Blog # 264 Jn 6: 41 - 51
Recall John's stated purpose in writing his Gospel: "...that through faith you may have life in His name." (Jn 20: 31). Our present Gospel passage ends with Jesus stating: "I myself and the living bread come down from Heaven. If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever; the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world".
Almost two thousand years later, we Catholics sort of take these words of Jesus for granted as applied to the new life we receive in Baptism and the nourishment love and Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in the Sacrifice of the Mass, in our reception of Holy Communion and in the tabernacle. To the extent we take the words for granted we are not challenged confused shaken up or changed by this incident in the life of Jesus in the Sixth Chapter of John when He shared them with us for the first time. .
But if we transport ourselves back to the time when they were first spoken by Jesus and recorded by John, and place ourselves among the people who were hearing them for the first time, the picture changes. We ask ourselves what could these words of Jesus possibly mean?; what to they have to do with my relationship to God and Jesus and to the world and people around me?
We begin to get the feel of what it was like to wonder what Jesus was saying when He first spoke them almost two thousand years ago. We know it must be something important to Him and to us, but yet we might feel a bit uncomfortable with the words, or not altogether confident that we heard and understood them correctly. These were the same feelings of the people and even possibly of John when Jesus spoke them for the first time.
As a result they were challenged by them. Some argue with Jesus and question His right to speak to them in the name of God. The discussion continues. Jesus does not back away from the point He has tried to make, and the truth He has tried to share. He presses it again and again. "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
Here are a few points to remember as we continue to reflect upon the sixth Chapter of John.
There is something God wants to say to us today as we read Chapter 6 that is the same as God wanted to say to the people who actually heard Jesus speak the words, and the people living at the same time as John who read them, as we do. In Chapter 6 we are dealing with a very important incident in the life of Jesus and in the retelling of that incident by John. It is a crisis moment for Jesus and His disciples. At the Chapter's end large numbers of the people will desert Him precisely because of this incident.
If it were not true, I would have a difficult time imagining the situation we have here in the US today with regard to the fact that not only a majority but almost all but a few of the many many Christian communities claiming to base their relationship with God through Jesus on the Bible join themselves with those who walked away from Jesus in response to the claim and promise He made in the 6th Chapter of St. John and we can read today in the King James version of the Bible.
I remember from years ago receiving a letter in the mail and on different occasions being given Bible tracts on the subject of the Last Supper from Pastors and members of various churches in the small towns where I was serving as a priest 'correcting' me with regard to my Catholic interpretation of the words "flesh " and "blood " as literally true rather than as mere symbols. It reminded me of the case of the Pharisees who were mere human creatures of God so regularly telling Jesus, (Who was God,) what God should be doing with the Sabbath and with the Bible of their day. And that would be like the clay telling the potter what he should be doing with the clay rather than the clay receiving from the potter what it should be.
Jesus was always trustworthy honest and clear in defence of His divinity. He told Pilot that God could send down legions of angels to defend Him from the threats and His rejection by the Pharisees if Jesus had asked his Father to do this. When Jesus was riding triumphantly into Jerusalem the final week of His historical life on earth some of the people and the children shouted out in acclamation of Him as King. Some others complained that Jesus should stop them from this because it sounded like they were acknowledging Him as divine. Jesus did not stop them but rather proclaimed if the children did not do this the stones would cry out.
In the light of the courage of Jesus as one of us, and in the light of His absolute power over creation, His divine wisdom , His complete obedience to the Father in all things He ever said and did, and His trustworthy total love for the Father and for us, we can easily and with our utmost praise and thanks receive as true the words of Jesus the Pharisees regarded as blasphemy.
If Jesus intended to mean 'symbol' I think He would have said symbol. I proclaim His words with well gounded faith joy confidence praise and trust. I am deeply saddened by what happened in the incident we are discussing in Chapter 5 and 6 of John. I am saddened too that after many Centuries people whose forebears shared the faith of Peter are now
passing down from generation to generation a gift of a symbol rather than the actual and real bloody Sacrifice of His Body and Blood on Calvary, presented Sacramentally at the Last Supper, and celebrated and received by those who did believe and those who today believe His words were and are trustworthy and literally true.
"There is no greater love anyone can have than to lay down one's life for a friend. ". "This is my Body given for you... This is my Blood poured out for you.....Do this". Peter said "To whom shall we go. We have come to believe you have the words of eternal life." Thomas fell to his knees and said: "My Lord, and My God."