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 in John's Gospel, events have unfolded after Jesus fed 5,000 in the wilderness. The people wanted to make Him King by force, but He escaped them, eventually coming to Capernaum. The people followed Him there. He began to speak to them about the food which endures to everlasting life. He taught them that He is that bread of life. As He continued this discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum, the religious leaders 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 came 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. 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. As Jesus is teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, we recall that in John's Gospel the term "the Jews" is most often used in order to denote the religious leadership (all the people in this story, including Christ Himself, are Jews). My study bible says that the eucharistic significance of this passage is indisputable. Out Lord's declaration that He is Himself the living bread that gives life is a revelation of the Mystical Supper of the Church. It notes that John does not include in His Gospel the details of the Last Supper such as the "words of institution" (Luke 22:19-20). However, John reveals the significance and truth of these events. We keep in mind as we progress through that the readers of this Gospel already knew these events. To do so, here John reports Christ's own words.
As often happens in John's Gospel, Jesus moves from words that, interpreted literally, will miss the mark, to an understanding of those words that gives spiritual truth. He says, "My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed." We can well imagine that some of His listeners would have been beside themselves to hear this. How could they comprehend this mystery? And then He goes far further. He says, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." What we understand in terms of true religious or spiritual significance here is participation. Jesus is talking about the fullness of relationship with Him, and participation in Holy Mysteries via this fullness. We don't just share His life in some symbolic way. Rather we are truly invited to this Mystical Supper in which we participate in relationship, and grow in likeness to Him in all kinds of ways, including the keeping of His commandments and the understanding of His teachings. As the depth of relationship indicated by such words (as that who does so "abides in Me and I in him") would teach, this extends to life itself. Jesus says, "He who feeds on Me will live because of Me." So we have to ask ourselves, what is this eternal life? What is this life itself that is on offer? Surely we would look around ourselves -- as would His immediate hearers there in the synagogue at Capernaum -- and see that there are those "living" among us without eating His flesh and drinking His blood! So the question we must ask ourselves is, if Christ is not a crazy person speaking, to what life is He alluding here? He has already spoken of this life as everlasting. It's also a life in which relationship runs so deeply that He lives in us and we in Him. Here's a deeper clue to this reality of life: "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 life has a kind of dependency; Christ is sent by the Father and lives because of the Father -- so will the relationship be between those who feed on Him and Himself. This is meant by abiding in Him and He abiding in us. It is a kind of life on offer that is conferred through this depth of being one in another, and therefore the kind of life He's talking about is more than physical life in the world. It is a depth of spiritual life, and a life that doesn't have limits put onto it. Not only is it about a life that is forever and is therefore outside of time and its effects, but it is about a kind of life that confers an inner reality in which Christ accompanies all that we are and do. It's as if He lays down the fullness of a foundation, a mystical conjoining, within ourselves that allows us to grow in this "abiding" -- and will therefore come to affect all that we think, that we are, that we know. That means our relationships to the world will change, the meanings and significance of our lives will grow in this abiding, and so will our understanding of our own identities and even of ourselves as persons. It is a lifelong sort of a growing, abiding, learning -- particularly if we take into context all the teachings in the Gospels regarding His mission, His commandments, His Way. This relationship becomes the essence of Truth, as it confers Himself to us, and we live in Him. That is the core of the faith and of the Eucharist. This is a true mystical reality, a mystical substance conferred in the bread and wine that is "body and blood" and not mere symbolism in the colloquial use of that term. It is a mystical reality that links us also with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is meant to be a kind of journey throughout our lives, as is indicated by the words "everlasting" and "forever." This is far more than simply doing good things or working for the "progress" of the world. It is about a change that affects even what we see as good, or as progress. It is about growing and learning and maturing in spiritual understanding, in relationship, and in the practice and participation in love. That is, a long road from a worldly point of view, and one in which our own understanding will be examined and subject to pruning and growth. Let us be attentive to the Gospel.