Year A: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi

John 6: 51-58

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Eating and drinking in the name of Christ implies being united with him in his self-giving, in his dying and his rising. In what specific ways are you growing or struggling in your; self-giving, dying and rising as a result of receiving Eucharist each week?
  2. When was the last time you felt “in communion” with others… outside of Mass? Explain what was happening.
  3. Do you think of all who are united to Christ as being one body of Christ? What ramifications does this have for you ecumenically?
  4. Body broken for you, blood poured out for you. The essence of God’s love for us expressed in the self-giving of Jesus is… serving the needs of others. How is your participation in the mass and this ministry feeding the service part of your faith life?

Biblical Context

John 6: 51-58
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

Today’s Gospel comes from the last part of John’s Eucharistic discourse in which Jesus explains that as the bread of life, he offers life to the world. Perhaps the most important thing we can do as we begin to study John 6 is to remember that it was written by the evangelist who is famous for leading disciples through faulty interpretations into the depths of Jesus’ message.

The first statement Jesus makes in this selection is rather straight forward: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Within this passage, Jesus draws on his audience’s memory of the Exodus. Jesus tells them that just as God sent the mysterious manna, he himself is God’s ultimate and living gift, sent for the life of the world. In the next phrase, Jesus moves from the symbolism of the manna to saying that he is giving his flesh — his mortal, human self, all that he is — for the life of the world.

With the startling vocabulary about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, John is trying to move us from the physical to the spiritual plane. The crowds who quarreled among themselves asking “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” echoed Nicodemus who focused on the impossibility of re-entering his mother’s womb to be born again. They mirrored the Samaritan woman-apostle whose questions to Jesus were fixated on the physical-geographical plane while he tried to introduce her into the realm of the Spirit.

The people who heard Jesus speaking the words of today’s Gospel knew well that eating and praying together implied communion. They knew that the God of Abraham and Moses was God-with-them, the God who had been involved in the events of their past. The blessing they traditionally said as they broke the bread during a meal recalled and rejoiced in God’s presence in their ongoing history. The truly shocking thing Jesus did by calling himself the living bread had nothing to do with cannibalism. The scandal was the declaration that in his very humanity he embodied divine life being offered to them. Jesus claimed that communion with him was the way to the communion with God that he already enjoyed. What tripped them up was that he brought God too close.

By comparing the gift of himself to the desert manna, Jesus reiterated the most basic fact of his life: he had been sent by the Father for the life of the world. He also claimed that there was no comparison between the first manna and what he offered. Those who ate the desert manna survived for a time and then died. Those who find their sustenance in Christ the living bread will share his victory over death and the life he has from the Father.

Ultimately, the real scandal of Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life was his claim that God was revealed in his mortal flesh. A God who is majestic and unreachable is far easier to deal with than one who invites us to communion in the here and now. It doesn’t cost much to worship a god to whom we can offer placating sacrifices and then go on with our lives as normal. But God who initiates communion with us is going to claim everything we are as we come to abide in Christ and allow him to abide in us.

All We Need

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

My mother was careful about making the dollars stretch to the end of the month, but she also knew when to eat the manna. She knew that some things—most things— are to be used, enjoyed, and shared rather than stored.

Besides being a parable about relying on God’s provision, the story of manna in the wilderness is a story about how grace often comes in odd, unsettling, barely recognizable ways. The word “manna,” according to some scholars, means “What is it?” God didn’t send the Israelites braided challah or fresh salad greens. Their daily “bread” was a strange, flaky substance, something like hoarfrost that had to be gathered in the morning before it melted in the sun. They molded it into cakes that tasted a little like honey. . . . [Whatever] the biochemistry of manna, the Israelites found it unfamiliar, and had to learn to gather, prepare, and eat it.

When our notion of what we need is confined by habit and expectation, it takes time to recognize that we have what we need. We may not have the money to replace an appliance, but we may have a neighbor who can fix it. We may not have our closest friend nearby when sorrow strikes, but someone may surface from the margins of our lives with a big heart and a listening ear. Solutions may come from unexpected sources. The answer to many prayers, reinforced with every celebration of the Eucharist, is simply this reminder: “You have what you need.” Take it. Eat it. There will be more.

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, adapted from What’s in a Phrase?
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre is a fellow of the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California, and she teaches at UC Berkeley.