The most important words in Sunday's three readings are Paul's (Ep 5:15-20). He encourages his community in Ephesus "to discern the will of the Lord." Such discernment is fundamental to Paul's theology. He believes no one can be a faithful follower of God if he or she isn't actively trying to discover what God wants them to do. Engaging in this process is essential to faith.

Yet the quest to determine God's will isn't just a Christian endeavor. Yahweh's followers have always regarded this pursuit to be at the heart of discipleship. The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures believe that it separates those who follow God from those who reject God.

The author of Proverbs even personifies the quest (Prov 9:1-6). "Wisdom" becomes the symbolic image of the disciple's search for God's will. "Let whoever is simple turn in here," Wisdom announces. "To the one who lacks understanding, I say, `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.'"

Fools for Christ

Though only fools would reject something which brings life, Paul presumes such fools exist even among those who profess to follow Jesus. Instead of "making the most of the present opportunity," they "continue in ignorance" of God's plan for them.

That seems to be why the Apostle insists that his followers crate the proper atmosphere for engaging in the quest. "Avoid getting drunk on wine," he writes. "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms, hymns and inspired songs. Sing praise to the Lord with all your hearts. Give thanks to God the Father always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Those whose lifestyle demonstrates that their minds and hearts are on God and one another will naturally want to find out how God wishes them to direct that love to God and one another. They'll spend their lives trying "to discern the will of the Lord."

Such discernment leads us not only to look in new directions for God's presence in our lives, but also helps us gain new insights into the forms of God's presence which we already take for granted. That happened around the middle 90s in John the Evangelist's community (Jn 6:51-58).

To refresh our memories on what earlier Christian biblical communities believes about the Lord's Supper, we should look at the Last Supper narratives in Mark, Matthew and Luke's Gospels, and glance at I Corinthians 11. There's much less emphasis on the actual Body and Blood of Jesus in those four passages than we see in John 6.

Paul and the Synoptics seem much more interested in the action and meaning of the Eucharist as a community meal and an eschatological event than in the bread and wine itself. As one Scripture scholar put it, "We'd probably have no tabernacles in our churches if John hadn't written his Gospel."

New meaning

When John's community gave itself over to discerning Jesus' will, it discovered a meaning the Lord's Supper which no one before seems to have notice. "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread," Jesus promises, "will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

Then, going beyond the objection, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" Jesus makes eating His flesh and drinking His blood an essential part of our salvation: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you....For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink."

Many Scripture scholars think John's Eucharistic theology was influenced by the philosophy of Plato, the famous Greek philosopher who believed that we only see shadows of reality in this life. When we look at a man or woman, for instance, we're only seeing the shadow of the true man and the true woman who exists beyond our senses.

If John is following Plato here, then he's saying that all other food and drink in this life is just a shadow of the true food and drink which Jesus gives us in the Eucharist. Jesus is reality; everything else is shadow.

It's amazing where we end up when we let God take us where God wants to take us.