The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."
Today we are in nearing the end of four weeks of reflections on the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. The Gospels the last two weeks, this week and next are all a continuation of John’s chapter on the meaning of the Eucharist. This is very unusual in terms of Church liturgy and doesn’t happen very often – usually the themes change every week. To devote four weeks to the Eucharist indeed stresses the importance that it must be in our lives. Then for the third week in a row we are asked to think about Jesus as the living bread that came down from heaven. The Gospel of St. John was very different from the other three Gospels because it was written later, and a theology of Jesus had had time to develop more fully, we can see the constant stress on Jesus as the one who came down from heaven.
In the very first chapter we hear that the Word became flesh. The Incarnation of Jesus that we profess in our Creed each week is very simply that God became one of us. What follows throughout the Gospel of John is a theological presentation of Jesus as this God-man, and an attempt to make sense out of it, an attempt to see the Wisdom in it. For what could seem more foolish than Jesus’ statement: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life within you”? Certainly anyone in their right mind would find these words ridiculous and foolish, as did his Jewish audience. Because of these statements, it was rumored for years that Christians were a bunch of cannibals! Where is the Wisdom in all of this?
Jesus gives us the ultimate food and drink in order that we can be close to our God – so close that he is within us. If we have really loved someone, we know that one of the qualities that love comes with is that we want to be with that person all the time. This is the closeness we are talking about and the closeness that Jesus is talking about: “Whoever eats my flesh remains in me and I in him.” But there is something more about this closeness – we don’t just get close to God when we take the Eucharist but we get close to each other, too. Because God comes into all of us, we are all united by that fact and we can truly say that we are one body.
The words that we have been hearing from Jesus about his body and blood come from a section of John’s Gospel, not at the last Supper, when you might think he would have said these things, but an earlier section where Jesus is teaching his followers. As we read them today we cannot help but pick up on the Eucharistic foreshadowing here. The question we might ask is that how could Jesus have spoken these words in the middle of his Ministry and expected them to be understood. Yet, everyone who reads John’s Gospel knows that there are 5 chapters devoted to the Last Supper without a mention of the institution of the eucharist.
Jesus tells us that through eating His flesh and drinking His blood: we are nourished and kept alive in faith; we are in communion with one another in the One Body of Christ; we are in union with God when we are in Communion with Jesus; and we are partaking of eternal food. Jesus is saying that all we have to do is believe in Him and we can have this miraculous sustenance.....but his listeners couldn't find it in themselves to trust Jesus' Divine Gift, and instead tried to analyze his words with human knowledge ("they quarreled amongst themselves, saying, "How can he give us his flesh to eat?")...........and that's precisely where they failed, for while knowledge is complex (and its debates will go on forever), wisdom is simple and for the simple......Jesus' Jewish audience listening to him as they were during this last week before his Passion, just couldn't yield to Jesus' Divine Wisdom.
So Jesus probably did not say these words at that particular time, but John uses this time to develop the Eucharistic concept. The listeners of Jesus ask: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? It is a question that could be asked today. And it was certainly still being asked when John was writing, 60 years after Christ’s death. The drinking of blood was forbidden to Jews, yet “eating the flesh of Jesus” and “drinking” his blood became a common way of describing the way we partake of the Eucharist.
Scholars believe that the language developed as a way to show the intimacy, the close relationship, the closeness of Jesus to those who choose to believe in him. So again, the Eucharist is all about closeness, our being close to our God, and our being close to each other. It is the food and drink that sustains us and brings us life. And not just life till we die, but life beyond this life. John sees the Eucharist not so much as a memorial of Christ’s death nor a continuation of the last supper, but as an extension of Jesus’ incarnation – God becoming man, God becoming close to us and then continuing to be close to us by this food and drink.
Let us this week meditate on the Wisdom of God and his ability to make him or herself part of our lives through his closeness to us – and how much closer can we be than partaking of our God and being the vessel for him.
Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)