So a beautiful woman walks up to a counter at the library and leans over and says, “Hello, I’d like to order some French Fries, a hamburger, and a milkshake.” The librarian in a surprised but scolding tone responds, “Mam, this is a library.” Unflapped, the beautiful woman reflects for a moment and leans over the counter again whispering but confidant, “I’d like order French Fries, a hamburger, and a milkshake.” Beauty is nothing without brains.
When we think back to the beginning of the Bible – perhaps it is unfair to Adam and Eve to call them “brainless”. Their actions were indeed foolish when they took the fruit and ate it, but although they were physically mature, it seems they were spiritually infantile (even with their greater intelligence). They were foolish because they bought what the snake was selling – this idea that they could become like God without the help of God. There was this fruit hanging so innocently and it was the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. They might have asked themselves: “How are we to gain this knowledge of good and evil without taking the fruit?” This does posit a mystery. But it might have been better to think: If we listen to the snake and take the fruit – how are we going to become like God without God’s help? Yet their moment of foolishness became the normal way of doing things. We expect to fall into this same pattern of sin and death and more sin and more death.
Today, Christ offers another way. Wisdom has indeed dressed her meat and mixed her wine and the banquet that she calls us to is what Jesus tells the Jews about in John 6: His Body and Blood, but the Jews do not understand. While Adam and Eve may have asked themselves, “How do we get the knowledge of good and evil by not eating this fruit” —- the Jews are flummoxed by the question in the other direction: “How are we going to get eternal life by eating of this Man’s flesh and drinking His Blood?” But instead of asking Him, they try to figure it out on their own (just like Adam and Eve). Scripture says in the Book of Proverbs that “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion (ESV).” Ouch. With all their opinions the Jews begin very quickly to quarrel. Proverbs goes on to say, “It is an honor to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling (ESV). When confronted with a spiritual question, we must ask God to share with us His Wisdom.
So, what is happening in John 6? Jesus says He is going to give His Body for food and His Blood for drink. Now the Jews would have a pretty hard time not getting sick listening to these statements. If you know about Kosher dietary laws, they were (and Orthodox Jews still are) to drain all of the blood out of cattle or other livestock before they consume the meat. To imagine even tasting animal blood, let alone human blood was understandably unimaginable. But, Jesus is not asking them to come up and take a bite out of His arm. Nor is He interested in recruiting them to be vampires. And yet this mistake is perhaps closer to the truth than the modern error of supposing that Jesus is only speaking in symbolic terms. Some Christians believe that Jesus is only declaring the Eucharist to be a symbol of His Body and Blood, but this does not match the language He uses either. In today’s Gospel, John uses two Greek words to describe this action of eating His flesh. The first is “esthio,” a kind of generic verb meaning simply “to eat.” Yet, as the Jewish audience has trouble following Jesus, He doesn’t choose a different metaphorical or symbolic way of understanding the closeness He desires to have with them. John recounting this whole discourse to His Greek audience, has Christ switch to another word when the Jews get squeamish. But instead of moving to a less messy word, He uses the word, “trogo” which is more associated with the grinding teeth of farm animals – mules, pigs, cattle. Trogo means “to chew” or “to gnaw” and is very mechanical and specific. Throughout the Gospels, Christ does use various words in symbolic ways to describe Himself and His relationship to us – such as when He says He is a vine and we are the branches (Jn 15:1) or when He says that He is a shepherd and we are His sheep (Jn 10:11).” But instead, here He doubles down on His language to the point that He exhorts us to gnaw His Flesh and He lets people walk off in frustration when they don’t understand.
The early Christians get the point. St. Justin Martyr writes an explanation of the Mass in 150 AD describes that we do not receive the gifts as “common bread and common drink; but just as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made Flesh by the Word of God, had both Flesh and Blood for our salvation, so likewise have we learned that the food over which thanks has been given by the prayer fo the word which comes from Him, and by which our blood and flesh are nourished through a change.” This is the Flesh and Blood of the same incarnate Jesus who said:
St. Irenaeus, just two generations from St. John himself writes: “[Jesus] has declared that the cup that is taken is His own blood, from which our He makes our blood increase, and He has decreed that the Bread, taken from creation, is His own Body, by which our bodies grow (The Hidden Manna, 23).”
So, Jesus literally wants to eat and drink from Him, but how? Adam and Eve didn’t wait around for an answer to their question, but the disciples will hang in there…sort of. They run from the Cross, but not before He gives Himself to them in the Last Supper – transforming bread and wine in the First Mass. The Flesh that He gives us is the Spiritual Fruit of the Cross – His Resurrected Flesh. This is how He can ask all of us throughout history to consume Him and He is not exhausted.”
Most of us will never walk up to a librarian and try to order French Fries. We’re simply not beautiful enough. But our culture (and we as part of it) will always be tempted to be foolish. There are so many problems that we blindly lash out at if we try to figure it out on our own like Adam and Eve. When we consider the problems facing our country – the unrest over race and poverty, the problems with the Middle East, the daunting task of retaining our national identity or of trying to lessen the crippling debt to the next generation and on and on. We cannot tackle any of them successfully without God. These and all the others can be joined to the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross through our prayer – Jesus wants us to share with Him the contents of our hearts.
Perhaps the biggest problem however is our need for more life. There are simply no ways to live forever without God (contrary to various efforts). But Christ promises to us that if we share in His life we will not be disappointed ever. This is the answer to this final problem: if we give our lives to Him, He will give His life to us.