Our spiritual growth and development, the focus of the Ordinary Time in our Liturgical Year, gets an initial boost in the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Christ’s Body and Blood as our extraordinary sustenance. The gospel text (John 6:51-58) gives us a portion of the “Bread of Life Discourse” in the Fourth Gospel about the primacy and significance of Jesus Christ in the life of the world.
I am the living bread from heaven
Flashback: Five thousand men in the desert have eaten their fill. The original helplessness of the situation was staggering: a vast hungry crowd, in the wilderness where so much food was not conceivable, and with only the paltry five loaves to start with. But Jesus fed them all and still had twelve wicker baskets of left-over. The enthusiastic crowd then moved to follow Jesus, who withdrew Himself from them across the Sea of Galilee. He escaped from them, for He knew they wanted Him as king because of their perennial need for food for the body.
“You are looking for me…because you ate and were filled,” Jesus now tells them in confrontation as the people caught up with him. He points out that they should strive and work, not for “food that perishes” but “for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:26-27). Their exertion to locate Him for perishable food is really not worth it: they must instead search for the one on whom the seal of God has been set, the Son of Man, who alone gives eternal life. Attention is now concentrated on Jesus as He insistently and solemnly declares: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
The bread I give is my flesh
The whole discourse of Jesus leads to this surprising claim. Jesus is personally the bread, the living bread for the life of the hungry crowd. The reaction of the people indicates that they understood Him in an immediate realistic sense, as Jesus means to be understood. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” This man from Nazareth, the Son of God come down from heaven, “became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14), and now He offers His flesh as food for eternal life. The reality of His humanity and faith in the incarnation are the basis for the realism of and faith in the mystery of the Eucharist: Jesus as the bread of eternal life offering Himself for the life of the world.
With all His authority, Jesus insists: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat this flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in Him.” Any metaphorical or allegorical interpretation here is preempted by the repeated use of the words: eat, drink, flesh, blood and food. The evangelist’s choice of these unusual words indicating the consumption of the immediate physicality (sarx in Greek) of Jesus, precludes any false spiritualization.
Alálaong bagá, in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, that meal in which He feeds His own and gives them His body and blood for their life of communion with Him, is real eating and drinking of real food. Risen and glorious with all power in heaven and Earth given to Him, Jesus now makes Himself available to the world in the sacraments of bread and wine, transformed in the power of the Holy Spirit into His own Body and Blood. So in the Eucharist Jesus is our food and life nourishment, literally sharing with us the eternal life that the Son has in communion with the Father. This life of divine communion and intimacy with and through Jesus is what salvation is all about, as it is proclaimed, celebrated and shared in the Eucharist.
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