will die.  The good news is – we have blood that will save your life – from a Jewish donor. All you have to do is to accept it.”

A few refused the blood saying, they would rather die than accept the blood of a hated Jew.  But most wanted to live and gladly accepted blood from a fellow human being – who happened to be a Jew.  To accept life demanded on their part, a new view and attitude toward this group of fellow human beings, whom they had been trained to hate.

In inviting us to feed on his “flesh” and drink his “blood,” Jesus invites us to change our view and attitude – to embrace the life of his Father: the life that finds joy in humble service to others, the life that is centered in unconditional, total, sacrificial love; the life that seeks fulfilment not in the conventional wisdom of this world, but in the holiness of the next.

In the “bread” he gives us to eat, we become the body of Christ with and for one another, in his “blood” of the new covenant, his life of compassion, justice and selflessness flows within us, and we become what we have received: the sacrament of unity, peace and reconciliation. What a beautiful thought, if we accept it.

For us human beings, food and drink are essential.  Not only do they have an enormous symbolic value in terms of our community or family life. Can you imagine a birthday, a wedding, or a fiesta celebration without any food? 

Nowadays, many important business deals and social agreements are struck over a dinner

or luncheon. But more basically food and drink insure our survival as living organisms.

There is a story of a caravan of merchants crossing the desert to trade with the villages along the way. Suddenly a great sand storm blew up. So fierce was the storm that one merchant became separated from the caravan. When the storm subsided, the merchant found himself alone and completely lost. 

He kept moving for days, until he realized that he was merely going around in circles. The merchant was half dead from starvation and in dire need of food. In a fit of panic, he unloaded every bag on the camel’s back, desperate to find some morsel of bread or fruit.  He searched through every bag again and again, but found nothing.

Then he came across a small pouch he had forgotten about.  His hands shook as he tore open the bag.  Then his heart sank: he knew he was finished.  All the pouch contained were diamonds.

In the last analysis, food is literally a matter of life and death.  Anyone of us, if left for a time without food and drink will die of starvation.

And even when we have enough food to survive, that is, when the quantity is assured, we will still have to watch the quality, if we want to go beyond mere survival. 

For in a very real sense your food makes you what you are.  Hence the present craze about natural food as opposed to junk food, about breast-feeding for babies, about a balanced diet.  And we must admit that there is a lot of truth behind the slogans and campaigns for health food and balanced diet. 

The generation of today’s teenagers is usually taller than their parents, simply because they have better diet.  The older generation ate mostly rice and fish, whereas the new generation eats lots of more nutritious food.

“Eat better and live longer,” goes the saying.  But my friend has a T-shirt that says, “Diet and Exercise – You Die Anyway.”  That’s about our physical life in this world.

But I would like to focus on the former – “Eat better and live longer.”  This is so true that it was believed, in many ancient legends and myths that there could be found somewhere (for example, at the bottom of the sea, or again at the top of a mountain) a life-giving substance,  example:  Ginzeng and Pollen B, liquid or fruit, capable of producing immortality.  

In the ancient Roman mythology, for example, it was believed that the gods were kept from dying because they were fed a marvellous food called ambrosia and were given to drink a magical potion named nectar.  Truly, for them, they became what they ate, their food made them what they were – immortals.

Now, that is precisely the whole point of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading.  On the occasion when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum, he says something very strange indeed.  He says in effect that all those myths and legends about food and drink capable of producing immortality were not just empty dreams, but that in fact they were indications, preparations, anticipations, pointing to what would one day be fulfilled with his coming. 

For indeed, says Jesus, “I have come to offer you the marvellous food and the supremely potent liquid that will ensure your immortality – and that food and drink are nothing else than my flesh and blood.” 

This is what Jesus is in effect telling us.  Of course, he is not speaking of mere physical immortality as the ancient pagans understood it: a prolongation natural life as we know it now. 

He is speaking of something much better.  He is referring to a sharing in the very life of God, a life which begins now invisibly but very truly in our hearts – a life so powerful that eventually, after we will have experienced the physical death like a mere falling asleep, we will be brought back to life, but this time to a life of total joy and happiness, filled forever by the infinite love of God. 

“This life,” says Jesus, “is possible if you eat me, because I myself live from the very life of God and can therefore communicate God’s life to anyone who eats me.”

Strange words indeed!  Yet Jesus proved how true they were: he slept the sleep of death for only three days, and then rose again gloriously alive forever. 

When we partake of the Eucharist, it is not a dead Christ that we eat.  It is his resurrected body, the glorious Christ we receive.  How can we not be changed by it one day, since we become what we eat? 

With other food, for example, when we eat a piece of meat or cake, that meat or cake get assimilated and become part of us.  Not so when we receive the Risen Lord in the Eucharist, we become part of his Risen Life.

For some of us this may sound too good to be true.  And so, we might be tempted to react like some of Jesus’ listeners in the synagogue of Capernaum, with scepticism.  But we are in a better position than they were in judging the truth of Jesus’ words.  They only saw a man of flesh and blood before their eyes. 

But by the grace of God, we know better.  We know that Jesus is risen from the dead, forever alive with the life of his Father.  And that changes everything. 

When Jesus promises that whoever receives the Eucharist, he will raise up the person on the last day. We know that he can do it and that he will do it. We do not need ambrosia and nectar.  We have Jesus Christ, the bread from heaven. 

In him mankind’s wildest dreams are far surpassed.  Do you believe his words?

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