Nourished to Nourish – Friday, 3rd Week in Easter – Acts 9:1-20/ John 6:52-59
The bread of life discourse took place in the synagogue of Capernaum, a stone’s throw away from the home of Peter. Jesus has already declared that he is the bred of life (John 6:35) and reiterated that this bread is not just the bread that fills one’s stomach but a ‘living bread that assures us of eternal life….. IF we believe in Jesus.
As a concept, one may find it hard to mentally negotiate this teaching but when Jesus says that the bread that he gives is his flesh to bring life to the world; well, that creates a new set of challenges. Most of you who read or listen to this teaching are Catholics by convention. You have a faith that has been handed down. This teaching, of eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood doe not sound alarming, if not cannibalistic to you. That reality changes drastically for a person who embraces the Christian faith by conviction. Their acceptance of the body and blood of Jesus is truly one steeped in faith, for mentally they have accepted that they must partake of Jesus body and blood in order for them to have eternal life.
A study done several years ago among Catholics indicated that a large percentage of those interviewed admitted to receiving Holy Communion as merely ‘symbolic;’ as the body and blood of Christ. The teaching on the bread of life discourse is clear and unambiguous. There is no symbolism in the sacred species that we receive. Our acclamation of faith is in the response that we say when the priest offers us the body of Christ. The Amen that follows as our response is our “so be it,” our acceptance that this is truly Jesus. St Thomas captured our sometimes-faltering faith when he said, “senses cannot grasp this marvel, faith MUST serve to compensate. “
In presenting himself as the bread of life, Jesus says to us, “truly I tell you.” Notice that Jesus begins with an emphatic assurance. He pauses and stresses to tell us what he wants to communicate. He wants to assure us that what he says is a matter of truth and should weigh in heavily on any person who doubts the real presence of Jesus. It is the Lord who himself speaks this truth when he says, “truly I tell you.” But what follows is very important for Jesus declares that “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you can have no life in you.”
If you look at this text in its Greek translation Jesus uses the word “esthios” to describe the manner of eating; one that requires normal biting and chewing. But to make his point even clear he says in verse 55 “those who eat (trogos) my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day.” Note that when Jesus uses the word ‘eat’ the second time he no longer uses the word ‘esthios’ but now uses the word ‘trogos.’ Trogos indicates that one needs to eat like as if one’s life depended on this eating; that one had to munch and gnaw like a hungry animal would. This is what Jesus is telling us, eat me like your life depended on it.
Perhaps all this is a bit too much for many to understand or accept but Jesus does not water down his teaching (as we will be told in a few lines from the text of today) nor does he play to the gallery. He is emphatic! If you wish to have eternal life, if you wish to be raised on the last day then you must eat his flesh like as if your life depended on it.
Many years ago, one of my professors, while teaching and explaining this, threw up what I thought was a preposterous suggestion. I get what he says today because while it managed to shock me then, in doing so, he made his point crystal clear. He suggested the celebration of Holy Mass and the reception of the Eucharist be administered and celebrated only once a year. His point was that we would then long for that which we would be deprived of having. Jesus on the other hand wanted to nourish us daily so that being nourished by him, we could nourish others.
Blessed are those who come to his table every day ….