The Gospel for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time is so central to Catholicism that it’s worth looking at again. In the Gospel the week before, Jesus provoked some murmuring from the crowds in Capernaum when he declared, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:41), but it’s full-scale arguments that ensue when Jesus continues in this week’s Gospel by saying, “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).
Rather than dialing back, Jesus intensifies his claim by using the “Amen, Amen” formula, which you remember is the equivalent of saying “Pay attention. Don’t miss this. Weigh carefully what I am about to say.” In his next breath, he says ““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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:53).
It’s not only the specificity and repetition that intensifies his claim, but the Greek words used by St. John in the Bread of Life Discourse. In the earlier verses (Jn 6:49-53), St. John will use the ordinary Greek word for eating (Greek, phago). But as Jesus continues, the stronger Greek verb trogo is now invoked (Jn 6:54-58). This Greek verb means not simply to eat but to “gnaw, munch or crunch.” It’s meant to convey the loud sound like when you bite into celery or a handful of nuts. This shift is meant to remove all ambiguity about what he is saying.
Jesus isn’t proposing cannibalism or violating the Old Testament prohibitions against drinking blood from lower forms of life. It is his glorified body that will be shared with us sacramentally through a special work of the Holy Spirit. Our friend Tim Staples does a good job refuting this idea (Are Catholic Cannibals?).
Heaven in Our Hands
In closing, I want to turn our attention to what is rarely discussed when speaking about John 6: the promise given to those who will consume Christ. (Jn 6:51, 54, 57) It is nothing less than eternal life (Tweet this)! This isn’t just some “pie-in-the-sky” promise for a future time, but something we can enjoy right now! I love how St. John Paul II spoke of this promise of the Lord, “Those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life: they already possess it on earth, as the first-fruits of a future fullness which will embrace man in his totality. For in the Eucharist we also receive the pledge of our bodily resurrection at the end of the world…This pledge of the future resurrection comes from the fact that the flesh of the Son of Man, given as food, is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection. With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the ‘secret’ of the resurrection” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, para. 18).
Have you ever thought about the connection between the Eucharist and your future resurrection? Most of us haven’t. Take a moment this week to share St. John Paul II’s quote with someone in your parish or family.
The phrase “you are what you eat” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to the Eucharist. What are some specific ways you can share the gift of life the Eucharist has given you with others?