In my native community in West Africa (Nigeria), the phrase “come and eat” is a special invitation that goes beyond the immediate participation in a meal. It shows care, goodwill, charity, friendship, and communion. Anyone who eats alone would be considered selfish, uncaring, and even wicked; in fact, there is a saying that goes, “if you eat alone, you die alone.” Consequently, part of the socialization pedagogy for a child includes the instruction on how to extend invitations to others before eating even when it is evident that the invitee may not partake but would always show appreciation for the invitation.
Today in the First Reading (Prov. 9:1-6), we hear Wisdom (personalized) inviting people to her house that is set up in seven columns to come and partake in a rich table of food and wine. Looking closely at the invitation, one could see that some clauses are attached to the call, “let whoever is SIMPLE turn in here.” Further down, the invitation instructs the invitees thus, “Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”
Wisdom seems to take the identity of a mother who possesses impressive culinary expertise with the dressing of food and mixing of wine. The inclusion of maidens in the narrative shows that she prepared a large banquet. A pertinent question at this point could be who this Wisdom is? The identity of Wisdom in most passages in the bible especially in the book of Proverbs has been a point of debate by scholars, but that is not the focus of this reflection.
The Gospel of today (John 6:51-58), continues and concludes the dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and the people who wanted a repeat of the miracle of the multiplication of bread and fish. During the interlocution, our Lord promises them another kind of bread, the living bread that came down from heaven that gives eternal life, and which is also his body.
The Jews could not accept this as they quarreled among themselves how they could become “human flesh eaters.” But that is the only route to the real life; “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53).
The unchanging observation one could make is that there is a connection between the invitation by Wisdom in the First Reading and our Lord’s invitation in the Gospel Reading to the people to partake of the living bread that came from heaven. The house of Wisdom points to the Church, and the seven columns of the house could signify the seven sacraments of the Church with the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist constituting the center and summit of the Church’s life and ministry.
Responding to the Invitation
For every invitation, two expectations are implied, a positive or a negative response. For instance, when our Lord invited the people to come and eat his body and drink his blood many of his followers could not accept the invitation and even stopped following him (John 6: 60; 66). Not every call receives a positive response; also for a positive response, the invitee needs to fulfill some preconditions.
- Be Simple-minded. Simplicity is another way of describing purity. In the beatitudes, our Lord Jesus Christ says that blessed are the pure in heart (simple-minded) and they shall see God (Matt. 5:8). Within the invitation of Wisdom in the First Reading, she says, let the simple turn in, that is, the pure in heart. Sin is the root of the complications and impurity of the soul. If you are coming to partake, do not repeat the mistake of Judas (John 13:27), come rather with a simple heart, and you will enjoy the sacred meal.
- Stop the quarreling in you. The Gospel Readings tells us that the people quarreled among themselves when he mentions to them that his body is the living bread that came down from heaven. This quarreling is still happening in our minds as we often struggle with believing or not believing in the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We also quarrel among ourselves and even disagree with the Lord’s invitation.
- Understanding the Lord’s Will. Understanding is fundamental in every relationship. The invitation to come and eat will become more meaningful if we understand why we should eat and drink. In the Gospel Reading, our Lord explains that whoever eats his body and drinks his blood will have eternal life; this is the will of God for us. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:15-20), encourages us to seek this understand while removing the mask of ignorance from our lives.
- Extend the Invitation to Others. Part of the response to the invitation to come and eat requires that we extend the invitation to others. If we go to St. John’s account of the call of the apostles, we could recall that after Andrew responded to the call of Jesus Christ, the living bread, he invited his brother Peter to come and see the Messiah as he had seen ( John 2:39-42).
What is your Decision Today?
The choice you make shapes your life. The Lord is still saying to us “come and eat”! The liturgy of this Sunday is encouraging us to respond to the Lord’s invitation by our resolution to be simple-hearted, eschewing all manners of internal and external quarrelings and being docile to understand and accept the will of God.
As we reflect on the message today, may our encounter with the Lord, the living bread, bring to life all the dying elements in our spiritual life and bring that amazing transformation and renewal in our lives. “Come and eat!” The Lord is still calling make a choice today!