All this week the gospels have been building to a climactic ending with Saturday’s gospel. The gospels from the daily Masses this week from Monday through Saturday come from what is called “The Bread of Life Discourse.” I remember it well from the seminary because we spent much time pouring over every word in this section of John’s Gospel. And we did it in Greek. It looked like this: Εγώ είμαι ο άρτος της ζωής. It was important for us to study the scriptures in their original state so that one could get the nuances of the original meanings. For example, in English we only have one word for love. In Greek there are three words for love: Eros, Philos, and Agape. They all mean something different, and so you are able to see the subtleties that the writer wishes to convey as Jesus uses speaks of love.
All week Jesus has spoken of The Bread of Life. He speaks to a crowd of people before Him. He has just fed the five thousand. They come looking for him because they are hungry again. Jesus tells them that the bread He will give them comes from heaven and gives life to the world. And then He tells them that He is that bread that comes down from heaven. The bread that He will give is His very flesh. He who eats this bread (flesh) will have eternal life. This is a clear allusion to the Holy Eucharist we receive every Sunday at Mass.
And so the Jews quarreled among themselves, saying “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They continue to quarrel with Jesus for the remainder of the discourse, until something shifts in Saturday’s Gospel. They refuse to accept that Jesus will give them His real flesh. They will not accept this as possible and so …they leave! They walk away from Jesus. “This is too hard; who can accept it? As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer followed Him.” And here is the best part: Jesus lets them go! He does not run after them. He does not beg them to come back. He does not equivocate or parse words. He lets them go! Did He want them to go? No, but he let them go. Why? Because He meant what He said: “The bread that I will give you is my flesh, and he who eats this bread will have eternal life.” Jesus is speaking of our Holy Eucharist. He really must have meant that He was leaving us Himself in the Holy Eucharist.
This is the core of our faith as Catholics: the true and real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus meant what He said to the crowd that day: “The bread I will give you is my real flesh, and he who eats this bread will live forever.” So where are you? Did you stay in the crowd, or did you walk away too? Many in the crowd that day could not accept this irrefutable doctrine of our faith, and they left. Few remained. The church does not ask us to understand this teaching, but simply to accept it. And so, accept it we do, for it is the most important teaching of our Catholic faith. Jesus is with us! Without Jesus’s real presence in the Eucharist, we are abandoned.
One final note that should give you a chill. Go reread Saturday’s gospel when the crowd walks away from Jesus because they can not accept His real presence in the Holy Eucharist. You’ll find it right there in St. John’s Gospel in the sixth chapter. The sixty sixth verse. 666.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon