Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hard to Swallow

Today's Gospel is the conclusion of the Bread of Life discourse (John, chapter 10). After all Jesus said, drawing on the ancient story of the manna in the desert to illustrate his promise to give us "the real bread from heaven" which is "my flesh for the life of the world," Jesus sees a considerable number of disciples walk away. It was too much for them to bear listening to, much less look forward to. At Mass today, the homilist said that years ago, while doing his ministry studies, he interviewed the head of Chicago's rabbinical association. "What was it," he asked the rabbi, "that led to the definitive split between Jewish believers in Jesus and the rest of the Jewish community? Was it the indifference of the Jesus-group to the desecration of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD?" "No," the rabbi said. "It was the Eucharist: the thought of 'eating the flesh and drinking the blood' of the divinity is too abhorrent."
Perhaps those Jews, ancient and modern, who were scandalized by Jesus' words took them more seriously than many Catholics do today.


Rob said...

I wanted to share a few excerpts from a book I just read, which addresses this very issue with incredible clarity and perspective.

First a few notations from the OT

Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all of these. You must not however, eat flesh with its life blood in it. (Gen 9:3-4 NJPS)

It is a law for all time throughout the ages , in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood (Lev 3:17 NJPS)

Therefore I say to the Israelite people: No person among you shall partake of blood, nor shall the stranger who resides among you partake of blood (Lev 17:12 NJPS)

But make sure that you do not partake of the blood; for the blood is the life, and you must not consume the life with the flesh. You must not partake of it, in order that it may go will with you and with your descendants to come. (Deut 12:23-25 NJPS)

Other references:

Lev 7:26 -27

Lev 17:14

Lev 19:26

Deut 12:15 – 16

‘There are nine prohibitions against the consumption of blood, with punishment being “cut off from among the people”’ Steven Bridges “Getting the Gospels”

“Against this background, the decision of the masses to return to their former ways of life makes perfect sense. Jesus’ teaching appears to be in direct opposition to God’s law, and anyone who acts on it would face dire consequences. We can surmise, therefore, that the people disperse because of their loyalty to God, their fear of punishment, or (most likely) for both of these reasons” Steven Bridges “Getting the Gospels”

Bridges goes on to talk about the question of whether or not Jesus is breaking his father’s law, adressing many criticisms and interpretations. He concludes primarily, that Jesus is fullfilling his father’s law and is “the one exception to the rule”, essentially honoring the fact that God said just how important blood was, how essential it was to life and thus, Jesus says partake of my blood.

Steven Bridges, PhD is an Associate Professor of Theology at St. Joseph’s College in Maine. His book, “Getting the Gospels” from which I ma drawing this material has helped me to understand the context of the Gospels, from the writer’s perspectives and to whom they were writing. I highly recommend it.

xaipe said...

Not to mention that Jesus, "one in being with the Father," also claimed, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life": life itself, the life which every other life is an expression and "imitation" or semblance of.
I think the 11 apostles were as scandalized and horrified as everyone else, but put aside their own evaluation of Jesus' words and grimly determined to stick with him on the basis of his own fidelity. "You have the words of eternal life. To whom can we go?"

Rob said...

The fact that the apostles were so conflicted is often a source of great reassurance.
If they didn't get it (which they often didn't) at least I know I'm in good company. :-)

xaipe said...


Anonymous said...

Great discussion...thanks, Rob, for writing and I agree with both of you. Sometimes it seems so clear, so easy to understand and sometimes I feel like a stanger looking in from a distance. Even when celebrating the Eucharist I am often struck by the audacity of the words I am saying at my Lord's command.
Thank you both!
Father Fred, CMF :-)

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