Thursday, 16 August 2012

This week's Sunday Gospel: Jn 6.51-58

More bread of life!
At a cursory glance, this week’s Gospel, John 6.51-58, looks much the same as the past few doses. Jesus tells us, yet again, that He is the bread of life, the living bread which comes from heaven, not the manna given by Moses but the bread that gives eternal life, yada, yada. You’d think we’ve got the message by now.
But the point of this passage is that by and large, we haven’t. No matter how many times Jesus told his listeners, they really didn’t get the message. And so this time, when Jesus tells them that the bread that He will give is his flesh, they think he’s talking nonsense. “How can this man give his us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus hears them, and answers even more strongly before. He had just told them that they must eat his flesh, using the typical Greek word phagein. But now, in verse 53, reiterating and emphasising, he uses another word: trogein, ‘chew’ or ‘gnaw.’  Most translations just leave it as ‘eat,’ but surely Jesus is using a different word because he wants to make a point: you’ve not just got to eat my flesh, but to chew on it – because, as he says in verse 55, his flesh is ‘real meat.’
This is not to say that the bread of life which we receive in the Eucharist is a lump of bleeding meat just disguised as bread. Whatever you may have heard, no church has ever taught that this was so – indeed, the Catholic Church has always disavowed such an understanding (St Thomas Aquinas pointedly so). But we are called to believe that Jesus’ body is really and truly present in that bread, even if in a way which surpasses our understanding. For it is by eating His real flesh and drinking His blood, as He says in verse 56, that we dwell in Him and He in us.
The paradox is that by consuming Christ, we are simultaneously consumed by Him, and our humanity is thus assumed into His divinity.  So spend a little time before this Sunday’s Mass, if you can, preparing to partake of that living bread, calling to mind those parts of you that you have not yet let Christ consume, and let yourself be drawn ever closer into mystical union with God.

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