15 June 2020

“My Flesh is Real Food”

This week we begin to open daily Mass and all three weekend Masses to a limited number.  As many of us prepare to receive the Body of Christ for the first time in weeks, it is a great time to review with prayer who, and not what, we receive in our celebration of the Eucharist.  Last Monday we reflected on whose Word consecrates the bread into the Body of Christ.  This week, we reflect upon Jesus’ own teaching.

Yesterday we heard a portion of the Gospel of John’s Bread of Life Discourse.  Take time this week to prepare for Mass by prayerfully reading all of Chapter 6 in John’s Gospel.  It is a masterpiece on its own.  Where the other Gospels tell us the details of Jesus’ words instituting our Liturgy of the Eucharist at the Lord’s Supper, John takes a different approach.  It is likely John wants us to hear and experience the details of Jesus’ words and actions at Mass and with a community.  Instead, John provides Jesus’ own teaching on the Eucharist, and reveals the institution of the Eucharist was an integral part of Jesus’ teaching and proclamation of the Kingdom.

John tells us in the introduction to His Gospel that the Word became flesh and gave Life to the world.  It is in Chapter 6 that John explains this in detail.  John places Jesus’ Bread of Life teaching in the context of the Mass.  Jesus is on a mountain, sitting and surrounded by His disciples, in the classical position of a teacher.  The crowds come up the mountain to Him, repeating the biblical theme of God’s people rising up on God’s Holy mountain to encounter God who comes down to be with them.  This is precisely what happens in the first half of our Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, in Johns time, as in our own.  Jesus’ teaching is followed by His miraculous feeding of the crowds through the multiplication of the loaves, a reference to the second half of our Mass, ancient and modern, the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The crowd finds Jesus in Capernaum the next day, seeking more bread.  Jesus takes the moment to teach on the gift of His Body as the food of eternal Life.  Echoing His teaching on Baptism to the woman at the well, Jesus promises the food He will give endures forever.  When the crowds ask for this bread, Jesus replies, “the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

This sets off controversy and crisis in the crowd.  Is Jesus suggesting they truly eat His flesh?  “How can a man give us his flesh to eat?”  The idea is disturbing on a purely human level, and prohibited on a religious level – eating flesh and blood being unlawful under the Covenant.

At this point Jesus has every opportunity to explain.  If He is merely using symbolic language, He now has the moment to clarify, to explain how His teaching is LIKE food for life, or spiritual sustenance for eternity.  Instead, Jesus does something purposefully shocking.

Jesus begins, “Amen, Amen I say to you,” His call to pay attention.  “Whoever gnaws on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal Life . . . for my flesh is real food, and my blood real drink.  Whoever gnaws on my flesh . . . remains in me and I in him.”  Given the opportunity to tone it down a little and say He is speaking symbolically, Jesus goes intentionally and dramatically in the opposite direction.  Jesus uses language suggesting the gnawing, ripping, and tearing of a ravenous animal.

The result?  The crowd walks.  They clearly understand Jesus to mean eating His flesh in the literal sense.  It is a crisis moment for the Kingdom.  It is a decision point for the Twelve.  Jesus asks them, “Do you also want to leave?”  Peter breaks the silence, “We believe and are convinced you are the Holy One of God.”

We arrive at the same decision point each Mass.  Jesus’ goes to great pains to leave no doubt that He is not speaking symbolically, that He offers us His own flesh to eat.  If we are to rise with Jesus’ resurrected body to communion with the Trinity, we must be one with His body through eating His flesh.  In our own private moment of Adoration, the Body of Christ is elevated before us, and we are given our opportunity to break the silence with our “Amen,” our “Yes, I believe.”


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