June 18, 2017
In the opening verse, Jesus identifies himself as the bread from heaven. In the next verse, he states that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has life eternal. The fact that the Jews quarreled among themselves at this statement should not be a surprise. The word that Jesus used, translated as “eats” here, would carry a sense of gnawing, as a dog with a bone. Drinking blood was prohibited within the Jewish community. It should not be surprising that some of the Jews who were hearing this questioned his teaching. Questions in John’s gospel usually present an opportunity for Jesus to further explain his teaching.
Jesus explains, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:51) In case they missed the point, Jesus restates this point three more times (verses 53, 54, and 55). The expression “flesh and blood” was to describe a human person. For those Jesus is addressing, the term “flesh and blood” would also call to mind the animals that were ritually slaughtered as offerings to God–including offerings made throughout the year, but especially those made as part of the Passover observance. Jesus is describing himself as the lamb that was killed and had its blood drained so that it could be used as a sacrificial offering. This same connection will be made later in John’s gospel when he places the hour of Jesus’ death at about the time when the lambs were being killed for the Passover observance.
For John’s community, Jesus is their food and drink. Because John’s gospel is the last of the four gospels to be written, those in the community have had more time to reflect on the significance of the Jewish tradition in Jesus’ life and teaching. The experience of God feeding the Jews in the desert is a springboard to help them understand God’s new revelation in Jesus. It is not enough to believe in Jesus, or even to ritually participate in the new customs of the Christian community. They are seeking to understand how God is continuing to nourish with God’s real presence on this new journey.
Departing from Matthew, Mark and Luke, John’s gospel does not have a Last Supper account before his passion and death. Therefore, Jesus’ instruction here about being the Body and Blood that gives eternal life is not tied as directly to Eucharist. It is a much broader and pervasive reality than just Eucharist.
- What is your thinking of bread, what memories come to mind when you think of bread?
- What memories do you have of wine?
- What images come to mind when you think of flesh? What images come to mind when you think of blood?
- Have you ever had periods when you did not get enough to eat? How far back would you have to go in your family to note a generation that truly worried about not having enough to eat? How do you think that experience affected them?
- Have there been times in your life when you felt a hunger or a thirst that was not about food or drink?
- Why would John take the time to note that the Jews quarreled among themselves over Jesus’s teaching?
- Are their aspects of God’s relationship with us that you have quarreled about?
- What are the things that nourish your soul, and your spirit?
- What does this say to you about God’s desire for you?
- Can you take some time now or later today to speak to God about what this text is saying to you at this time of your life?
The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.