Jesus said to the Jews:
‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’
Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’
Jesus said to the Jews:
“Finding God in Service and Eucharist” by Fr Raymond McIntyre SDB
Today’s Gospel Reading records Our Lord’s invitation to His Disciples to His Eucharist Meal. An invitation to a meal is a statement of friendship… a welcome to the family table and also some sharing in the family’s life. In welcoming everyone with open arms to His Eucharistic Meal, Our Lord is saying that He wants to share His life with them.
Symbols contain meaning and some symbols are recognised everywhere today. The golden arches of McDonald’s have become a symbol of quick service, cleanliness and quality fast-food just as the Holiday Inn Symbol, with its distinctive script is recognized for cheap, no-frills holiday accommodation world-wide.
However, for many people today, Religious Symbols have become meaningless. The small wafer and drop of wine used at Mass don’t speak to many people. Many young people have lost the language and vocabulary of Faith; they don’t see The Eucharist as a sacred Meal where the bread and wine are brought to the Altar to be offered as gifts of what the earth has given and human hands have made symbolizing our placing our entire existence into the hands of our Maker.
Of course God is not only to be found in the Eucharist. We must first find him in answering our neighbour’s cry for help and, perhaps, go on to find Him in the Eucharist, in His Word or in His Church. Some Gospel words come to mind here:
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you made me welcome, naked and you clothed me, in prison and you came to me”
In Albert Camus’s Novel, “The Fall” there’s a scene where a respectable lawyer, walking in the streets of Amsterdam, hears a cry in the night. He realizes that a woman has fallen or has been pushed into the Canal and is crying out for help. Thoughts come rushing through his mind… of course he must help, but… a respected lawyer getting involved in this way, what would the implications be… after all who knows what’s going on? By the time he has thought it through, it is too late. He moves on, making all kinds of excuses to justify his failure to act. And Camus says: “he did not answer the cry for help because he was the kind of man he was”
This day in the year 1815 a boy named John Bosco was born into a poor farming family in Northern Italy. Today, 200 years later, John Bosco’s answer to the cries for help of poor and abandoned young people continues to be met throughout our world by the Salesian Congregation he founded in 1859. Ordained a priest in 1841, in addition to his priestly duties, Don Bosco still found time to teach carpentry and shoe repairing, to write books on Literature, Religion and Mathematics, to find work for the young orphans he took into his care and run Sunday School with the help of like-minded friends.
When Don Bosco died on 31st of January 1888 he was mourned by the entire Church and was recognised as an outstanding authority on Education. He was a true friend of Youth who found God not only in the Eucharist which he valued so highly but also in meeting the needs of the poor and abandoned Youth of his time.
At one time or another, we have all had the same experience. Even if we do not expect much from life, it always seems that what we receive is less than what we expect. The feeling of being completely satisfied is rare and does not last long. Our day-to-day life leaves us disappointed, our best hopes are not met. The longer we live, the more we would like to live. It is true that we are able to buy what we want and we are satisfied with the things we like. However, this does not give us the happiness we desire, nor does it assure us of life in the days ahead. We need people more than we need bread, people who will stand close to us when we are in need. Even if we enjoy an abundance of good things, we still need tenderness and love, and these are precisely what Jesus offers in the Eucharist.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
This dialogue is part of a much longer discourse (Jn. 6, 1-58) which is of great importance in the fourth Gospel. After the multiplication of the bread as a sign (Jn. 6, 1-15), Jesus explains its significance in the discourse that follows (Jn. 6, 26-58). However, what he says does not clarify things but confuses his listeners. It raises difficulties that will require further clarification (Jn. 6, 52). A hitherto unheard-of element emerges in the discussion: it is not enough for his listeners to believe in him, they must also be nourished by him. The bread he offers is his flesh (Jn. 6, 51). The way to be united with Jesus now is very specific and very unusual. To believe is to eat; faith is nourishment.
The manna in the desert did not bring eternal salvation. They must eat the bread that comes down from heaven (Jn.6, 51). This bread is the flesh of Jesus (Jn. 6, 52), flesh which is given for the life of the world. (Jn. 6, 51).
When he is speaking of his own person, Jesus prefers to speak of his flesh, not of his soul (cf. Jn. 10, 11.15.17; 13, 37-38; 15,13). In John’s Gospel, flesh is the form of presence of the Logos in the world (Jn. 1, 14). The purpose of the incarnation is now revealed – redemption through the death of Jesus. The revelation of God is a task – to give his life for the life of the world.
Obviously, his listeners’ failure to understand leads to protest, even scandal. The difficulty lies in the statements made by Jesus. The Jews realize the profound meaning of what he is saying, and the proof of that is their difficulty in accepting it. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they ask.
The evangelist takes advantage of their objection to concentrate further on what Jesus has said. As usual, Jesus does not clarify the question. He repeats and develops what he has said, causing further scandal and rage. Eating and drinking have their function in preserving life. The difficulty here is the food that is needed to remain alive – the flesh and blood of the Son of Man. This is the way Jesus offers us to receive him. It accomplishes the function of giving life because it satisfies our hunger and thirst for life in a genuine manner – it is real food and real drink (Jn. 6, 55). It satisfies us because it is human, fragile and mortal. Flesh and blood refer precisely to the humanity of Jesus.
Drinking blood was something particularly revolting for the Jews. For them, blood is life and only God is master of life. The realism of the statement means that we must not spiritualize what Jesus says. The repeated use of the verb ‘eat’ (Jn. 6, 54.56.58) refers to the Eucharist in which we eat the flesh of Christ, the Lamb of God. He alone, through his flesh and blood, gives life that satisfies our hunger and thirst.
The life given by the body of Jesus is not transitory, as was that of the Israelites in the desert (Jn. 6, 58). Anyone who eats the flesh of Jesus remains in him, in his life (Jn. 6, 56). Instead of just assimilating it as food, anyone who eats his flesh remains in him. The one nourished remains in the food that nourishes. The relationship is one of immanence, not just of closeness. This is the definition of eternal life, present in whoever believes in Jesus and eats his flesh.
The relationship established between the believer who eats, and Christ the true food, is similar to the vital relationship that exists between the Father and the One he has sent. It is not one of identification or fusion, but of permanence through communion of life, and this life is precisely the link that unites the three: the Father, the source of life; the living Apostle sent by the Father, and the believer who will live because he is nourished with Him.
Jesus is not talking about a simple spiritual belonging. The faith required of the believer is not a sentimental awareness or disposition. It is an intimate union, a bodily reception, association by appropriation. a sharing at table with Christ. The people who eat at Christ’s table are not like the people of Israel who died after being nourished with manna.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
After the multiplication of bread, Jesus led his listeners to an acceptance of his person. The one who gave them bread in abundance is himself the bread that assures them of life. The man who one day saved them from hunger will save them from death forever. Jesus draws attention to the difficulty the Jews have in eating him: unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood they will not have the life that overcomes death. It is difficult to imagine: the assimilation of Jesus as a condition of salvation. This is more than just ideology or sentiment. It is not enough to accept his ideas and make his sentiments our own. It is a matter of dwelling in him, living through him and allowing his being, his flesh and blood, become the substance of our personal life. Only those who fail to understand will be scandalized. The real miracle was not that they had their fill of bread that perishes. The real miracle is having Christ as food and drink. He is our viaticum now and the banquet of eternal life.
Even if we have not bread to satisfy our need, Jesus offers himself in the gospel as the bread of life, and we can count on him always. It is not easy to accept Jesus as the food of our lives. We first of all have to experience the scandal that the Jews experienced that day when they heard Jesus saying that he himself was their bread and their life. It is very hard to believe that a man, even if he is divine, can satisfy all our needs and our most intimate desires. We are unable to believe that he can satisfy our hunger and meet all our needs. Our desires have become greater and almost unreachable. It seems that nobody is capable of meeting them completely. We forget that God, who made us with a desire for the infinite, and created us with all our imperfections, has given us a promise. He will not leave us unsatisfied forever. Jesus is the bread that satisfies our hunger for life.
His listeners understood well. What the Jews found difficult to accept was not the fact that he spoke of himself as the bread of life and life for the world. In the course of history, many people have claimed to be the definitive solution to all the evils that afflict society. The problem lay in the way that Jesus said he would satisfy their hunger. It was unheard of and unbelievable. Jesus is not just offering himself as an ideal of life to be followed, but as bread to be eaten. Unless we eat his body and drink his blood we cannot have life. Jesus promises to give life to anyone who dares to receive him bodily, and offers himself as daily sustenance to anyone who tries to live without fault.
It is normal to feel repugnance at Jesus’ proposal. It is all right for him to offer himself as the answer to our most intimate questions, or as a powerful help to resolve our problems. It would still be acceptable if he were to offer himself as a model for us to follow, or as a teacher from whom we can learn. But to claim that he is flesh that satisfies our hunger, or drink to quench our thirst for life, seems a bit too much! And yet we do well to listen to him, instead of continuing to nourish our life with new desires, and drinking from any source we find until we quench the thirst for life that is within us.
It makes no sense to continue to look for little things to satisfy us, which do nothing but prolong our hunger and our pain, when we know that he is the one who can satisfy our needs completely. We should at least try and see if Jesus can satisfy our hunger and thirst. We have nothing to lose by trying. We cannot control our desire for life, and the life we already possess is slipping away. If we try Jesus the bread of life, we will not be disappointed.
Before we fall into difficulty in trying to nourish ourselves with the body and blood of Jesus, we ought to see what exactly we need in life, what is the cause of our deepest dissatisfaction, and why do we seek to satisfy our hunger with desires that no one can satisfy. If there is no bread for these desires, then we condemn ourselves to death. The Jews were disappointed with Jesus because they were looking for bread, and they did not realize that he was offering them himself as the bread of life. They had no hunger for him, and consequently they did not accept him.
Sometimes we think that we need someone in life other than God. Christ remains for us the great unknown, unwanted bread. Only someone who hungers and thirsts for God can receive Jesus as viaticum, food for the journey. He is our food and sustenance, and guarantor of eternal life. But if we notice that Jesus is absent from our lives, we should not despair. He is accessible to all and it is for this that he has become bread. When we eat his body, we are filled with God. If we deprive ourselves of the Eucharist not only do we not alleviate our hunger, we make it worse. We know very well that mere participation in the Eucharist does not satisfy our needs, and frequent communion does not heal our weakness, but it eases it and makes it more bearable. Above all, it helps us to see that our weakness is not forever. Jesus did not promise to make life easier for us, but to give us another life, which is eternal. We can bear with our limits here because, if we eat his body, we are sure of a life without limits and without needs, forever. We can overcome our hunger if we do not neglect to nourish ourselves with the bread that God has given us to satisfy our needs – the body and blood of his Son.
It is a mistake to stay away from the Eucharist or to take part in Mass without approaching the Lord’s table. What would we say of someone who goes to a banquet and then does not sample even a morsel? Is it not strange to be hungry and not to eat? But this is what happens to a great number of Christians at Sunday Mass. They continue to nourish their hunger for God and to deepen their desire for life, while at the same time they lessen their desire for the bread of God, Christ in the Eucharist. No one has any right to complain about God, and no one can be happy as a Christian, if he fails to satisfy his hunger and thirst with Christ, the bread of life and drink of salvation. The certainty of resurrection after death depends on our acceptance of Christ in our lives. The pity is that our need is so great, and yet we do not make him our bread of life and the source of our resurrection. This is what he wants to be for us!
you have prepared for those who love you
what no eye has seen, no ear has heard.
Fill our hearts with your love,
so that, loving you above all and in all,
we may attain your promises
which the heart of man has not conceived.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Music used in the reflection: “Sunset” by Lee Rosevere (CC-BY-NC)