FROM A READING FOR AUG. 16, 20TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'Be careful, then, how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time....Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is...' -- Ephesians 5:15-17


There are Scripture scholars today who believe the author of this part (John 6:51-58) of John's Gospel was influenced by the Greek philosopher Plato.

Living more than 300 years before Jesus' birth, that famous thinker developed a fascinating analogy to explain how we live our lives: We're chained in a cave, facing the rear wall, the cave entrance behind us. The only thing we can see is the shadows that appear on that wall, created by the sun shining behind objects as they pass in front of the cave. Though we think we're seeing real things, we're only seeing their shadows. The real, true world is behind us.

According to Plato, that's where philosophers come in. They not only unchain us, they also force us to turn around and actually perceive the real and the true - a quest in which everyone is expected to engage.

If John wasn't directly influenced by Plato, he certainly shared the philosopher's basic insight. Notice how his Jesus speaks about the Eucharistic bread and wine: "My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink."

Shadows vs. reality
Any other food and drink we consume is simply a shadow of the real, true food and drink which Jesus offers. The risen Jesus is the one who breaks our chains, turns us around and exposes us to the real.

Not only does this reality break through in the Eucharist, it also leads us to the true, eternal life for which all of us long. Jesus couldn't be clearer: "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day."

John isn't the only biblical author who tells us we're not always dealing with the real in our everyday lives. The unknown author of the letter to the Ephesians (5:15-20) also goes down that path. In Sunday's passage, he reminds his readers that in order to experience the will of God in their daily lives they must approach those lives from a totally different perspective than the non-believers around them.

He expects them to be reflective, watching carefully how they live, valuing each moment. Only by being open to the Spirit working in everyone and everything they encounter will they discover the meaning God has placed in each of their lives. Once they've experienced the risen Jesus, they can never again be content with just looking at a shadow-filled wall.

Wisdom patterns
Though the author of Proverbs (9:1-6) knew nothing of the risen Jesus, he was also convinced that people of faith saw things others missed. They accomplished this by developing "wisdom," by surfacing patterns in God's behavior in their everyday lives.

(Our Scriptures present a "wisdom debate." Some authors, like those responsible for the books of Wisdom and Proverbs, argued that such patterns not only existed, they could actually be found and learned. Others, like the author of Job, contended that Yahweh simply did whatever Yahweh wanted to do, whenever and to whom Yahweh decided to do it.)

Whether divine patterns exist or not, our Proverbs writer knew that true people of faith had to engage in a quest for understanding, committed to encountering a God who would lead them beyond the point at which most people stopped, so they could break the chains which limited their field of vision.

Our sacred authors not only saw things most of us miss, they were committed to helping their readers come out of the shadows and see and benefit some of those same life-giving things.