Meditation on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord, Year A (John 6:51-58)
June 18, 2017
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
GREED is the exact opposite of what today’s feast of Corpus et Sanguis Christi implies—which is sharing so others might live. But that is going ahead of what should be noted first. Today’s Gospel is the second part of Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life (John 6:35-58). Whereas in the first part (vv 35-50), the nourishing heavenly bread is the teaching of Jesus, in this second one (vv 51-58), it is the Eucharist. Though both parts speak of giving life, they differ in that, while in the first part eternal life is given through belief, in the second it comes from feeding on the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. Thus, this section has a Eucharistic theme, and exclusive so. Raymond Brown notes two impressive indications that the Eucharist is in mind. First, the narrative stresses the eating of Jesus’ flesh and the drinking of his blood—which cannot be taken as a metaphor or symbolically. Rather, if Jesus’ words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood are to have any favorable meaning, they must refer to the Eucharist, reproducing the words of institution in the Synoptics. Second, what Jesus says in v 51 (“The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world”) resembles the Lucan form of the words of institution (“This is my body which is given for you”), and most likely preserves the Johannine form of the words of institution. Thus, for John, eternal life is given to those who communicate the body and blood of Jesus.
The objection at the beginning of this section, “how can he give us his flesh to eat” (v 52) probably reflects the Jewish criticism of the Johannine Christian community ritual, since Jews were forbidden to eat meat with blood (Lev 17:10-11). But as the whole section indicates, the eating of his body and drinking of his blood have nothing to do with cannibalism. Rather, they are about sacramental communion. After giving up himself in the sacrifice on the cross, he will give himself in the sacrament. And considering that in the Old Testament, “the body and blood” expresses human life, the Evangelist most likely implies that in the Eucharist the communicant receives the whole living Jesus. In other words, Jesus is totally present in the eucharistic bread and wine that the believer receives. In the sacramental communion, Jesus shares his very life with the communicating believer: “The man who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remain in me and I in him” (v 56). No wonder, Paul declares to the Christians in Corinth, “Is not the cup of blessing we bless, a sharing in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break, a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). For John, however, there is first of all a mutual indwelling in the Eucharist: Jesus remains in the Christian, and the Christian remains in Jesus. Moreover, just as the life of the Son and the Father is one (cf John 14:10), so the man who receives the Eucharist shares the very life of God himself.
However, to receive the Eucharist is not only to be involved in the very life of God himself. If one shares in the life of the Son and the Father, he is joined to the whole body of believers. It is in this sense that Paul, in the second reading, speaks of the sharing in the body of Christ. “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17). In receiving the Eucharist, Christians are joined to Christ and to one another. They are established as one community in which Christ is a communal possession. Consequently, Christians who receive the Eucharist cannot be greedy or engaged in monopoly, still less take what do not belong to them. To the contrary, by the very act of sharing in it, they commit themselves to share their life and possession with other members in the Christian community. The rich, for example, cannot continue receiving the life of God without sharing their wealth with the poor, for that would be anomalous.