My Flesh for the Life of the World

All of the signs are there

You’ve seen the crowds grow larger by the day, following one man. You’ve seen him heal the blind, the deaf, and the mute. You’ve seen him cure the sick. You’ve heard his great teachings. You’ve seen him walk on water. All of the signs are there: Jesus of Nazareth is the one to follow. You’ve been sure for weeks now. Your heart is pumping. You’re talking about him with everyone. You have been reading the Scriptures more frequently, reviewing what Isaiah and the other prophets wrote about the Messiah.

You Can’t Put Your Finger on It

You haven’t talked with Jesus yet, but you feel a connection there. The words he uses, the way he speaks, the manner in which he conducts himself. He has such a powerful way about him. But you haven’t been able to put your finger on it just yet. You just know you want to be near him and learn from him. He is different, a man set apart from the rest. This man has stirred your heart and mind like no other person has ever done.

It’s So Confusing

And, now, he is introducing a brand-new teaching. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). He is telling everyone that the bread to which he is referring is his flesh. While you begin to process this, those around you quarrel. People are outraged but are mainly confused. So, Jesus gets more specific and emphatic. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (53, 55). Whoa! Jesus of Nazareth wants to give his flesh and blood as food and drink.

Too Hard to Accept

This realization spreads through the crowd. It is such a large gathering, and it takes a while for everyone to hear what’s been said. Slowly, people start to leave. “This is a hard teaching…who can accept it?” (60) is what you hear some of them say as they turn away from Jesus. And, you agree, this is a hard teaching. But, you haven’t moved, and aren’t planning on leaving just yet.

You look over at Jesus’ closest disciples. You notice a very perplexed Peter. Jesus asks them if they are leaving, too. Peter says, with probably a dazed and confused look, “Lord, where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life” (68). When you hear these words come from Peter’s lips, your heart skips a beat. You are thinking, ‘Has Jesus just been speaking the words of eternal life? Is this, in fact, a message from heaven? Could this be true? Is he really going to give us his flesh to eat? And, will it get us to heaven? Is this the newest, most radical teaching from God? Do I believe what I am hearing?’

What Would You Do?

This is the beginning of the pamphlet I wrote years ago, “C.O.O.L.,” which has been in the vestibule of our church for a while. My goal was to place you (and any reader) in the scene of John 6 which is the Gospel for today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). You’ve heard this Gospel passage many times, but what would it have been like to be there when it was first heard by anyone? Would you have been with the crowd, and rejected the “hard” teaching? Or, would you have been with the Apostles and stayed with the Lord because Jesus has the “words of eternal life”? Please meditate on this.

Two significant points from this scene which is known as the Bread of Life Discourse

  1. The Jewish crowds took Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist literally. They had a pretty visceral reaction to all the talk about flesh and blood – they quarreled, grumbled, etc. When Jesus heard this, he didn’t back off; in fact, he went deeper. He repeatedly referred to his flesh and blood: “flesh” five times, and “blood” four times. And, when he said we must eat his flesh, he actually used the word, “gnaw” (“whoever gnaws on my flesh”). After hearing all of this, the crowds decided to leave the Lord. They rejected the Savior. They walked away from salvation. They did all of this over the teaching of the Eucharist. How many Catholics have done the same whether knowingly or not?
  2. Jesus didn’t stop them from leaving. He didn’t say, “Wait, hold on. I wasn’t speaking literally.” In John 3, he does this with Nicodemus. When Jesus teaches Nicodemus about baptism and being “born from above,” Nicodemus thinks this means for a man to literally “reenter his mother’s womb and be born again.” The Lord basically said, “No, I wasn’t speaking literally. I meant to be ‘born of water and Spirit.’ He doesn’t make this correction with the crowds in John 6 because he was speaking literally about the Eucharist.

Both of these points help us considerably to interpret John 6 as a literal teaching. So, what we celebrate today and every time at Holy Mass is really and truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ!

As we honor our fathers today and thank God for all the daily bread they have provided us, we thank our Heavenly Father for the greatest sustenance which is the Bread of Life.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg