Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - Scandal
In the sense that we are using it, "scandal" is any act by a person or persons that offends or outrages the moral feelings of another. Several times in the Scriptures we read of how Christ confronted the Jewish religious leaders; but the scene in today's Gospel is one of the more dramatic encounters between them.

Proverbs 9:1-6: Here we see the wisdom of God presented in terms of a festive meal at which the foods served represent God's teachings. Christ goes one step further by giving us Himself as food for our souls.

Ephesians 5:15-20: Paul encourages the Ephesians not to waste the opportunities given to them to do good.

John 6:51-58: Christ's claim that they must "eat his flesh and drink his blood" was highly offensive to the Jews. To them, it was an outrageous claim, as it is to anyone who does not have an understanding of what Jesus did at the Last Supper and the subsequent events of Calvary.

Point 1: That Christ died on a cross crucified as a criminal with criminals is history. What is also history is that this fact, for the early Christian community, was a scandal. They found it difficult to understand how Christ, so known for his good deeds, could have been so condemned. However, a bigger scandal had occurred earlier when Christ challenged His followers to accept that He was the bread of life of which they must partake in order to have eternal life. Only subsequent examination of the long running confrontation with the Jewish leaders, and of the place of "sacrifice" in religious ritual, would explain this.

The notion of "sacrifice" as an integral element of religious ritual was well known and accepted by the Jews. Sacrificial offering by means of consecration and consumption of that which had been offered was standard. The reason for this offering varied - it could be in expiation of offences; it could be thanksgiving for favours; or a request for favours and it always ended with communion. This was the supreme symbol of fellowship and unity. In the Old Testament, the sacrificial offering was always food and drink, but this was not shared by the general public; it was reserved for the priests and those who served the temple. The common symbol in the Old Testament was the blood of the victim which was sprinkled on the altar. The altar represented God, and the sprinkling of blood symbolised the transmission of life, establishing communion between worshipper and God. Melchisedech refined this offering by choosing bread and wine.

Point 2: The Jewish leaders knew all of this. What scandalised and offended them was Christ's statement that He was the sacrifice and that they would need to "eat His flesh and drink His blood" if they were to have life! To them this was outrageous; as it continues to be for many today who do not understand Christ's actions at the Last Supper and the following events of Calvary. Years later the belief shocked the Roman authorities, as it had the Jewish leaders. Tacitus, the Roman historian wrote that he saw "no harm in the execution of a contemptible, antisocial group (the Christians)" because they "practised cannibalism at their nocturnal meetings". As St. Paul so wisely observed "for the Jews a stumbling block and for the pagans, foolishness"

Conclusion: Of course, other scandals have continued to rock the Christian community and the Church since then, and, I have no doubt, will continue to do so. The involvement of the Church in politics still causes concern; moral failings by Church members, lay and clerical, continue to shock and to scandalise.

Today's readings tell us to look more deeply into Christ and his claims. In the light of the Last Supper and Calvary, the profound religious truth of Christ's claim can be appreciated. His promise -"Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood, will draw life from me" and his request -"Do this in memory of Me" presents a total view of the concept of religious sacrifice; and they guarantee eternal life to those who have the wisdom to understand.