As we continue to share Eucharistic Scripture texts on this Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection August 19 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.
[Jesus said to the crowds:] 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.”
Four weeks ago the Gospel text told of the feeding of 5,000 (John 6:1-13). That event led directly to the start of Jesus’ instruction centering on the bread of life theme. Last week’s text ended with Jesus telling them that he himself is the living bread that comes down from heaven. This is also the first line in today’s gospel. Next week the gospel text will be the last verses of this 6th Chapter of John’s gospel. In that reading, some of the disciples tell Jesus to his face that this teaching is just too hard to accept, and they will no longer count themselves among his disciples. The attention John has taken to unfold Jesus’ bread of life teaching, and the fact that John tells us that some of the disciples departed because they could not accept this teaching, should indicate how important and difficult this teaching was for the early disciples of Jesus to understand and accept.
In the opening verse here, Jesus identifies himself as the bread from heaven. In the next verse he states that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has life eternal. The fact that the Jews quarreled among themselves at this statement should not be a surprise. The word that Jesus used (translated here as “eats”) would carry a sense of gnawing, as a dog with a bone. Drinking blood was prohibited within the Jewish community and perhaps among the early Christians as well. It should not be surprising that some of the Jews who heard this questioned his teaching. In John’s gospel, a question or misunderstanding usually presents the opportunity for Jesus to further explain his teaching.
Jesus explains, “… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:51) In case they missed the point, Jesus restates this point three more times (verses 53, 54, and 55). The expression “flesh and blood” would be a way to describe a human person. For those in the crowd that Jesus is addressing, the term “flesh and blood” would also call to mind the animals that were ritually slaughtered as offerings to God. Such offerings were made throughout the year, but especially as part of the Passover observance. Jesus is describing himself as the lamb that was killed and had its blood drained so that it could be used as the sacrificial offering. This same connection will be made later in John’s gospel when John places the hour of Jesus’ death at about the same time that lambs were being killed to be used as part of the Passover. (John 19:17-37)
For John’s community, Jesus is their food and drink. Because John’s gospel is the last of the four gospels to be written, the community has had the opportunity to reflect on the significance of the Jewish traditions in Jesus’ life and teaching for many decades. The experience of God feeding the Jews in the desert was a springboard to help the early Christians understand God’s new revelation in Jesus. It was not enough to believe in Jesus, or even to engage in ritual participation in the new customs of the Christian community. They were seeking to understand how God was continuing to nourish with God’s real presence on this new journey.
1. What images would you use to describe the human person?
2. How would the experience of making bread be different in the days when Jesus lived than it would be for you?
3. When they heard Jesus tell them that he was the bread of life, what layers of meaning would those people have had that would missing from most today as we hear these same words?
4. What comes to mind when you think of true food?
5. What comes to mind when you think of true drink?
6. When you hear in today’s gospel that the Jews quarreled among themselves…
7. Do you experience yourself as “being what you eat?” How would that be different for the people of Jesus’ day?
8. Can you take some time now to talk with God about whatever came to mind as you heard Jesus teaching that he is the bread of life, or that whoever eats his flesh will have eternal life?