Scripture: Lectionary 278. 4/28/12. Acts 9:31-42. Psalm 116:12-13.14-15.16-17. John 6:60-69
Chapter six ends on a sad note in John’s Gospel. We are at the end of the Discourse and now have a summary and a conclusion that bring the entire chapter together. Because of the realism of the words of Jesus about eating his flesh and blood they understood this in a way that would be contrary to the Jewish custom of refraining from blood and flesh eaten together. For them this statement easily bordered on cannibalism and many of his disciples left him. We are left with Jesus and his Twelve Apostles (including Judas, despite what is mentioned in this same pericope about him). Jesus says, “Do you want to leave me, too? “ Simon Peter answered him for the other eleven Apostles by saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe ; we are convinced that you are God’s holy one.” (John 6: 69).
Since we have read the whole of chapter six with the beginning sign of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, we are able to see the importance of contextual reading in both the New Testament and the Old Testament. This is a primary rule in interpretation. We are also encouraged by the scholars to stay within the same Gospel when trying to find the meaning of the text. We hear Jesus speaking of the mystery of his coming down from heaven again and of the Bread of Life in the context of what has happened during this Passover he is to celebrate with the apostles in Jerusalem. Jesus has shown himself as the manna that has come down from heaven that is different from that of Moses and the people who were in the desert.
We realize also that the text of John has three distinct times within it—the time of Jesus, the time of the teaching and setting up of apostolic preaching, and finally the time of the Church and its foundation upon the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. We may,as many have done, like to see verse 63 as a key to our interpretation: “The words I spoke to you are spirit and life. Yet among you there are some who do not believe.” This does not seem to be the meaning of the discourse on the Eucharist seen within the whole of chapter six and the entire purpose of the Gospel. Simon Peter is giving us the purpose of the Gospel with his response (as we have already seen in a prior meditation): “Jesus performed many other signs as well—signs not recorded here—in the presence of his disciples. But these have been recorded to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith you may have life in his name.” (John20:30-31).
The giving of Jesus’ life on Calvary, the last and greatest of the signs, is central to the meaning of the Eucharist. In my reading of a commentary from the last century, Sir Edwyn Hoskyns gave me the key to the meaning of this discourse: “The Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of the Christ are the necessary prolegomena, not only to eating his Flesh and drinking His Blood, but also to understanding what this means.” ( Hoskyns, Fourth Gospel, page 300).
We are blessed to have three levels of understanding the Gospel of John wherein we are led not to separate the words of Jesus from the sacramental life of the Church and to accept the truth of the Evangelist in recording the purpose of his Gospel which is one of faith in the person of Jesus both through words and through deeds and signs. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is not merely a symbol of these revelations in the Fourth Gospel but also the reality of the Real Presence, the Body and Blood of the Lord, under the humble elements of bread and wine. Amen. Alleluia! Alleluia!