Was Jesus really speaking literally when He said, “This is my body” about the Eucharist? That seems too hard to believe.
May 17, 2020, 12:00 PM
Take a look at the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. Here, Jesus is speaking to a large crowd who had been following Him for a while, and He tells them – and us – something extraordinary: that we must “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood” to have “His life, eternal life,” in us. He was so explicit that He went on to repeat Himself several times in several different ways (see Jn 6:48-58). Each instance in this series of verses spells out, in the clearest possible terms, that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood.
Many of the people who were following Jesus were naturally shocked and appalled, and because of this teaching they “returned to their former way of life and no longer follow Him” (Jn 6:66). If the Savior of the world only meant these sayings figuratively, wouldn’t He have said to those people (whom He was sent to save), “Don’t be crazy! I didn’t really mean you have to eat and drink me. I just meant you have to listen to my words, let them fill your hearts, and live them out! You don’t have to leave!”? But He didn’t say that. He let them go because He could not compromise on this teaching. He then turned to His apostles, His closest followers, and asked, “Do you want to leave me too?” (Jn 6:67). He was implying: “If so, then go ahead. Because I am not changing a word of what I just said – not even if you leave me as well and I am left with no one.”
The response of Peter shows us what faith is all about: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). In other words, “Jesus, I have no idea what you are talking about. I don’t understand it. But I do believe in you. So I will accept anything you say. I trust you.” Faith is personal. It is not belief in one dogma or another – it is the acceptance of every dogma of faith because of our belief in a person, Jesus Christ.
Along with St. Peter, we have good reason to believe Jesus. He is the only person in history that substantiated everything He claimed with miracles that bore witness to His divinity – above all, the miracle of His resurrection.
So why would God insist that we receive Him physically? Because it did not satisfy His love for us to become human, teach us how to live, die on the Cross, and rise again for us. He wanted us to receive His love, not simply hear about it. He wanted us to plug directly into His saving work for you on the Cross. In the words of St. Augustine, to “receive in this bread that which was hanged on the cross; [and] receive in this cup that which was poured from Christ’s side.”
Here is some additional information that might help you make sense of it all. You may recall that St. John the Baptist, when he first saw Jesus, said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Jesus was the perfect Lamb that would be slain to atone for sin. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people used to offer animal sacrifices, including lambs, in atonement for sin. You may also remember that, on the night of the Passover, God’s people were told to sprinkle the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. What you may not know is that these same people were told to eat the lamb (see Ex 12:8) that they had slain. Well, in the New Testament, we read about Jesus, the new Lamb, being crucified. Instead of doorposts, His blood would be spilled on the wood of the Cross. In order to finish this sacrifice, though, you and I , His followers, need to “eat the Lamb.” This is the Eucharist that you and I partake in at every Mass.