Do you enjoy magic shows? I do – they are just a lot of fun. Many years ago, as part of a white water rafting trip, we spent several days in Las Vegas. I took the opportunity to see one of the big-time, over-the-top, oh-my-gosh-how-did-he-do-that magic shows. I am totally willing to suspend scientific inquiry long enough to accept the invitation, enter the moment, and be totally entertained. It is part mystery, part force of personality, coupled with flair, a sense of the dramatic, and showmanship that makes it enjoyable. Of course I was sitting next to a curmudgeon who kept leaning over to whisper, “I know how he did that.” Since he was unwilling to leave the realm of knowledge and disbelief behind, he was not inclined to accept the performer’s invitation, did not enter into the mystery, and was unchanged by it all.
Maybe that is one of the legacies of the scientific age in which we live. We want to dissect things, figure out how they work, put them back together – and now we control them, have power over them. I admit there is a part of me that likes to know how things work, why things are like they are, and a whole host of other quasi-scientific inquiries. But there are some things that are outside the realm of science. Consider a kiss. Are you interested in the mystery of it, or do you want an explanation of it?
Why in the world would anyone want to explain a kiss? Who would even think about such things? The answer to that last question is Dr. Sheldon Cooper, one the quintessential scientist of our age…even if he is a character on the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” A couple of years ago the topic of a kiss came up. The question was raised by longtime “girlfriend” Amy Farrah Fowler who, unkissed by Sheldon, invited him to the scientific experience of the kiss. Sheldon offered that he already knew everything there was to know about a kiss. Of course when asked, “Sheldon, have you ever kissed a girl?” he reveals that he has – but then the list included his mother, grandma, sister and an elderly nun he had to resuscitate who had passed out from heat exhaustion. He noted that scientists already know everything there is to know about kissing – he then proceeded to explain the facial musculature and other dynamics needed to properly execute a kiss. There are limits to what knowledge and science can explain. And so Sheldon passed on Amy’s invitation to enter the mystery of a kiss and have his life forever changed.
That is at the core of our readings today. We are invited beyond knowledge, invited into the mystery, so that our lives are forever changed. It is not that complicated.
Our gospel today is not all that complicated. There was a miracle. Jesus took a limited amount of food supplies – five loaves and two fish – “….and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.”A miracle of bread and fish … for hungry people, …who accepted the invitation and whose lives were changed.
This is a miracle so important that it is the only miracle account that appears in each one of the four gospels – and yet the one in which some people are most likely to want to explain away – to be Sheldon Cooper, ignore the invitation, and never experience the mystery. Sheldon Cooper would be the curmudgeon who kept leaning over to whisper, “I know how he did that. People of that era traveled with a bit of food tucked away in their cloak or pouch; the force of Jesus’ personality inspired people to share what they had saved for themselves alone.”
So much for mystery. This was just a show in which the core dynamic is not divine power, but is the force of personality, flair, sense of the dramatic, and showmanship that moves the people. It is as though Jesus is part motivational speaker, part showman. I guess if we are reducing Jesus to a magician’s act, I guess we will need to reduce the whole “looking up to heaven…blessing….” breaking and giving as just part of the show – and not a prayer to his Father in heaven. But all of this is to not accept the invitation and enter into the mystery of it all.
Dr. Sheldon Cooper is not the only brilliant person out there. How about St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and the preeminent theologian who wrote volumes on the Eucharist. But knowing was not enough for St. Thomas. He wanted to fully experience the Eucharist, this divine kiss from God, to be taken in and lost fully, wholly and passionately in the embrace of God. He accepted the invitation one day and was taken up into an ecstatic trance during the middle of his celebration of the Eucharist – sweep up in the love of God. He came from that experience, went to the Scriptorium and told his scribes to destroy all his texts because his words were all rubbish – they did not come close to describing the miracle of the Eucharist. St. Thomas was forever changed. His scholarly works gave way to the poetry of Tantum Ergo and Pange Lingua.
Such things as kisses, love, miracles and the Eucharist are not the things of showmanship, research, and scientific inquiry. In the end they are beyond the category of knowledge and eventually you have to experience the depth of the kiss, the embrace – and be forever changed.
And you have the same invitation today, on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, to enter into the miracle that still happens every day. Right here and wherever people gather in His name; to receive the Bread that comes down from heaven and continues to be broken and shared; to receive the Blood of our salvation that continues to be poured out for us all. Like the hungry people on the hillside that day in Galilee, we are invited to eat our fill – full measure, packed down, overflowing. This miracle lies at the very heart of our faith.
Here is what I can tell you: accept the invitation, enter into the miracle and be forever changed. Amen.