Saturday, September 02, 2006

Debate with "Briguy" on the Real Presence: Part 3

Hi Guys, just a quick thing here on John 6. As with any scripture, context is everything. When I copied these verses I started with verse 26 because that is where the main context of the "eating his flesh" idea starts. Verse 26 says that the people hungered for the wrong kind of bread. People were filled in their stomachs by the actual bread and Jesus now symbolically refers to himself as having a different bread and in fact he later says He is the bread. The bread, which is Jesus gives eternal life, actual bread sustains human life. If you eat bread you will hunger again. If you consume the bread, that again is Jesus, you never hunger again. Jesus goes on to talk about the manna from Heaven and that He now is the true bread from Heaven. Did the disciples see Jesus as a walking loaf of wonder bread, with hands and feet sticking out?? No, it was symbolic. There are two ways to be filled in this world. One way is physical, through consuming food. The other way is spiritual by consuming Christ. As mentioned with communion, when we eat food it becomes part of our body. When we receive Christ He becomes one with us. It is the same concept as the food idea, except on a spiritual level. The whole idea of drinking the blood and eating the flesh is a physical representation of what happens spiritually, within the spiritual realm. We all understand there is a physical and a spiritual. The first birth we have is physical and the second is physical.
This may come as a surprise to you, but Catholics have no problem affirming with you that Jesus' words up to vs. 51 are metaphorical. That section seems to be what you are referring to here. However, we see at vs. 51 a transition towards the literal, both in the words of Christ and in the reaction of the crowd.

He begins by saying that this bread from heaven which they will eat is His flesh (cf. John 6:51). The greek word used for "eat" here is favgomai (or "phago"), which means "to eat or consume." In response, the Jews obviously take Him literally; they "strove among themselves" (John 6:52). If He was still speaking metaphorically, would this not have been the time to clarify Himself? Afterall, He wasn't getting the act of faith He was looking for and it seemed to be because of how they were understanding Him. Also, we know that in many similar instances, Jesus explains Himself to the people, or at least to the 12 on the side (cf. Mt 16:11-12; Mk 4:34; Lk 12:41-43; Jn 3:3-11) whenever He intends a meaning other than the one they understood.

But, He does not do that here. Instead, He is even more persistent. Starting with vs. 54, we find Jesus telling the crowd 4 more times that they must eat His flesh and 2 more times that they must drink His blood:

54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."

Despite using repitition to drive the point home, He even uses a new, much harsher and more explicit word for "eat." In these instances, the greek word is trwvgw (or "trogo") which means "to gnaw, crunch, or chew." While "phago" may have a spiritual application, "trogo" is never used metaphorically in Greek. It occurs only two other times outside this discourse (cf. Mat 24:38 and John 13:18) and in both cases means a literal eating. It is undeniable what Jesus is asking of them. They must eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Vs. 55 from this passage is also quite significant. For one, we are to eat, not His "body" (sw'ma, or "soma"), which often has a metaphorical meaning in the bible, but His flesh. The greek word here is savrx (or "sarx") and it is always used for literal flesh in the bible (proof here). Also, His flesh is meat indeed, His blood is drink indeed. The greek word here is ajlhqw'ß (or "alethos"). It means "truly, of a truth, in reality, most certainly" and Jesus uses it to dispel any doubts concerning the reality of His flesh and blood as being food and drink.
There are many many examples of Jesus using earthly examples to explain the spiritual. For example, when Jesus spoke to Nic. About being born again he used the wind blowing to describe the Holy Spirit's moving. Jesus was making a point to the people and his followers that to receive Him is to receive all of Him and that there will be a cost, especially in the early church.
Sure, eating bread is symbolic of believing in him. The "born again" phrase is symbolic too. But what about eating flesh? In the bible, eating flesh is only symbolic of reviling a person, turning against him, or assailing him in some way:

Isaiah 9:20 They snatch on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied; each devours his neighbor's flesh

Isaiah 49:26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.

2 Sam 23:17 "Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?" Therefore he would not drink it.

Rev 17:6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her I marveled greatly.

Thus, we see that giving Jesus' words after vs. 51 a symbolic meaning would turn them into utter nonsense.
Eating His flesh and drinking His blood would be wrong on a physical level by all moral accounts but consuming Jesus in full, is beautiful on the spiritual level and it IS what happens when we believe.
What do u mean by "on a physical level." If you are referring to what cannibals do, then I can assure you that reception of the Eucharist is not cannibalistic.

If we look at the definition of cannibalism, we find that the following phrase is central to it: "eating the flesh of human beings". This phrase, while one sentence, actually says three things:

1. the flesh of a human being is being eaten, as opposed to washed or marked on, or some other action.
2. what is being eaten is flesh, as opposed to bone or grass, or some other substance.
3. the flesh being eaten is of a human being, as opposed to flesh of an animal or a fish, or some other creature.

These three statements comprise the essence of cannibalism. Thus, in order for the Eucharistic celebration to be cannibalistic, it must fulfill these requirements. However, it fulfills none of them.

In cannibalism, the substance is flesh, the flesh is of a human being, and the action made upon the substance is "eating." In the Eucharistic celebration, the substance is Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity. This substance is not of a mere human being, but of Jesus Christ, who is True God and True Man. Finally, there is no action made upon the substance. Instead, the action is made upon bread and wine. Put another way, in consuming the Eucharistic elements, the physical mechanisms of eating injure only the accidents of bread and wine. The process of consuming the Host doesn't involve ripping and tearing Christ's body, despite its substantial presence.

Thus, the Eucharistic celebration defies cannibalism on all levels.
Verse 63 then sums this up as Jesus responds to His disciples who were not quite getting the full concept of what He was saying. Read verse 63 it is clear as day that Jesus was discussing the spiritual world in the verses before but he was using physical representation. Jesus even says the "flesh" has no profit, meaning physical eating can do nothing for the soul, but spiritual eating of Him will bring life. This set of verses is a wonderful picture of coming to Christ by faith and the way He indwells us in a real, full way. Again, in V. 63 Jesus says The words He spoke were spirit. I see no other way you can take that. Sorry about all the verses but they need to be read together.
Well, here's how I understand it.

Note that in response to the command that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, His audience walks away, including many of his very beloved disciples. But even then, even when He has lost many of His followers, He does not back down. He turns to the faithful remnant, who acknowledge that His is "a hard saying" (John 6:60), and says to them, "Do you take offense at this?" (John 6:61). "Do you also wish to go away?" (John 6:67). He does not intend to retract His statement or to explain it away. instead, He explains to them why they don't believe it:

61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this?
62 Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?
63 It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
64 But there are some of you that do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him

Now, it is often asserted here that, by saying that His words are spirit and life that He is meaning to clarify that He was only speaking symbolically. I find no merit in this claim. For one, nowhere in the bible is the word "spirit" meant to mean "symbol" and nowhere is something said to be symbolic because it is spiritual. Instead, what we find here is a comparison between the spirit and the flesh that is often used throughout the bible to mean one thing: human wisdom vs. supernatural faith. Both Jesus and Paul use this terminology quite often to point out that we must go beyond the natural to comprehend the supernatural (cf. John 3:6; Mark 14:38; 1 Cor 2:14; 3:3; Rom 8:5; Gal 5:17). He is essentially repeating the same sentiment He expressed in vs. 44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him...". His disciples need the gift of faith, not human understanding, in order to understand and accept His "hard saying" that they must consume His very self in order to have life in them.

That should adequately address all of your posts up to this point. I'm sorry that it took me so long to respond.

Pax Christi,

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