Quite some time back, my director stunned me with an announcement. “The head of Department “X” is requesting that you be transferred to her department.” “She wants me?” I squeaked. “Sure looks like it,” he told me. “Wow…” was my eloquent reply.
To say that I wanted to get into Department “X” was an understatement. It had been my goal for a long time, and now it looked like it was becoming a reality. So I went back to work, and I waited.
And waited. And waited. Disturbingly, it began to look to me as if Department “X” had forgotten me. I plugged away at my longtime job, waiting and hoping, and hearing nothing.
I began to fret. Having practiced all my life, I am a consummate fretter. If Department “X” wanted me, why was I still here in my old position? It had been weeks since I was told the news; surely they would have contacted me by now if it were true. Had I misunderstood? How long was I going to have to wait? What if I waited, and waited, and nothing ever happened? Had I misunderstood??
Reason kept trying to contact me – on the fourth or fifth call, she finally got through. “What did the director say?” she whispered. “Didn’t he say that ‘Department “X” is requesting that you be transferred? How many ways are there to understand that?”
I couldn’t fight against that logic. The director’s words had been unambiguous. Seriously, if he had been trying to tell me that a change of departments was in my future, how could he have put it any more clearly?
I relaxed. And sure enough, I was soon transferred to Department “X”.
I remember that story when I read Protestant explanations of John 6: 48-69:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 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 yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
Ask yourself, if Jesus was trying to tell us that we must really eat His flesh and drink His blood in the Holy Eucharist (which He elucidated in the Upper Room with the words, “This
is My body,” and “This is My blood”), how could He have expressed Himself any more clearly? He repeats over and over again, “Eat My flesh! Eat My flesh! This bread which comes down out of Heaven is My flesh – eat this bread and live!”
Sounds pretty serious – at least, his 1st-century audience thinks so. When they question Him (how can this man give us his flesh to eat?), He insists more emphatically that unless they eat His flesh, they have no life in them. He uses the same construction to phrase John 6:53 as He used in John 3:3 –
“Unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.”
His listeners actually take His words so seriously that they are disgusted. When they naturally understand Him to be making a cannibalistic proposal, He admonishes them that “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” – eating My flesh as I stand here before you will profit nothing, but the Spirit will make possible the miraculous transformation of the bread and wine upon the altar into My very body and blood.
So at this point, with His disciples scattering because, as He puts it: “There are some of you who do not believe,” we would expect Jesus to do what He did whenever He spoke to the crowd in parables: He would dismiss those crowds, and then sit down with His disciples and explain the meaning of those parables, for “to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” After all, letting those folks walk off in unbelief was tantamount to allowing them to die spiritually in their rejection of Him – over a “misunderstanding”? Yet in this instance He neglected to clear up the “misunderstanding” engendered by His strong words. Instead, He asks a poignant question of His disciples: “Are you leaving Me, too?” As Jesus said, there were some who did not believe, but thanks be to God, St. Peter answered for the other apostles with his credimus: “We believe.”
Make no mistake: Jesus did not say “there are some of you who do not understand” – no, He warned them that “there are some of you who do not believe.” And that remains true to this day; there are many who do not believe His words, choosing to take them metaphorically and declare that “Eat My flesh! Drink My blood!” means “Believe in Me!” – and then serving up a sorry hash of Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and 11:23-30 (Jesus gives thanks, holds up the bread and says “This is My body – so believe in Me, you guys!” Does anyone smell a thoroughly rotten “metaphor” here??)
I can imagine Jesus asking Himself “how can I phrase this so they will understand that I plan to give them My very flesh and blood as their spiritual food and drink?”
I am the bread of life!
I am the living bread!
The bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh!
He who eats Me, he also will live because of Me!
This. Is. My. Body.
Maybe that’s why everyone in Christendom for 1,000 years believed that it literally was His body and blood that they received in Holy Communion.
This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?
It is difficult. Maybe that’s why, to this day, “there are some of you who do not believe.”
On the memorial of St. John Gabriel Perboyre
Deo omnis gloria!