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 eat 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 daily the person of 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 we are to eat 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 the words of institution which 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 corporally, fully, holding nothing back of himself so we can receive all of him. In consuming Jesus, 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 ourselves to others, we will also experience Jesus in each other. For what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him (cf. Mt 25:40).
Jesus is risen, he has risen indeed, and he has not left us orphans but remains with us now and for all ages! We are alive, because the Bread of Life lives within and among us! Amen. Alleluia!
Photo: Our tabernacle in the chapel at Cardinal Newman High School. In experiencing Jesus in his precious Body and Blood we are better able to experience him in each other.