20th Sunday in Ordinary time – Year B

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give
is my flesh, for the life of the world.’

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

Jn 6:51-58

‘Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’ Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. ‘Jesus replied: ‘I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does not eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him. As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me. This is the bread come frown from heaven; not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live forever.’

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” The crowd is thinking of cannibalism, that is, the sin of eating human flesh, an idea morally repugnant to them (Deut. 28:53) and to us today. However, this prohibition does not apply here. Jesus gives us, not his mortal flesh as it was during his earthly ministry, but his post-resurrection glorified humanity in a sacramental form. This is why he calls himself the “living bread” (v. 51).

“eat the flesh … drink his blood” (v. 53): If Jesus intended to speak metaphorically, such words would echo a Hebrew idiom for inflicting injuries upon enemies in war (Deut. 32:42; Ezek. 39:17). For eating in Scripture never means believing. Rather, Jesus is speaking literally and sacramentally.

Ordinarily for Jews, drinking the blood of animals was forbidden (Deut. 12; Lev. 17). To do so was to consume the “life” of a creature that was of a lower order. Jesus’ exhortation did not fall under this prohibition. The life Jesus wishes to impart is of a higher, supernatural order. Rather than pulling us down to the level of animals it elevates us to become sharers in his divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

Eternal life is promised to those who eat the Eucharist: “anyone who eats this bread will live for ever” (v. 58). To “live forever” echoes Gen. 3:22. A comparison is thus applied with the Tree of Life, which bore the fruit of immortality, and the Bread of Life, which St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to the Ephesians 20) calls the “medicine of immortality.”

Throughout the centuries the Church has celebrated through prayer and song an acceptance of and belief in Jesus’ assertion “the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (v. 51). Toolan, in the hymn I am the Bread of Life reminds us “unless you eat of the Son of Man and drink of his blood … you shall not have life within you.”

May we continue to always see our life, earthly and eternal, in this context.

Anthony Cleary
Director: Religious Education and Evangelisation