“Stick ‘m up” said the little 5-year old, while he pointed his toy six-shooter my way. I was about 16-17 at the time, and the boy was my neighbor. I frequently helped his parents out by being a sitter when they needed one. The boy was all decked out: cowboy boots, double holsters for his two toy six shooters – one pointed my way and the other ready at hand. He was swinging a pair of toy handcuffs in his other hand. Because he had come right up to me, he had his head tilted way back so he could see me under his wide brimmed cowboy hat, and the angle made the silver sheriff’s star pinned to his chest all the more prominent. I smiled back at him, taking in the full getup and considering my options. My smile and pause was met by a repeat of the previous demand. “Stick ‘m up! You’re under arrest!” On that particular afternoon, I was not his sitter but I had a few minutes and figured I’d play along. I gave him the whole, “You’ve got the wrong guy” routine. He didn’t budge, “I’m putting you under arrest.” I let him put the play cuffs on me and walk me to ‘jail’ on his front porch. Of course, about 5 minutes later, when I’d had enough playing along, I ‘broke out of jail,’ returned to my house, and went about the rest of my day. He not being a real sheriff and I not being a real criminal, the game was up.
A couple of weeks ago, I met Sheriff Frank Loop, Sheriff of Floyd County. It was a nice enough meeting, and I was happy to be meeting him because of my ‘profession’ and not his. I was baptizing his granddaughter here at Holy Family. He wasn’t wearing his sheriff uniform at all; but no matter, whether he was wearing a badge or not, if he were to say “Stick ‘m up. You’re under arrest.” I would not pause to ask questions. I would not stop and consider my schedule. Even innocent, I would still put my hands in the air and wait for further instructions. Unlike my 5-year old neighbor, Sheriff Loop is a real sheriff, properly elected and installed in the State of Indiana. He has been properly invested with legal authority and officially decreed to hold civil authority including the lawful arrest of a citizen. He has been formally ordained by the community to serve in the capacity of sheriff, and so, his words have authority. When he says, ‘your under arrest,’ the words mean something. The words impact the reality around him, including the reality of the person being arrested. It is not a game, a play, or just fun, it is truth. It is reality. His actual person and position as sheriff makes all the world of difference.
Many in the crowd around Jesus murmur – grumble – object even, to what Jesus is saying. ‘I am true manna. I am the bread come down from heaven. I am the bread of life.’ They mumble, whisper, and gossip among themselves. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother?” (Jn 6:42). You are just a man. This is crazy talk. You, bread from heaven?!? They hear Jesus and think of my 5-year old neighbor. They will no longer play along. His joke has gone far enough.
“How can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (Jn 6:42). They murmur precisely because they understand the implications – only God can come down from heaven. Only God provides manna. Jesus is making the bold claim to divinity. If not true, it is blasphemy. And yet, it is true. Jesus is fully God and fully man.
In John 6, Jesus makes two clear points, 1 First, Jesus makes an invitation to faith – faith in Himself, in Jesus, as God. Jesus invites belief in Himself as God come from heaven as a Man. This point is key, not just historically, not just to the readings today, not just to our understanding of Mass, but to all of Christianity, and Jesus knows it. Before we can understand what happens in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the third & unquestionably most important part of the Mass, we must know and believe Jesus as both fully man and fully God.
Then, the second point, “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). For you and I, these would be just words, just play-acting & make-believe. We cannot give our flesh for the life of the world. But when Jesus Speaks, it is True; it is effective; it has the full force of God. It is the very same Word that created the heavens & the earth. His Word becomes, exists, occurs because of His person, His identity, His very being. He has true authority & power. His words impact the reality around Him. When He speaks over creation, creation conforms. When Jesus later says, “This is my body… This is my blood,” the reality of bread becomes Body and reality of wine become Blood. His is not a game, a play, or just fun, it is Truth. It is reality. His very person, the Divine Son, makes all the world of difference.
On that same night, Jesus commissioned and ordained the Apostles & their successors to do what He did. Remember, His word is effective. He ‘deputized’ them. “Do this in memory of me.” It is not the power of the priest that changes bread & wine, but the power of Christ working through the priest. Christ is forever the true High Priest; and yet, He has entrusted His power to those properly ordained & installed. While the priest’s ordination may be affirmed by the community, it is initiated and instituted by God. Such that, when a bishop, a priest, or I, say “Take this all of you and eat it, for this is my Body… [This is] the chalice of my Blood”, the words mean something. The words impact the reality around us, including the reality of the bread & wine. It is not a game, a play, or just fun, it is Truth. It is reality. The actual person and position of the unworthy priest, by the power of Christ, makes all the world of difference.