Gospel Of Sunday, 11 June: John 6, 51-58
John 6, 51-58: “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”
Gospel Of Sunday, John 6, 51-58
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 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.
54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.
57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).
Today I share with you a short meditation on the Gospel, with particular reference to the theme of mercy.
From: C. MIGLIETTA, L’INGIUSTIZIA DI DIO e altre anomalie del suo Amore…, Gribaudi, Milan
THE IMPORTANCE OF FOOD IN JUDAISM
In Judaism, whoever eats becomes one with the food taken in: we become what we eat.
Thus Adam and Eve do not merely pluck the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: they “eat it” (Gen 3:1-7), to indicate that they really want to be ethically autonomous, to become absolute arbiters in the choice of what is good and what is evil.
Ezekiel is invited by God to eat the scroll of the book of the Word of God, that is, to make it intimately his own before preaching it (Ez 3:1-4). John too, in Revelation, is invited to devour the book of the Word of God (Rev 10:8-11).
THE “BANQUET OF COMMUNION” WITH GOD
The banquet is also a means to enter into communion with God.
All Eastern religions had, among their rites, sacred banquets, where eating the victim somehow allowed one to participate in the life of the same deity invoked.
Judaism too provided for sacred meals: just think of the ‘sacrifices of communion’ provided for in the Torah (Lev 3:1-17), as at Sinai, as the conclusion of the Covenant (Ex 24:4-11), as at the entry into the Promised Land (Deut 27:1-7).
In these sacred banquets God does not eat: Israel rejects the idea that God can feed on sacrifices (Jas 6:18, 22; 13:15-20): God says: “If I were hungry, I would not say this to you: mine is the world and all it contains.
Shall I eat the flesh of bulls, drink the blood of goats?” (Ps 50:12-13). The banquet does not take place “with” God, but “before” God, who is present with his people.
The only exception is the meal prepared by Abraham and Sarah under the oak of Mamre, when the Lord promises a son to the elderly couple: “So while Abraham stood by them under the tree, they (ed: the three divine characters) ate” (Gen 18:1-15).
The first Christians used to say of themselves, presenting themselves to the pagans: “Aras non habemus”, “We have no altars”, emphasising the lack in Christianity of the traditional sacrifice, replaced by the Eucharistic banquet.
There was no altar in the beginning, there was only the table. The convivial aspect is primary for understanding the Eucharist.
THE EUCHARIST PROPHETIC “MIME
In order to understand the New Testament texts of the institution of the Eucharist, one must keep in mind that literary genre, so frequently used above all in the prophetic books (1 Kings 11:29-32; 22:10-12; Jer 1:13-15; 13:1-14; 32¸ Ez 3:24-5:17…) but also in the New Testament (Mk 11:1-11.12-19…), which is the “mime”.
In the Bible, in fact, a very special place is occupied by symbolic actions: there are more than thirty of them, and they precede or accompany the oral expositions.
Precisely to signify that the Word of God is not pure “afflatus vocis”, but fact that is fulfilled, concrete history, the prophet, by divine order, embodies it in symbolic – revelatory gestures.
Sometimes they are true pantomimes, small ‘skits’, short ‘commercials’ that must serve to impress a particular concept or revelation on the minds of onlookers.
Being eaten by men
When Jesus institutes the Eucharist, he first of all operates a prophetic mime. What he accomplishes at the Last Supper is “the last parable of Jesus” (J. Jeremias).
Handing out the bread, he says: “This is my body given for you”; offering the cup: “This is my blood, poured out for you” (Lk 22:19-20): the first meaning of this action is that he gave himself totally to men, that his life was a full oblation for the life of his brothers, that he was entirely consumed for them, and that he became, by offering himself for them like bread and wine, their support and survival. “By distributing the bread, Jesus manifests in words that he “gives himself for”.
By circulating the cup, he declares that he “pours out his blood”. Jesus’ two gestures receive a symbolic value: the gift of his own person for the benefit of the disciples, which goes as far as the shedding of blood” (X. Léon-Dufour).
“Before his disciples, Jesus makes a mime of his death, representing it before them; it is the attitude of a prophet and a martyr who carries the mission to its fulfilment, giving his own death a meaning of love and service” (A. Marchadour).
The command to imitate Jesus
Two commands accompany the prophetic action: the first is: “Take, eat…; drink” (Mk 14:22; Mt 26:26, 28): the disciples are not only the passive object of this self-giving of Christ, but are invited to take an active part in it, to participate in his love, to accept his life as a gift, to consciously and responsibly fill themselves with him.
This gives rise to the second command: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24): Jesus commands that his disciples also make themselves bread and drink for others, become food for all, let themselves be “eaten” by their brothers and sisters.
“Let themselves be eaten” like Jesus
When Jesus commands his disciples: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25), he means first of all that his disciples must also make themselves a total gift to others, sacrifice themselves “to the end” (Jn 13:1), empty themselves totally for others, become like him only love, agape, charity, communion, sharing, service.
“Jesus did not give a piece of bread to men but his whole self, his life (body and blood), and he asks the disciples to do the same. The bread (broken), and the wine (poured) symbolise what he accomplished; but to be in line with him, to respect his will, it is not enough to renew the symbols without repeating on a historical level what they signify” (O. da Spinetoli).
This is “the fundamental and proper aspect of the Christian logic: I must be bread… It is perhaps the most harmonious consequence of the Eucharistic practice, certainly the most difficult… Love to the end: not to give bread, but to be bread that nourishes, this is the extreme and simple instance of the mystery of bread” (S. Maggioni).
Celebrating the Eucharist then must not be a pious habit, but a gesture that involves me deeply, that changes my life on the model of that of Christ: it is the act of my intention to become, like Jesus, a total gift, selfless service, living communion with my brothers.
“It is too convenient to reduce one’s commitment to the breaking of the bread (instead of one’s body) and the pouring of the wine, or to attend such a rite without doing anything that Christ did before ritualising his work.
To appeal to his ‘presence’ and (magical) action through symbols is to deliberately forget his precise intentions. Jesus spoke of giving, of scattering, of breaking, not of presence… Eucharistic participation is not a devotional act, but a test of courage, a decision taken in front of everyone to “give oneself” and “scatter” for the multitude, like Christ” (O. da Spinetoli).
In the biblical reading of the Eucharistic mime, the first meaning is therefore the invitation to total gift to others, following the example of the Master.
The other meanings (the real presence of Christ, the sacrifice of the New Covenant, an eschatological sign…), are certainly there and are very important, but they are secondary to this and draw light and understanding from it.
Good Mercy to all!
Anyone wishing to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org.