9 July 2020John 6:52-59
'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.' (v. 56)
Psalm: Psalm 72
Here we have Jesus continuing his discussion with the Jews and we are told that this happened in the synagogue in Capernaum. For those who have been brought up with Christian imagery and language, the words of this passage are familiar and evoke for us the words of the Eucharist or communion or even the opening words of John’s Gospel, "The Word became flesh." For the devout Jews in the synagogue Jesus’ language is offensive and blasphemous. According to the prescriptions of Leviticus (Leviticus 17:10-14), a Jew must never drink blood. The complex kosher butchering rules are there to ensure that no blood remains in any animal whose flesh is to be eaten.
This language of eating and drinking is not just metaphorical or spiritualised language. As with Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 the language is crudely physical – the words used for eat could as well be translated ‘chew’ or ‘munch'. Perhaps that vocabulary gives us an insight into how uncomfortable these words were for the hearers.
For us, with the benefit of hindsight, the use of the word ‘flesh’ brings the crucifixion to mind and the understanding that eternal life is not without a death. I think we can sympathise with the ‘Jews’ as they try to make sense of what Jesus is saying.
Verse 51 gives a new dimension to the discourse in which believers are drawn into sharing the death of Jesus when they eat and drink in faith.
- There is still a vigorous debate over what John means in this passage – do they have a Eucharistic flavour or are we reading back into the passage? Some ask whether these words replace the words of institution for communion which are found in other Gospels? What are your thoughts about that?
- Some critics over the centuries have accused Christians of cannibalism as they celebrate communion. How would you counter this criticism?