XX Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
As we continue the reading of Chapter 6 of the Gospel according to John, we get to the heart of this revelation which Jesus makes about Himself, as food that nourishes a life which goes beyond the earthly, biological. And as we continue listening, the words of Jesus become more and more scandalous, “hard” (Jn 6:60).
Faced with the objections of the Israelites (Jn 6:52), irritated by the “corporality” of His statements (Jn 6:52), not only does Jesus not soften the discourse, but He seems to state it even more concrete and provocative. It’s as if to say that this is the narrow passage through which to pass if you want to become believers. There is a passage that is necessary to understand: Jesus says that eating this bread is not so much a possibility as the condition, without which it is not possible to have life: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you do not have life in you” (Jn 6:53).
In reality, the Israelites reaction is also ours, that of the old man, of the religious man, who has not grasped the meaning of the bread. The temptation of all is to think of God only in “spiritual” terms, abstractions, and somehow far removed from life. But the originality of Christianity is the scandal of the Incarnation; it is the Son of God making Himself flesh. And this is already difficult to understand. But even more challenging to accept for us is to realize that only by making our own the flesh of the Son of Man do we become genuinely spiritual. Not by withdrawing from life, but by taking the form of it to the end, as Jesus did.
We are too used to thinking that the world of God and our world are far apart and somehow irreconcilable: the scandal of the words of Jesus is to affirm the contrary, to the point of saying that there is no access to God except within the world of the flesh. Not only, therefore, is the flesh not an obstacle to the encounter with God: but on the contrary, it is the vital place to enter communion with Him.
The scandal, in today’s passage, is radicalized for two reasons. The first is that the term which John the evangelist uses for “to eat” is something brutal, and literally means to chew, to grind: it is the verb that we use to indicate the eating of animals! The use of this expression comes perhaps from the recurrence of the term, which John the evangelist uses only here, in chapter 6, four times (vv. 54,56,57,58), and later on in the context of the last supper (13:18) and therefore recalls for us the Paschal Mystery. This expression, thus, brings to fulfillment the discourse of Jesus on the bread, which is the Eucharist. And connects it directly to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, because it will be there that the Body of Christ will be ground and devoured, and only this way will it become the pure bread for the life of all.
The second reason is that in addition to eating His flesh – something already unthinkable – in these verses Jesus also adds that of drinking His blood! For those who heard, this was intolerable, because the Torah categorically forbade drinking the blood of a living being, because in that blood there was his life: whoever did drink, would have been excluded from the people (cf Lev 17:10-11). Instead, Jesus here affirms the opposite, that only those who drink it have life, just those who drink it do not die!
The leap to be made, therefore, is enormous: and it is the leap to believe that salvation is, indeed, given to man as the real possibility of eternal life from here on earth. That man is called to this great vocation, that of carrying within himself, in his flesh, the very life of God: man is capable of God.
John uses here a verb – “to remain” (Jn 6:56) – anticipating the discourse that Jesus will pronounce at the last supper, recounted in Chapter 15: and he anticipates it by giving the key, so that the remaining of Jesus in the disciples and by the disciples in Him will be possible only in starting from this communion of flesh, of life, within this our eating and assimilating the life of God that becomes bread.
And if this was not enough, Jesus adds that within this communion is reflected nothing less than the communion of love that exists between Jesus and the Father (Jn 6:57), their living for each other and by the other: this is the life that is given us to eat.