Friday, April 15, 2016

Lamb of God Sacrament

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The Gospel Reading for April the 15,
Friday of the Third Week of Easter
John 6:52-59 ~ Jesus Concludes His teaching on the Bread of Life

52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?” 53 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. 54 Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55 For my Flesh is true food and my Blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him. 57 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. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 59 These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Jesus has been teaching the Jews who witnessed the miracle feeding of the more than the 5,000 the day before. They are at the Synagogue at Capernaum on the Sabbath, and He has told them that He is the “I AM” who is the “Bread of Life.” The Jews were shocked by Jesus’ announcement that His Flesh must be eaten and that they must also drink His Blood in order to have life. He is speaking literally and sacramentally, and He is using extremely strong language in the different verbs for “to eat” in the dialogue. In the earlier part of the dialogue (verses 49-53), Jesus uses the normal Greek verbs for “eat or consume” = “phago/ephagos.” He continues using the normal verbs for “eat” until, becoming frustrated with the people’s lack of understanding in verse 52 where He increases the intensity of His words in verse 54 as He abruptly changes the verb. Now, when He speaks about Himself in verses 54, 56, 57, and 58, He uses the verb whose Greek root “trogo” which means to “chew or gnaw.” This word is used in Greek literature to describe the feeding of animals, and it was not used in the 1st century to describe the eating habits of people. In chapter 6 this verb is used four times in the second half of the Bread of Life discourse and is used a 5th time in John 13:18. In every case the verb “trogo” it is used in connection with Christ. It is clear that the use of this verb marks a change of emphasis from ordinary eating to the necessity of faith in the consumption of the Eucharist. The graphic and almost crude connotation of this verb adds even greater force to the repetition of Jesus’ words as He demands we express our faith by eating in a real and physical way His Body and by consuming in a real and physical way His Blood in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.

The other shocking element of Jesus’ discourse for the Jews is what He told them they must do in order to have eternal life in eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood. It was a violation of the Law of God. From the time that Noah and his family were first given permission kill and eat animals after the great Flood, consuming raw flesh or drinking blood was prohibited as a violation of the covenant. The restriction is given by divine command nine times in the Old Testament (Gen 9:3-4; Lev 9:4; 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12, 14; 19:26; Dt 12:16, 23-28). The reason is that in God’s divine plan for mankind’s salvation, He had given blood as the means of atonement for sins: “Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made for your own lives, because it is the blood, as the seat of life, that makes atonement. That is why I have told the Israelites: no one among you, not even a resident alien, may partake of blood” (Lev 17:11-12; also see Heb 9:7, 22). In the liturgy of worship at God’s holy altar the command was: “… there you must offer both the flesh and the blood of your holocausts on the altar of the LORD, your God, of your other sacrifices the blood indeed must be poured out against the altar of the LORD, your God” (Dt 12:27). Only the roasted or cooked flesh of ritually “clean” animals could be consumed as part of worship in communion sacrifices for the people or sin sacrifices that the priests ate (Lev 6:17-19; 7:11, 15). Even in their communities when they killed animals and ate their cooked flesh, the blood had to be poured out on the ground (Dt 12:20-25). So important was this prohibition under the law that anyone who violated the law was excommunicated from the covenant people (Lev 17:14).

But was Jesus speaking literally or figuratively? Many of Jesus’ disciples certainly thought He was speaking literally and could not accept that He was asking them to violate a prohibition that would effectively separate them from the Sinai Covenant: “Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ (Jn 6:60), and “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (6:66). The point is Jesus didn’t stop them from leaving. Had he been speaking symbolically, He wouldn’t have let them leave believing a lie. He didn’t stop them because He literally meant “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” (verses 54-55). It was Jesus’ intent to separate those who believed Jesus was the Son of God and divine Messiah from the Old Covenant. Those who believed were going to receive a New and eternal Covenant promised by the prophet Jeremiah in the 6th century BC and by Jesus at the Last Supper. At the Last Supper Jesus offered what was promised in the Bread of Life Discourse when He gave those present His Flesh and Blood in a communal meal that signaled the end of the sacred meal of the Passover and the beginning of a new sacred meal in a new and eternal covenant (Jer 31:31-34; Lk 22:19-20).

When Jesus challenged the Apostles saying, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn 6:67), St. Peter’s response was “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69). They all stayed, including Judas who stayed but didn’t believe.

In which camp do you stand? Have you walked away from Christ in the Eucharist like the former disciples who refused to believe, or do you come to the Eucharist believing that you are receiving the Real Presence of Christ, His true Body and Blood, in the Eucharist as a foretaste of everlasting life like Peter and the other Apostles, or are you like Judas who stayed but didn’t really believe? Resolve to be a Peter and not a Judas. Believe and receive the promises of Jesus Christ that lead to eternal life!

For a more complete teaching on the Bread of Life Discourse, see the study on the Gospel of John chapter 6: .
 Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016