Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Jesus knows that his disciples are grumbling. They heard him say that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal life. They're grumbling b/c some seem to think that he means all this metaphorically. Like that time he talked about them being like sheep. Or that time he said they were all different kinds of soil that the seed of his Word fell upon. Some think this is all just a parable and that he's telling them that his teachings will sustain them if they will just treat his words like a daily meal, symbolic food to grow in wisdom. Others, the ones who were really listening to him, are disturbed. Deeply disturbed. Jesus didn't tell them that they must eat his flesh. He used the Greek word trōgōn. They must gnaw his flesh. Like a lion gnaws the flesh and bone of its prey. He knows that they are grumbling; so, he asks, “Does this shock you?” Now they are really worried. He continues, “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” John tells us, “. . .many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him.” Metaphors, symbols, parables. None of these brings eternal life. Only the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God can feed a soul hungry for salvation.
Our gospel reading this morning brings to an end the long lesson we call the “Bread of Life Discourse.” Jesus spends a great deal of time drawing together various lines of Old Testament thought and imagery to produce a picture of himself as the Lamb to be sacrificed for the salvation of the world. He pulls in the unleavened bread of Passover. He draws the exodus from slavery in Egypt and the manna that fed God's people in the desert. He colors his lesson with memories of exile, return, the bloody sacrifices of the temple. And then he concludes by shocking everyone with the most ridiculous claim, “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life. . .” We get the sense that most of those following him were with him in spirit until he utters this, this utterly revolting, impossible sentence. Is there anything more unclean to the Jews than cannibalism? Even touching a corpse, or just being in a tent with one requires seven days of ritual purification! Did this idea of gnawing on his flesh shock some of the disciples? You bet it did. And many of them simply walked away, returning to the lives they had left.
Watching many of his disciples walk away, Jesus asks the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” He knows that they do not want to walk away from him; he asks so that they can hear themselves say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” They will need to repeat this truth, hear themselves speaking this truth. The trials that lie must be met with tremendous courage and strength, with a deeply held faith and a firm grasp on hope. “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” This belief, this conviction cannot be sustained w/o substantial nourishment: prayer, fasting, fraternal love; the constancy of living day in and out in the knowledge that God's promises never fail. The lives we live right now cannot be lived in truth and goodness, cannot be beautifully lived without the Body and Blood that brings us to eternal life. So, we must gnaw his flesh and drink his blood. Metaphors, symbols, parables. None of these can bring life eternal. Only the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God can sustain us. Does this shock you? Do you too want to walk away? Or have you come to believe and are convinced that Christ is the Holy One of God? If so, prepare yourself for trials. And be prepared for the Cross. “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.”______________
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