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Michael Simone, S.J.April 12, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Saturday of the Third Week of Easter

Find today’s readings here.

Today’s Gospel reading comes from the end of the Bread of Life discourse. In that lengthy sermon, Jesus instructs his followers that they will have to eat his body and his blood if they wish to share the divine life in which he already partakes. “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:54). It is to this statement that certain of his followers react at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading: “‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’”

They are not wrong; the saying is challenging on every level. Without a Christian sacramental understanding, the imagery is revolting, especially to Jesus’ Jewish disciples who had strong taboos against consuming blood or eating human flesh. Likewise, the act of consuming Jesus’ flesh suggests that Jesus is no longer alive, an implication that will become an outright concern later in John’s Gospel when people begin to wonder if he plans to kill himself (Jn 8:22). On the symbolic level too, the saying is hard. It suggests that our bodies need to reflect Jesus as much as our souls do. It is not enough simply to believe; our behavior has to change as well and must conform to the example that Jesus sets.

The individuals in today’s Gospel who walked away from Jesus perhaps did so because of the disturbing imagery. Throughout history, however, many more have probably walked away because they were unable or unwilling to conform their life to Christ’s example and teaching. It is easy to get into the habit of treating the Gospel as an empty ideal, a beautiful fiction that might inspire some kind of nostalgia for lost innocence but does not require commitment. Doing so allows one to adopt other value systems in place of the Gospel. These might give us the temporary satisfaction of life’s pleasures, but they cannot gain eternal life.

By contrast, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus expects his disciples to do, body and soul, what he did before them. Like him, we must be ready to be generous, humble, to forgive, to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, to treat others not as objects but as creatures that reflect the image of God. Disciples who consume Jesus’ flesh and blood must be ready, like Jesus, to lay down that same flesh and blood for their friends.

We are drawn into the same Paschal Mystery through which Jesus journeyed. To live like Christ, body and soul, draws one into the divine life that Jesus knew. He promises that the life that conquered death in him will do the same for all who consume his flesh and blood and bear witness to him throughout the world.

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