Gospel for the Feast of Corpus Christi (14 June 2020)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58 – NRSV)
There is both a comparison and a contrast between the “manna” that sustained the people in the wilderness – in the Exodus – and the “bread” that will sustain us now – in the New Exodus. “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness” (6:49) is compared and contrasted with the new manna: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51).
“The difference between Moses and Jesus is their respective origins. Jesus’ origins pros ton theon (1:1) gave him a unique authority to make God known (1:18). Because this is the case the one who believes in the revelation of Jesus, the true bread who has come down from heaven, has eternal life. The comparison continues between the manna of the Law and Jesus, the true bread from heaven. It is no longer the Law that produces life. Jesus, the true bread from heaven, came to make the Father known and, in doing so, surpasses the former gift of a bread from heaven (cf. vv. 32–33). He is the bread of life (v. 48).” (Francis J Moloney SDB, The Gospel of John, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998. 218.)
“The Johannine celebration of the Eucharist lies behind the use of key expressions: ho artos (bread), sarx (flesh), egō dōsō (I will give), hyper (for the sake of). See, for example, Jeremias, Eucharistic Words 106–108. These explicit eucharistic links are seen by most commentators as the introduction to vv. 51c–58, a discrete section within John 6 that deals with the Eucharist. It may be true that the ‘backbone of vss. 51–58 is made up of material from the Johannine narrative of the institution of the Eucharist’ (Brown, Gospel 1:287), but behind the eucharistic language the interpretation given here insists that the fundamental issue is Jesus’ self-gift for the life of the world. His body (‘flesh’) will be given over in crucifixion for the life of the world” (Francis J Moloney SDB, op cit, 220).
The Jews then disputed among themselves: This echoes Exodus 16:2: “The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.”
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood: “The Hebrew idiom ‘flesh and blood’ means the whole man.” (Raymond E Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII): Introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 29), Yale University Press, 2008, 282.)
Those who eat: A verb meaning “to eat” is used six times in this brief passage (verses 53-58) in which Jesus responds to the “Jews” who challenge him. The Greek verb esthiō is used in v.53 and again in verse 58. The other four times the Greek verb is trōgō, which is normally used of animals and has a rather crude connotation. It may be translated as “feed”: “In secular Greek this verb trōgein was originally used of animals; but, at least from the time of Herodotus, it was used of human eating as well. It had a crude connotation (see Matt 24:38) reflected in translations like ‘gnaw, munch’. Some scholars deny this, maintaining that John simply uses it for the present tense system of esthiein, the normal verb ‘to eat’. However, it seems more likely that the use of trōgein is part of John’s attempt to emphasize the realism of the eucharistic flesh and blood. The only other times it appears in John outside of this section is in 13:18 where in the context of the Last Supper it is deliberately introduced into an OT citation, probably as a eucharistic remembrance” (Raymond E Brown, op cit, 283).
abide in me: A favourite theme for John. The Greek verb menō can be translated as “remain”, “stay”, “make your home”, “abide” etc. It is used repeatedly in John’s Gospel, especially in chapter 15 where we have the parable of the true vine. It expresses the mystical heart of the Christian faith. Raymond Brown suggests the vine is “probably a eucharistic symbol too” (Op cit, 283).
Central to Catholicism is “sacramentality”. Put simply, sacramentality expresses the conviction that our five senses bring us only to the edge of reality. When we see, hear, taste, touch and smell, we are only beginning to engage reality. There is much more to reality than what the five senses can reveal. The experience of life is always shot through with the “more than”. Every moment, every person, event or thing is saying all the time: “Not me, more than me!” The material contains the spiritual, the time-bound the infinite, the visible the invisible, the heard the unheard, the human the divine. The ordinary language of the senses falls far short of saying what must be said. Art and poetry, symbol and ritual assist us to encounter the “more than” at greater depth. We eventually come to the place of silence and stillness and unknowing, the place that is no place.
This is the world of sacramentality. It is essential that we recognize this in our daily dealings with God, ourselves, other people and the created world. Without it, we will lose our humanity. With it, we can come to experience the Presence of the Kingdom everywhere. This world is a sacrament of the Kingdom. All people, events and things summon us to enter the Kingdom here and now. Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God./ It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;/ .... There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;/ .... Because the Holy Ghost over the bent/ World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
Sacramentality finds its ultimate expression in the Eucharist. In the accounts of the Last Supper, we have descriptions of the institution of the Eucharist– see Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Mark 14:22-24; Matthew 26:26-28. These accounts are written in terms of the Exodus Event, the Passover and, specifically the Paschal Lamb of sacrifice. In today’s Gospel – John 6:51-58 – we have one of several texts reflecting early Christian belief and practice concerning the Eucharist. Another such text is found in the story of the two disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus – see Luke 24:13-35.
In the Eucharist we cross a threshold. Our senses take us so far and then leave us. Art and music, ritual and symbol take us further. But sooner or later we are left without any instruments to speak for us or guide us or explain what is happening. The gift of faith opens us in silence and reverence to Ultimate Reality. The bread and wine become the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. This is an event by which we enter time beyond time. We are now part of Jesus’ Passover. We are present to and participating in His saving death and resurrection. We eat his Body and drink his Blood and so have “life” in us – His Life. We abide in Him and He in us.