20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I: Proverbs 9:1-6 II: Ephesians 5:15-20
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
53 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;
54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."
In chapter six of John, after feeding five thousand people (vv. 1-15), Jesus walks on the sea (vv. 16-21) and goes to the other side of Lake Tiberias. When the people come to look for him, he tells them: "I am the bread of life that came down from heaven" (v. 41) and "whoever believes has eternal life" (v. 47). That leads us into today's reading: Eating Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood to have eternal life.
Concerning the language of the reading, the Hebrew idiom "flesh and blood" means the whole person. Furthermore, in the Old Testament, "to eat someone's flesh" is a hostile action, and the "eater of flesh" is the other name for the devil; and there are laws in the Old Testament forbidding the "drinking of blood" (Gen 4:4; Lev.3:17, etc). In short, the language should be understood as referring to the Eucharist (AB: RE Brown p. 282, 284).
However, the problem here is how to implement the phrase "eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life" (v. 54). "Eternal life" obviously can refer to the afterlife, but it also refers to this very life on earth; it is possible to participate in God's life while still living on earth (realized eschatololy); it is already present and, at the same time, is expected to come in the future.
The key to understand "eternal life" rests on the verb "abide:" Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them" (v. 56). Abide (stay, remain, dwell in) has many meanings, and one of them is "to be intimately united with [Jesus]." Abiding, or having eternal life, can be best illustrated by St. Paul: "It is Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).
Returning to the hard part of the above phrase - "eat my flesh and drink my blood" -, it can be understood in at least three ways:
1) sacramentally by partaking in the Eucharist,
2) dramatically by being spiritually united with the Crucified and Risen Christ, and
3) symbolically by committing to Jesus as the revealer sent from God, the Word becomes flesh.
No matter how one understands it, the point is Jesus insists that we have to go beyond believing to participating in God's life. It is a deeper level of faith, a life in spirit.
One Main Point
Jesus gives those who "eat his flesh and drink his blood" eternal life. By doing so, by participating in the Eucharist, we stay in communion with him, and we have eternal life.
Catholics believe that the Risen Lord is truly present in the Eucharist. How do I understand and practice "eating his flesh and drinking his blood?" Furthermore, how is that understanding and practice leading me to a deeper spiritual life?
Those who eat Jesus' flesh and drink his blood will abide in him, and He in them. Am I abiding in Jesus? Is Jesus abiding in me? Am I living in his love, his grace?
Jesus said that he has come so we may have life and have it in abundance. What are some of the results of sharing this eternal life? How are those results manifested in my actions and words?