The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
- John 6:52-59
In recent readings, Jesus has fed five thousand men, and more women and children, in the fourth sign of Jesus divinity in the Gospel. After this, the crowd wanted to forcefully make Him king. He eluded them (the fifth sign, walking on water), and came to Capernaum where eventually they found Him, and He began to teach that they must labor for the food which endures to everlasting life. To work the work of God, He said, was to have faith in Him. Jesus taught that He Himself is the bread of life. In yesterday's reading, we read that the local religious leadership then complained about Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed." Once again, in John's Gospel, the term "the Jews" is used as a sort of political party name representing the religious leadership, not all Jewish people. It's reflective of the struggles of the period in which the Gospel was written. With very few exceptions, all the people in the Gospel, including Jesus and His disciples (and the author of the Gospel) are Jews. And the Gospel here does something it does frequently: it takes us from the mundane to the divine, the things of which Jesus speaks and that He is offering to the people. It all depends on perception. "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" teaches us about the perplexity with which His words are greeted, and a different insight needed into His teachings in order to understand them and grasp what is on offer. Plainly, Jesus is talking about the Eucharist, already a fixture of the Church for those who would be hearing the Gospel at the time it was written. For those who understand in faith, these words are an affirmation of the reality of the Eucharistic practice. But these words, this teaching, is also taking us somewhere.
"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. When Jesus speaks here about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, when He teaches about abiding in those who do so, He isn't speaking only of the time of His human life and ministry, but also of His Crucifixion and Resurrection. What is being consumed, is that which gives eternal life: flesh and bled were crucified and shed and He was raised on the third day in a glorified state. This is what we receive, and what grants the eternal life that is His to those who partake in faith. Where we are "going" is with Him, abiding in Him, as even we are free as we live in this world to obtain the bread of heaven. We go further -- Jesus takes us further -- not just into an eternal life with Him, but a life in which we abide in Him and He in us; that is, a life of the closest possible relationship.
Jesus teaches us about Eucharist, and more. At the time this Gospel was written, its hearers already knew about the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. But His teachings give us so much more here. As He has been crucified and risen, so our practice in faith is a sacrament in which He promises that life for us; He will raise us with Himself. But there is so much more to it: even as we live in the world, He abides in us and we in Him. This is a relationship closer than every other. It is about a kind of total dependency for this sort of life that He offers, and it's a two-way dependency. He is within us, we are within Him. It is a promise of love that goes as deep as it can go, touches us in all aspects of our lives and our selves: spiritual, material, psychological, in all that we know. It colors all aspects of our lives and it can give meaning to each moment, because each moment is part of a continuing reality. If we take a closer look at His words, we see how emphatic they are. The word for flesh is one that indicates clearly He's not just talking about some vague concept of an ethereal, spiritual kind of flesh; this is something that incorporates every single element of our lives, and His life, and leaves nothing out. He says, "I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you." Not only does He offer life in abundance (John 10:10), but here He's saying that unless we do this, we have no life in us. Life itself is in the hand of God; without this we don't really experience life -- we don't have it in ourselves. There's clearly a connection between the divine source of life and what we are capable of having within us here. And it's also an indication of the nature of the gift: we have the freedom, the capacity, to refuse it. But if we do so, we are refusing life itself, what it means to truly have life within us. Christ offers the hope of resurrection, and He calls that life. This isn't just a resurrection to eternal life He's speaking about, but a kind of resurrection that lives in us, abides in us, all the time. Life in us gives us myriad possibilities in all circumstances. It offers us transcendence of limitation, a perspective on our lives in the here and now. It is an invitation to experience joy, fullness, beauty, goodness, love, and all the virtues that are the fruits of the Spirit and the kind of life He is offering. He gives us a constant hope that abides in us in the here and the now. Even our suffering has meaning with this life in us, because every kind of suffering has -- with God -- a kind of transcendence and a hope in it, of what our faith gives us at that time. What He offers us in this life He's giving, is something that is inexhaustible in its possibilities for us. As many stories of faith that we may find or hear, those are only a small handful representing what is on offer. They do not limit us. Eternal life is the promise; that is, a life not limited to the things we think we already know, the rules we know, the certainties we know -- not a dead-end, but open-ended and certain in His love. That's what's on offer here, and beyond what we can grasp. Let us consider the inexhaustible Gift, and what He brings us. Think of all the signs of Christ which point beyond what we think we know, and consider what it is that then abides in us.