Bible Reflection (2 June 2024)

The Body and Blood of Christ Year B

Exodus 24:3-8
Hebrew 9:11-15
Mark 14:12-16,22-26

Transform our lives through the Eucharist.

My brothers and sisters, how often do we try to be good and we fail? And what do we do when we fail repeatedly? Do we give up? Or do we reflect and try to do better? Indeed, how can we do better?

In the First Reading this week, we read of how the Israelites sought to follow the commandments of God. We read how Moses “set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel” (verse 4). The mention of the twelve tribes is significant. It means it was the undertaking of the whole people, that is, all believers. And they made pledges: “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (verse 3) “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” (verse 7) To seal the pledge, “Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. … Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people,” (verse 6, 8) This was the ancient rite of sealing a covenant. Where blood was spilled, the covenant was established. In this case, it was a covenant between God and all His people, that God will be their God and the people would follow and obey Him. But as we know, the people did not remain faithful to God. In the years and generations that followed, they would worship other gods, persecute God’s prophets, and lead hypocritical lives.

What about us? We have the equivalent in our modern ritual. As Catholics, we pledge to God by reciting the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed each time we attend mass. The creeds summarise our beliefs and undertaking to God. Then, we seal the covenant when we partake the Eucharist. For the Eucharist is the new covenant. But like the Israelites, we fail – either because we do not mean what we say; or we are simply too weak to keep the promise we make. But why do we fail? How can we do better? To help us reflect on this, let us first understand the difference between the old and new covenant.

The Gospel this week explains how the Eucharist is the new covenant, superseding the old. Jesus established the Eucharist in the Gospel this way: “While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'” (verse 22-24) In the Second Reading, the author of the Book of Hebrew made a distinction between the covenant of the Old Testament and the covenant of Jesus Christ. Blood sealed the covenant in both cases. However, Jesus established the covenant “not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood” (verse 12). Hence, there is an important difference between the old and new covenant. Whereas animals were sacrificed in the old covenant, God Himself became “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (verse 15).

In the old covenant, the people offered something of theirs to God – usually the sacrifice of their animals – so as to purify themselves from sins. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” (First Reading, verse 7) But they were never going to be able to fulfill that promise. Why? Because by making a human offering, by making a human undertaking, they were trying to attain godliness by their own strength. But the new covenant is different. It is an undeserved flow of grace from God. Jesus said: “Take; this is my body.” (Gospel, verse 22) “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Gospel, verse 24) As the author of Hebrew put it in the Second Reading, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” (verse 13-14) In other words, the new covenant invites us to draw strength not from ourselves, but from God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) To some of us, this seems an impossible task, for how can we be perfect like God? For others, we become arrogant, thinking that we can become as perfect as God. Both views are erroneous. We must not be so proud and misguided that we think we can rely on our own strength to attain God-like perfection. But this does not mean we cannot mimic the holiness of God. We certainly can, if we have the docility to admit our shortcomings, and to draw strength from Jesus. This is the promise of Jesus in offering us Himself as the new covenant. If we partake the Eucharist with a receptive heart, we allow Him to become indwell in us – both physically and spiritually.

Hence my brothers and sisters, before we receive the Eucharist, let us first prepare our hearts. For in order for the Eucharist to have its intended effect on us, we must prepare. So that, as the Body and Blood of Jesus is offered to us, when we say “Amen”, we understand what our amen means. It is our commitment to God’s way. Secondly, our amen signifies that we are prepared to rely on God, rather than our own strength. Thirdly, we are acknowledging and accepting Him indwelling in us, both physically and spiritually. Otherwise, if we do not do these three things, then we are just like the Israelites. We are doing things out of habit; we are just saying things out of lip services. In this way. our faith becomes a nominal faith. We do not grow. And we will certainly find ourselves unable to follow God’s ways and be obedient to Him.

My dear friends, as we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood and Christ this week, let us reflect and develop a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist. Let us reflect on the areas of our lives where we have fallen short. Let us commit to God’s way, draw strength from Him, and invite Jesus in as our Eucharistic Lord. Let Him transform us. Amen.