Thursday, April 27, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 6:44-51

Today’s Gospel reading continues the Bread of Life Discourse from John 6. Jesus says He is the bread of life and “...whoever eats this bread will live forever…” If Jesus is the bread of life, and whoever eats the bread of life will live forever, then it follows that whoever eats Jesus will live forever. There have been so many attempts to spiritualize these words away or to reduce them to mere metaphor just like other efforts to domesticate Jesus and make his teachings more palatable (no pun intended). I submit this simply cannot be done without doing violence to the text or presuming one knows more about what Jesus meant than He did. 

If Jesus only meant these words in a spiritualized way, where eating Him conveyed a sense of obedience, discipleship, being nourished by His words, and so forth, then there would have been no controversy at all. Yet St. John takes great pains to highlight the fact that nobody in the audience ‘got’ what Jesus was saying at first and when the Lord doubled down on His claims, as it were, most of the people became upset and left, writing Him off as insane. 

Of course, eating the Lord Jesus is insane. It’s crazy to think you can eat another person and live forever. On certain presuppositions, nothing in Sacred Scripture is even possible. But Jesus is in the business of taking our hard physical and metaphysical boundaries and blurring them a bit. He re-draws the lines around the borders of our life where nature and grace are firmly divided. This gerrymandering of the map of reality is deeply distressing. We can’t make sense of it. We want things back the way they were before Jesus came into our lives before these words hit our ears so that we can reattach to the sultry illusion of control. 

Jesus is not particularly interested in our remaining shackled to illusion. He makes plain that He is the Son of God, speaking in the Person of God. No mere man is telling us to eat Him. I think this is important to bear in mind as we place ourselves at His feet and listen. This is one reason why Jesus as the bread of life is no mere metaphor. 

It is true that we are nourished by the word of God. The teachings of Jesus and the Apostles present to us the way of eternal life. Faith in Jesus working through love. To leave things here, though, would be an incomplete picture. Bound up within the teachings of Jesus is the unequivocal claim that He is the bread of life and we must eat Him to live. 

Inquiring into the specific ‘how’ of this is to ask the wrong question because it presupposes the ability of finite intellects to penetrate the mind of God. I believe we are better prepared to receive this revelation from God if we do not think of God as ‘apart’ from the world.  If we do not place limitations on divine action. If we remember that the creative activity of God entails the continuous donation of being to all things that are not God. If we keep in mind that dividing the human and divine natures in Jesus Christ is the wrong course of action. This is just a sampling of apophatic moves and does not give us a demonstration of how we eat the flesh of Jesus. Rather, it can help shed the hubris clinging to us like Velcro so that we can take Jesus at His word and eat His flesh in faith. 

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