daily biblical sermons


Christ was not speaking symbolically, but literally, when he said that he would give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), June 14, 2020
Deuteronomy 8:2-4, 14b-16a, Psalm 147, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, John 6:51-58


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“‘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.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, 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 you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 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 will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever’” (John 6:51-58).

 

 

Today is the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), a day on which we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior gave us his own flesh and blood to eat and drink for the life of our spirit. It is crystal-clear in today’s gospel that Jesus is speaking in a literal way, and that is how the crowd of the Jews as well as his own twelve apostles understood him. No one in that audience understood him as speaking in a metaphorical or symbolic way about putting their faith in him, symbolized by eating him. It is quite clear that Jesus intends to say that he will in the future give them his flesh and his blood as food and drink for them to literally eat and drink for the life of their spirit.

 

 

We need to emphasize this today, because many Protestants believe that this is merely symbolic language for taking Christ by faith into our heart. It certainly is that, but it is much more than just that. It is actually eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, which contain his divinity, so that we who consume them are divinized thereby.

 

 

The Jews complained during this discourse about what sounded cannibalistic and repulsive to them. “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52). To stress the truth of what Jesus actually intended in this discourse, namely to give us his flesh and blood to eat and drink, should in no way be seen as interpreting the gift of Christ to us in a crass, material, unworthy, and fleshly way that does not do justice to the salvation that faith in Jesus Christ brings us.

 

 

Christ’s literal teaching about the Eucharist only enhances the gospel message of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection to give us new life, when we put our faith in him. For not only does Jesus enter into us spiritually by faith and not only is his vicarious death on the cross, whereby he suffered our death sentence for our sins for us, credited to our personal account, when we put our faith in him, but also Jesus himself, with his body and blood, containing his divinity, enters sacramentally into our body and spirit to daily nourish us with his divine life.

 

 

Those that believe in the Eucharist as the real body and blood of Christ, as Catholics always have, and who faithfully receive Holy Communion frequently, even daily, know by experience what a marvelous gift Christ has left us. They know very well that this in no way lowers the gospel to a merely fleshly level, but rather deepens and raises the experience of it by the joyous, peace-filled reception of the Lord himself in Holy Communion. This is what we celebrate today.

 

 

For those Protestants that believe that the Eucharist is not really Christ’s flesh and blood that we actually eat and drink, I would ask them why did Jesus not explain that he was only speaking figuratively, when the Jews said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52). It would have been very simple for him to say at this point that he was only speaking in a figurative way of the gift of new life that they would receive through faith in him.

 

 

He did this on another occasion, when Jesus said, “‘I have food to eat of which you do not know.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has any one brought him food?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his will’” (John 4:32-34).

 

 

Jesus immediately cleared up the apostles’ misunderstanding. They thought that when he said that he had food to eat of which they do not know that someone had provided him with his lunch, while they were out buying food. He didn’t leave them with their misconception, but immediately explained that he was speaking in a figurative way of doing the will of his Father being his food.

 

 

Why, then, did Jesus not make a simple explanation at this point, when the people were asking how he could give them his flesh to eat? Why did he not say that he was speaking in a figurative way about putting their faith in him for their salvation?

 

 

He could not say this, because he wasn’t speaking figuratively, but meant exactly what the people thought he meant. Jesus saw that the people correctly understood that they were to eat his flesh and drink his blood; the only thing that they didn’t understand was how they were to do it.

 

 

Then why didn’t he tell them that he was going to do this in a sacramental way? Well, just stop and think for a moment and you will realize that that would be even more difficult for them to understand and accept than what he had already said. Clearly the people were not ready for a full explanation of how Jesus would save the world by dying as our substitute to suffer our death penalty for our sins for us as the divine Son of God, equal to the Father in divinity, whom the Father had sent into the world as our substitute to satisfy divine justice by punishing our sins in his flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3-4; Isaiah 53:5-6) so that when we put our faith in him, God might credit our account with his suffering and death on the cross as full payment of the debt of suffering and death that we have with God for our sins.

 

 

Then the Son would memorialize his saving sacrifice on the cross in the form of a sacrificial meal where bread and wine are transformed into his body and blood and offered by his followers with the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit for the honor and glory of God and the salvation of the world. At the end of this sacrificial meal, believers would eat the flesh and drink the blood of the victim as a communion meal.

 

 

Do you really think that this would have satisfied this Jewish crowd so that they would have stayed with him? Such complicated and profound theological teaching would, I daresay, have driven them away even faster than what he had already said. They were clearly not ready for this advanced theological explanation until after his crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost.

 

 

Why, then, did he talk about the Eucharist at all if of nobody could understand what he was saying? Jesus knew that his teaching would be remembered by his disciples, who after Pentecost would finally understand it and then preach it and write it down so that people for the last two thousand years might read, study, meditate on, and preach it for the spiritual nourishment of the Church.

 

 

Concerning metaphors, when Jesus really was using a metaphor and intended the people to understand it as a metaphor, no one usually had any problem understanding it metaphorically. When he said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5), no one misunderstood him to be saying that he was a plant (on this whole discussion see former Protestant and now Catholic apologist Tim Staples, 2010). Everyone knew he was speaking metaphorically. When he said, “I am the door of the sheep” (John 20:7), no one thought he meant that he was an actual door with hinges and a handle.

 

 

And when he did speak metaphorically about having food to eat of which his disciples did not know, which his disciples misunderstood in a literal way, he immediately explained to them that he was only speaking metaphorically. Why didn’t he do that here? It is because he was not speaking metaphorically, but literally about the Eucharist, and he saw that the crowd understood exactly what he meant to say.

 

 

So what does Jesus actually say today? He says that he will give us his own flesh as the bread which gives life to the world. If we don’t eat his flesh and drink his blood, we won’t have life in us, but if we do eat his flesh and drink his blood, we will have eternal life and be raised up on the last day. Then he goes on to say, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55). In fact, what he is saying here is, ‘Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not speaking in symbolic language. I really mean what it sounds like I’m saying. I mean that my flesh really is food and my blood really is drink, and you must eat and drink it if you want to have eternal life in you, for if you don’t eat and drink it you will not have life in you.’

 

 

He tells us that the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood will enable us to abide in him, and he in us in a profound way that those understand and experience who regularly receive Holy Communion with faith that it really is Christ’s body and blood.

 

 

Through the Eucharist we live because of Jesus, just as Jesus lives because of his Father. As he draws life from his Father, so we who eat him in the Eucharist draw life from him. “I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (John 6:57). And Jesus finishes this discourse, saying, “He who eats this bread will live for ever” (John 6:58). We will never die, but live forever with Christ if we regularly eat him with faith and live faithfully, for when we die physically, we will continue to live in and with Christ in heaven with God.

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