The Sine Qua Non: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood

A meditation for Corpus Christi 

The “that-without-which.” The indispensible, the absolutely required, the necessity: 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. [Jn 6:53] [1]

Let’s not beat around the bush.  When Jesus says “Take and eat; this is my body,” [Mt 26:26] this substance which looks like bread, tastes like bread, smells like bread…is no longer bread,…is no longer the proverbial duck.  It HAS BECOME Jesus’ body.

And He has instructed us to eat it.  This may initially seem repulsive, even cannibalistic, under the influence of which we may categorize it as unnecessary and optional…but that’s not what Jesus said.  And when Jesus speaks, God speaks.  And we better listen up…when God tells us to do something, we can refuse, but only with explicit and inevitably dire consequences. It is always to our benefit, to our greatest happiness, to listen and obey.

Likewise with the wine: Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. [Mt 26:28]  If we wish to be part of the New Covenant, part of the new relationship, the new bond, between God and His people, we better “drink from it,” this, His blood which He will/has shed for my sins, His obedience for my disobedience, His forgiveness for my self-serving insolence in the face of God’s goodness.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. [1 Cor 11:25]  Now let’s deal with the Pauline-Lucan version’s “remembrance” issue, perhaps the source of all the misconception that this was a play, a pantomime, a raising the glass to the memory of Jesus and that is that.

How one can be selective in what one believes of Jesus statements is baffling.  Either He’s Truth or He’s not.  Either He’s God or He’s not.  This smorgasbord “take what you like and leave the rest” may work in the Anonymous Programs, but when I deal with God, I am dealing with the one who created the world, who placed the laws of nature, of morality in my heart, in place for me to stumble over and discover, laws which were true when cast in Adam, are true now and will be true eternally, this is not a smorgasbord God, not a “take it or leave it” God, but a “take it because I AM and I say it’s the only real game in town” God.

Certainly there is an element of harkening back to the momentous moment in salvation history when God became present in a new way for the first time.  There is the aura of the impending passion and death woven into the very words of shedding blood.  There is the eminent recollection of the sacrifice that Jesus underwent to liberate us from the guilt burden of our sins.  There is also the priestly template of blessing, breaking, giving which has been passed down from Him to his Apostles, from them to their successors, in an unbroken line, generation to generation, through the laying on of hands and ordination.  And Jesus intended and intends to remind each of us of all of these each time He, through His priest, blesses, breaks and gives once again to us. But, unless we understand that He is really present as both Priest and Sacrifice, as present as He was with His first disciples at the Last Supper [which perhaps is a misnomer, since it became the First Supper] unless we understand the reality of the Offerer, the Victim in the form of the Host, the Food which He gave to His disciples then and which He give to us at each Eucharistic celebration throughout the centuries to today and beyond, then we will have, with excruciating [literally, “from” the “cross”] blindness, missed the whole point.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. [Jn 6:51] Exegetes remind us that the multiple “I am” phrases in John’s Gospel harken back, indeed remind us, of the name God calls Himself, the “I am who am” He told to Moses.[2] [Ex. 3:14]

When God says something that appears to be one thing is another thing, it is. What God speaks, is…it becomes…it is created, no if, ands or buts.  And Jesus is God.  Therefore, when Jesus uses these words, He is not equivocating, but identifying Himself as God…and here as God, the living bread that came down from heaven.  Again, you eat this bread, you will live forever; the implication being that if you do not eat this bread, you do not live forever but die forever.  And, yes, this bread is His flesh for the life of the world.  How many times and how many ways does He have to repeat the same thing before we get it?

Do we think that Jesus didn’t mean what He said?  That’s certainly not the indication he gives in the Sermon on the Mount where, if anything, he increases the severity and scope of the Pentateuch’s mandates.  Indeed, He calls Himself the Truth…the Word of God…and if you can’t believe God’s Word,…well, to put it another way, are you willing to pit your knowledge and understanding of reality against that of the One who created it?  Anyone who predicts His own gruesome passion and death three times, each time more vividly than before, and then lives out the reality of His prophecy is someone whose statements should be taken as fact…don’t you think?

The choice is ours, God is a stickler in His respect for free will.  If we choose to leave, or its modern day equivalent, consider this simply a bit of play-acting to remind us of Jesus, a nice memorial service to think back on the “good times” and not get tied up with reality, a charade where we don’t really have to eat Flesh and drink Blood, we’ll just substitute grape juice and crackers…mustn’t get our hands dirty, after all…we will follow those who left before: As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. [Jn 6:66]

 In the end, Jesus says to me and to you, “Do you also want to leave?”I pray we all have the faith and the courage to answer with Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. [Jn 6:67-68]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] For an excellent explication of the different types of  42 “I am” statements in John’s Gospel, see Fr. Felix Just, S.J.’s “I AM” Sayings in the Fourth Gospel, http://catholic-resources.org/John/Themes-IAM.htm

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