As I was sitting in the doctor’s office the other day having a kidney stone treated, I couldn’t help but think, “Did Jesus ever have a kidney stone?” As he was curing those who were sick and suffering, raising the dead and forgiving sins, how many of his own ailments did he have as a result of the physical exertion and toll on his body going from town to town over the course of three years?
In Israel, where the Lord spent his entire life, (sort of like Worcester people – they spend their entire lives here) outside of a couple years when his parents were told to escape to Egypt because of the nutty King Herod, it gets pretty hot there. There’s not much snow in Israel. There are areas of desert Jesus undoubtedly passed through, and going from one town to another you just know he got thirsty and dried out. It’s safe to assume Jesus ate a lot of dust during his public ministry, the same Middle Eastern dust he told his disciples to shake off their feet if they were not welcome into a town. Also, the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well and Jesus’ words to her, “Give me a drink.” So, from lack of water and a case of dehydration, Jesus, before carrying his Cross, could very well have had a kidney stone. My Lord can relate to me! How good is that?
I offer an understanding and image of Eucharist you may not have heard before. But one that is most essential to our reception each week.
The contentious point in the Gospel in this conversation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders is Jesus’ self-proclamation that he is the bread come down from heaven. The Jewish leaders have no idea what to do with those words. So they revert back to, “Isn’t he the son of Joseph and Mary? Do we not know his parents? If he’s the bread come down from heaven, as he claims, then how can he be born of Mary?”
2000 years out from those words, “I am the bread of life come down from heaven,” we understand exactly what he’s saying. He’s saying that he will be with us until the end of time in the form of Eucharistic Bread. At every Mass, he continues to come down from heaven at the moment of consecration. Jesus is pointing to his real presence until he returns in glory. We cannot expect the Jewish leaders to understand all this 2000 years ago. Heck, there are many Catholics today who fight with Jesus’ words, who cannot wrap their hearts or minds around this teaching. But when he spoke them, that he is the bread come down from heaven, it was language far beyond their capacity to accept in their hearts and place their faith in.
Jesus is going in a number of different directions with the entire Bread of Life Discourse found in John, chapter 6. But as I’m sitting in a doctor’s office addressing the issue of a kidney stone with all their wonderful, talented, dedicated medical personnel, or if you’re doing the same for some other medical or non-medical reason, I want the Bread of Life come down from heaven in that office with me.
This goes right to the heart of the fullness of Jesus’ humanity – the thirst, the tiredness, the aches and pains, the diseases, and all the Cross-carrying breakdown of the human body, as it inches closer and oh-so-slowly to its final destination.
The Eucharist is not a pie in the sky Christian teaching. When we receive the Eucharist, yes we receive our Lord in his resurrected state. We receive the Body of Christ in such a form that – through the eyes of faith – we taste our future condition and see some hope. But that’s not all that it is! We cheat ourselves if we think so! But maybe that’s what so many of us Catholics believe; that the resurrected Christ who comes down from heaven is so far above and beyond my issues and my story and my sufferings and all our challenges that we cannot relate to what it is we truly receive. I’d like to change that!
I’m happy to tell you that the Eucharist we receive is just as much about kidney stones than it is about the resurrected body of Christ. What does Jesus tell us? That he’s the Bread of Life come down from heaven. He comes down to earth. He’s earthy. Meaning, when he was demanding water from the woman at the well, he was probably dealing with the effects of a kidney stone. In the Eucharist, we receive the entire Christ; fully divine, fully human, with all his earthly aches and pains, many of which we confront every day.
May we never “overestimate” or “upgrade” the power and presence of the Eucharist by leaving it as some pie in the sky theology. The Eucharist is most capable of walking into a doctor’s office, or surgical unit, or in the confines of our own homes where we deal with stuff. It’s not just some high dose of theology that we borrow from Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. That would not do us much good right now. The Bread of Life we receive is a necessary gift that sustains us in the serious challenges of our humanity.
Whenever those challenges arise, and for some of us they are every day, take the Lord with you. Yes, Eucharist is a vision of heaven, giving us hope that something better awaits. But it’s also a vision of earth, where all our challenges are played out.