And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19,20 RSV)
This Catholic teaching is a difficult one to grasp and to believe. In fact, it has always been questioned, from the very first moment Jesus’ words were uttered. Who wouldn’t argue that this is a very strange concept for the everyday mortal to grasp? Eating and drinking the flesh and blood of another person is hardly a great marketing tool to increase numbers to the faith. But I don’t think Jesus was kidding when he said, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” (John 6:55 RSV) More shocking to me are these words, “…so the man who feeds on me will have life because of me.” (John 6:57 NAB) Feeds. on. me. I don’t like this image. The word “feed” in Greek (the original language of this Gospel) means to gnaw or munch. Yep, I’m pretty sure that the Lord chose his words very carefully, and gnaw is pretty descriptive, don’t you think? Certainly he wasn’t instructing us to gnaw on his body. Or was he?
Jesus didn’t say that the bread and wine were “representations” or “symbols” of his body and blood. Many of Jesus’ close followers LEFT HIM after he began to speak in this way. They said what I think I might have said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6: 60 RSV) I recently heard Fr. Paul Keller address this question during a radio interview. Fr. Keller pointed out that many of Jesus’ disciples left Jesus and went back to their old ways, but Jesus didn’t call them back. He didn’t say, “Hey, where are you going? Wait, come back, I’m just talking in symbolic terms!” No, he let them go. Why would he do that if he wasn’t serious? He was giving us the gift of himself, and he wanted us to believe in His words. Bread and wine are tasteful and nourishing, and I am truly thankful that he chose to give us his body and blood in this way.
Recently I was driving home after Sunday Mass and felt hungry and thirsty. I had some water with me but as I raised the bottle I suddenly became aware that I still had the faint sweet taste of the wine turned precious blood in my mouth. I literally tasted the sweetness of the Lord. The realization that struck me was this: in that moment Jesus Christ was so close to me that I carried him within my very body.
Could it be that Jesus’ love for me is so fantastic and large that he would agree to let me eat his own body and drink his own blood? Who am I, that he would love me so much, to want to be that close to me? ME? And yet, this is what we believe and we live with every Eucharistic celebration.
“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” I do.
“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on 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 eats me will live because of me.” (John 6: 52-57 RSV)