Today’s chosen Gospel passage is followed up with a reaction from the disciples: “This saying is hard. Who can accept it?” We can easily judge that they really didn’t get it. But do we?
Jesus has declared himself the Bread of Life and is asking us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. We may say, ‘Well, I do that when I receive Communion at the Eucharistic celebration.’ However, this invitation of Jesus is well in advance of the Last Supper event on which we have based the Eucharistic celebration. We are being invited here to feast on Jesus. What does that mean?
We have this metaphor of eating in Ezekiel when he is invited to eat first of the scroll and then speak to the people. Jesus tells his disciples in Jn. 4 that he has food to eat about which they do not know. This food was to do the will of God. The metaphor of eating is not new to the listeners. Jesus is inviting all to feast on him, on his way, his truth, his life, and everything he stands for. We are invited to imbibe Jesus, to absorb him and be assimilated into his life. This does not call for change, but this creates the change in living and lifestyle, in thinking and acting, the total turnaround of life.
They found the saying hard and turned away. We sometimes perhaps think that what Jesus was saying suggested an element of cannibalism, and that is what was hard. This is hardly likely. What was hard for them and is hard for us is realizing what it means to fully absorb Jesus and the consequent changes that brings about.
Yes, indeed, this is a hard saying, demanding too much change. Those who were searching out Jesus that day were happy with the bread. After all he had just fed a multitude with a little. Theirs was an attitude which may often be ours, – give me the bread, but don’t expect me to participate to that degree.
Saying Amen to the Body and Blood of Jesus, before we partake, means saying yes to the total Body of Christ, all of God’s people, all God’s creation. Consequently, we accept each member and work for justice and the liberation of the whole Body of Christ.
It is no harm to ask if we also have turned away somewhat from the hardness of the saying, but continue to hold the rituals? This feast will be marked around the world with great ceremonies. Processions will be held that give a little public witness to a belief. But all of this will be in vain if the procession of our lives is not fed, and consequently glows in word and deed with what it means to absorb and be absorbed into the Body and Blood of the Christ.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP