Avatar – Arnel Aquino, SJ

John 6:63-68, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time


I was watching a talk show the other night. The host did his usual stand-up comedy routine to open the show. He started out, making jokes about Trump and his addiction to Twitter. Then he joked about people who made the stupid mistake of posting pictures on Facebook that got them fired. Then, getting more serious, he said: “We really live two lives. There’s the real us; the person in the kitchen, or a bar, who speaks like a human with trusted friends. And then there’s what I call our avatar. Our avatar looks and sounds like us, but is not really us. It’s the persona we adopt in any public sphere, which now includes your ‘followers’ on Twitter and Instagram and thousands of friends on Facebook. As you know, bad things go viral, so everyone fears any misstep that could cause people to point &and scream at you online. Yet, today we crave any kind of authenticity because our avatars are just full of ‘fakeness.'” Then, smiling at the camera, he finally said, “So, folks, if you wanna know who someone really is, ignore their avatar, and check their web browser history!”

Since the first Sunday of August up to today, we’ve been hearing Jesus tell his friends that he is the bread of life; that his body must be eaten and his blood drunk, because whoever doesn’t will not have life eternal—over and over again. Many biblical scholars say that Jesus was really convinced that his body and blood were bread and wine to be consumed. That’s why we don’t regard host and wine at mass as merely “metaphors.” No; we believe in the Lord’s Real Presence in the bread and wine. Well, in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ friends have just about had it with him. “This is a hard teaching,” they finally said. “Who can accept it?” So, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” In other words, Jesus of Nazareth finally got a taste of being unfriended.

Maybe the Lord wouldn’t have been “unliked” if only he tried to “message” the truth in a more user-friendly way. An avatar would’ve been good; a pleasing, public persona. The avatar would show and say just the right stuff and not give too much information away. Like, if Jesus wanted to tell people to “eat my flesh and drink my blood, otherwise you will have no life within you,” he should have mentally photoshopped that first before downloading it onto his friends’ ears. You see, Lord, it’s all in the avatar. Your avatar must show only the best of you, the handsomest, muscular, brightest-faced, most-likeable aspect of you. With all due respect, Lord, you can’t tell your followers to “eat your body and drink your blood.” Even if your message is true, it will make you look ugly, or simply “out of your mind”.

Would we want to have many friends who follow us, like, and share us—even if we know that it’s only our avatar that they’re following, liking, and sharing? Or would we rather have a precious, close few who know what is photogenic but half-real in us, and also know the ugly but authentic about us—but still love us? You and I know that there are good and well-meaning people who live from day to day but as merely avatars, and many love and follow them because their avatars seem pleasingly authentic. On the other hand, there are also good and well-meaning people who go unvarnished and undisguised. They show and tell it like it is, and hate putting on a performance. But we avoid them and give them bad reviews. They’re too real for comfort. Worst, they remind us how far our own avatars have “excursioned” from who we really are.

Jesus was never one to create an avatar. His flesh being bread and his blood, wine—these were no memes or mere emoticons on his wall. He really understood himself as food and drink for everyone; because everyone goes hungry and thirsty, not just the holy, deserving few. Everyone. So, as food and drink, Jesus made himself available to all—in his entirely unvarnished, undisguised, naked self. Kung mamumuhay kayang muli si Hesus kapiling natin ngayon, in this day and age, magugustuhan kaya natin siya? If he lived as bread and wine for all back in the day, we might actually not want to eat and drink him today. We might actually dislike the company he would be today, for example, or the things he would say about us vis-à-vis the poor. We might not be loving how he would befriend our enemies, or eat and drink with corrupt politicians, or spend as much time with gays and lesbians like he spends with us. And because Jesus always keeps it real, he will trigger us into realizing how far our avatars have meandered away from who we really are. When he looks at us, we will know that he knows that our avatars are not as forthright as our web browser history.

And we will not be able to stand him. And we will turn away. Because in spite of ourselves, Jesus will still come over to us and offer himself as food and drink…to refresh us from our tiresome role-playing and impression-management. He knows that the only reason why we conjure avatars is because of deep, deep hunger. That’s why he offers himself as the one and only nourishment that will fill our hearts. And though we turn away, he will love us and love us and continue to love us—not just for who we are, but towards whom he wishes us to become. We can’t stand too much truth in Jesus because we can’t stand too much love.

Master, to whom else shall we go? You are the holy one of God. As the bread we eat and the wine we drink, you love us enough to become ours. You love us enough to become us.

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