All that Jesus has been building up to is now coming to a climax. Any silent shock of disbelief or quiet murmuring has now escalated. The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his Flesh to eat” (Jn 6:52)? Jesus hears the growing concern and disbelief. If he was speaking in a figurative or symbolic way, this would be the moment to clarify his point.
Jesus does speak, but he does not walk back or qualify his comments. Jesus doubles down: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you do not have life within you” (Jn 6:53). Jesus does not only repeat that his disciples are to eat his Flesh but he also insists that they are to drink his Blood. Drinking or even eating meat with the blood of an animal was inconceivable for devout Jews. Also, the Greek used here in John’s Gospel for eating, is trogein, which is used to describe how an animal eats, by gnawing and tearing at the flesh. The imagery that Jesus is using here is more graphic than the customary use of phagein, which would be used for chewing, as a human would chew their food.
Jesus continues to make his point that whoever does eat his Flesh and drink his Blood, will not only remain in him, but also Jesus will remain in them, and they will have eternal life. A wonderful end goal, but would any be able to make the leap of faith to get there? In tomorrow’s Gospel reading we will be able to see the response to Jesus’ claims.
Almost two thousand years later, we continue to have the opportunity to celebrate Jesus in our midst. This happens through participating in the source and summit of our faith, the Mass. Our hearts have the opportunity to be set on fire as we hear the word proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word, and then Jesus is made known to us in the breaking of the bread in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We are invited to experience an intimate encounter with the Son of God, as we consume him, Body, Soul, and Divinity.
That so many of us are unable to do so now because of the quarantine does not dismiss that this sacred event is still happening. We can receive Jesus through spiritual communion as we watch the Mass live-streamed and pray the Act of Spiritual Communion prayer.
The thought of eating the Flesh and Blood of Jesus may sound just as bizarre as it did to Jesus’ followers. The term we have for this miraculous transformation of bread and wine is transubstantiation. What happens at the calling down of the Holy Spirit and when the words of institution are invoked by the priest is that the substance, the reality, of the bread and wine is transfigured into the Body and Blood of Jesus, while the accidental form or appearance remains the same. So we consume Jesus’ unbloody, acceptable sacrifice.
Jesus is giving all of who he is of himself corporally, fully, holding nothing back of himself so we can receive all of him. In consuming Jesus, we become what we eat, “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh” (cf. Genesis 2:23), we become divine as he permeates our whole being. We are then dismissed at the end of the Mass to go, like Mary, to bear Jesus Christ, to love others as Jesus loved us, by giving of ourselves to others as he has given himself to us. This is the Good News we are called to proclaim. Jesus is risen, he has risen indeed, and he has not left us orphans but remains with us now and for all ages!
Photo: Our tabernacle which is in the chapel at Cardinal Newman High School. Jesus is present to us in the consecrated hosts within. I miss beginning my school day looking at Jesus as he looks back at me!