Solemnity Of The Body And Blood Of Jesus
JOHN 6:51-58 (Deuternomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
The gospel reading for the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus is part of a major dis-course attributed to Jesus in chapter six of the Gospel of John. This chapter, or parts of it, is known by various names: the Bread of Life Discourse, the Eucharistic Discourse. It is a long meditation on Old Testament themes that climaxes in the strongest affirmation of the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Jesus. It is not just a symbol of his body and blood but the real body and blood of the crucified and now risen Jesus. The title, Bread of Life Discourse, especially describes verses 25 to 51a. The title Eucharistic Discourse is more appropriate for verses 51-58, the gospel of this day’s liturgy.
John’s meditation begins with two miracles. In the Gospel of John miracles are called ‘signs,” because they are clues to or signs of the identity of Jesus. The two miracles: the first is the feeding of five thousand with a few loaves of bread and a few fish in the wil-derness. It was a popular belief that when the Messiah arrives, the manna which fed the Israelites in the wilderness would be renewed. John sees the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness as the renewal of the manna. Therefore this ‘sign’ is a proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. John next portrays Jesus walking on the water in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. In the Old Testament only God is said to walk on water, as we see in Psalm 77:19; Job 9:8; Isaiah 43:16. This ‘sign’ is therefore John’s proclamation that Jesus is God. Just in case that point is missed, Jesus identifies himself in that scene as the I AM, the ancient personal name of God revealed in Exodus 3:14.
With this background of proclamation that Jesus is Messiah and God, John can safely proceed to proclaim some of the most difficult theology in all of the New Testament. To remind hearers of the absolute certainty of the faith he proclaims the author repeatedly affirms the truth of what he says, when he swears, always in a double form, by another ancient biblical name of God, the Amen! See Isaiah 65:16, a title also applied to the risen and glorified Jesus in Revelation 3:14. John proceeds in three steps. Basic to these three steps is the story of the manna, the Bread from Heaven by which Moses fed the Israelites in the wilderness. In Deuteronomy 8:3 the authors of that book give a new spin to the manna, that it represented the words of the Torah, the revelation given through Moses.
When Jesus is challenged by the crowd to repeat Moses’ great deed, he replies, “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven. My Father is giving you (right now) the true bread from heaven.” For John, the “true bread from heaven” is the revelation Jesus brings from the Father and is being revealed even as John composes this gospel. Thus John completes the first of three steps climaxing in a third step, that Jesus’ flesh and blood consumed in the Eucharist is the true bread from heaven.
John begins the second step with Jesus’ statement, “I am the bread of life.” Meaning: not only does John claim that the revelation Jesus brings from the Father is the true bread from heaven, (thus the first step), but Jesus himself as the final revelation of God is the true bread from heaven. This is not yet the Eucharist, but rather Jesus as God’s final revelation to the world. This step was made easier by Deuteronomy 8:3 cited above, that the manna represented the words of the revelation Moses brought to the Israelites, and by John’s claim in the opening of his gospel that Jesus is the Word of God, the ultimate rev-elation from God. This concept was made biblically possible through Isaiah 55:10-11, where God affirms through the prophet that “my word which goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish that which I intend and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Thus moving from words as revelation to Word as revelation.
After stating some objections to Jesus’ statements thus far, John proclaims that these rev-elations can be accepted only as a free gift of God, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” To those who accept this revelation, a promise is made,
“and I will raise him up on the last day.” Thus resurrection to eternal life is promised to those who accept the revelation Jesus brings and the revelation that Jesus is. Then John moves on the climactic revelation. He reviews the second step in this progressive revela-tion, as he portrays Jesus saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, that is, God’s ultimate Word to humankind.
Then the most difficult revelation of all three steps, “…the bread which I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.” John accepts that objecting to such a statement is reason-able, as he depicts critics saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” There is no backtracking, no attempt at an explanation, only a triple affirmation and under the secur-ity of the double oath attributed to the Messiah who is also God, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” It is not possible to construe such graphic statements as mere symbol. Small wonder therefore that this chapter ends by equating with “the son of Simon Isca-riot” those who deny the reality proclaimed in this Bread of Life/Eucharistic Discourse.