The Eucharist & the Way of Understanding

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

I think it is fitting to start a new academic year with this Sunday’s lectionary readings for two reasons. First, because of what they tell us to seek. Second, because of what they tell us to avoid.

We are told to seek wisdom. In our first reading from Proverbs, wisdom is personified. She is described as building her house and then sending emissaries out to invite those who lack understanding to enter and “eat of her food” and “drink of her wine,” so that they may give up their foolishness and “advance in the way of understanding” (Prv 9:1-6). Isn’t this why we are all at university? To grow in wisdom and advance in understanding?

We are told to avoid drunkenness and debauchery, as these things are incompatible with wisdom. Our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians tells us to “watch carefully how you live” and “make the most of this opportunity” (Eph 5:15-20). Very pertinent advice, especially for those just beginning their college career.

Regardless of what your major is, we all come to college because we want to learn. Whether we are studying biology, mathematics, sociology, literature or music, we all want to advance in knowledge. We all want truth. Our minds were made to process truth like our stomachs process food. We crave it.

But the pursuit of wisdom is more than the cold pursuit of truth. Wisdom is more than intelligence. It is intelligence rightly applied. It is knowledge mixed with experience and prudence. Someone once quipped, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it on a fruit salad.” Knowledge gives you facts. Wisdom tells you how to live. Or to use another analogy, knowledge can tell you how to drive a car, but wisdom will tell you where to go.

You will have many opportunities to grow in wisdom during your college years, and not all of that growth will be in the classroom. Much it it will occur in the time in between classes, so how you choose to spend that time is of great importance.

Our readings today speak of two different paths. One is the path of wisdom and understanding. The other is the path of foolishness and ignorance. To gain one you must give up the other. Drunkenness and debauchery are specifically mentioned as ignorant behaviors that are incompatible with wisdom. It seems ironic that these temptations increase for many in college, a place where you come specifically to grow in understanding and wisdom. That is no coincidence. The devil doesn’t want you to be wise! It makes him angry that you are seeking to grow in wisdom, and he wants to get you off track. Don’t let him do it!

Here’s how the tempter works: Notice how the second reading tells us “do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery” (Eph 5:18), while the first reading, speaking in Wisdom’s voice, says, “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed” (Prv 9:5). Which is it? Are we supposed to drink wine or not? The answer is that it’s not really about wine at all.

Wine is a good thing. The abuse of wine is bad. Food is a good thing. The abuse of food is bad. Sex is a good thing. The abuse of sex is bad. This is how Satan operates. He does not tempt us with evil things, because evil has no attraction for us. He tempts us with things that are good, but gets us to pursue those goods in unhealthy and unholy ways.

This is why St. Paul doesn’t say, “don’t drink wine,” but “don’t get drunk on wine.” Because wine is not the ultimate good. The buzz that we get from drinking, or the thrill that we get from sex, or the high we get from drugs, are not the ends we ought to be seeking. When we seek out these things for the pleasure they give us, we are spending ourselves in the pursuit of that which is fleeting and temporary and can never really satisfy us. That only leads to disappointment and destruction because these things were never meant to be the source of our happiness. St. Paul is saying, “Don’t waste your time gorging yourself on worldly pleasures that were never intended to satisfy you. That’s foolish. You were made for more.”

So why then does Wisdom say, “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed?” Because food and wine are natural symbols for us. We are bodily creatures. Our bodies need nourishment. So we have an innate desire to pursue food and drink. Our bodies crave food like our minds crave truth. Wisdom specifically invites those who lack understanding to eat of her food and drink of her wine. She is saying, “You are empty, but I have what you need to be filled. Let me nourish you.” To eat the food and drink the wine of Wisdom is to “forsake foolishness” and “advance in the way of understanding” (Prv 9:6). What earthly food and drink (and other things we may be tempted to pursue for pure pleasure) can never provide, Wisdom can.

So who is Wisdom? How do we enter into her house? How do we come to her table and eat her food and drink?

The Church Fathers have always identified the Old Testament personification of Wisdom with Jesus Christ. He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word of God. In the original Greek of John’s gospel, Jesus is called the Logos of God. Logos is a philosophical term that refers to the principal of reason and judgment — in other words, wisdom. Jesus is incarnate Wisdom.

So if Wisdom is Jesus, then Wisdom’s house must be the Church. And when Wisdom says, “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed,” that can only mean one thing.

Jesus says, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (Jn 6:55-57).

True food. True drink. Not the stuff that temps us to gluttony and drunkenness. Not the stuff that sustains us for a while and leaves us hungry again. Not the stuff that promises only fleeting pleasure. No. Jesus offers us true nourishment. He offers the reality that these earthly signs point to. He offers us himself.

If you truly want to grow in wisdom during your college years, you must never neglect the Mass. Keep coming back to the altar of God. Wisdom has set her table for you. Come, eat and drink.