Our passion to get into heaven could stop us from appreciating the message Sunday’s three sacred authors are trying to convey. The Proverbs author seems to know nothing of a heaven or hell, and though Paul and John believe in both, they still have an interest in the present that many of us don’t share.

For most authors of the Hebrew Scriptures, the life they lived on earth was the only life they thought they’d ever know. They had to experience heaven or hell within the boundaries of birth and death. So they lived their lives as meaningfully as they could.

That’s why our Proverbs author poetically invites Yahweh’s followers to come into Wisdom’s banquet (Prov 9: 1-1). "Turn in here," she says. "Come eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding."

God’s signs

Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures revolves around discovering the patterns God employs to work in our lives: signs in nature, animal life and human conduct which help us predict and understand God’s behavior. According to the Proverbs writer, the quest for such wisdom offers us heaven on earth.

Though a few biblical authors (Job, for instance) believe there are no divine patterns, the invitation, "Turn in here!" is quite persuasive. Those who discover how God works in their lives will live fulfilled, happy lives.

Paul made that turn. He doesn’t speak about God’s be-havior patterns in the second reading (Eph 5: 15-20), but he certainly believes everyone can "understand what is the will of the Lord" in their everyday lives.

"Watch carefully how you live," he writes, "not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance." Paul believes no life is fulfilling unless we engage in a constant quest to go beyond the mere appearances of that life.

This same reasoning is the basis for John’s "new" theology about the Eucharist (Jn 6: 51-58). He, like all early Christians, believes Jesus’ body and blood are contained in the bread and wine used in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. But unlike his biblical predecessors, he zeroes in on the life-giving characteristics of those two elements.

In the Gospel, he emphasizes the eternal-life dimensions of eating Jesus’ body and drinking His blood. But scholars of John always remind us about his "realized eschatology." He believes that what is in the future is also present here and now.

‘I am life’

Remember what Jesus will tell Mary after her brother Lazarus dies? "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." That concept is also stated here. "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you."

Heaven doesn’t just begin after death. John believes that those who have faith in Jesus have already stepped into heaven in this life. In the case of the Eucharist, once we start eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood, we’re there.

Yet, it’s important for John to remind his readers that this isn’t the first time in salvation history that God provided people with food. They knew about the Israelites’ wilderness experience. But they might not have realized how that feeding compared to Jesus’ feeding.

"This is the bread that came down from heaven," Jesus proclaims. "Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Biblical authors agree about one pattern of God’s behavior: God never works the same way twice. Because each person is unique, each working is unique. This suggests that anyone who strives to live a unique life must also be living a fulfilled life.

(8/14/03)