‘Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me...” — Jn 6:57

This weekend, we continue our journey through Jesus’ bread of life discourse in chapter six of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus has taught us how He is the bread that comes down from heaven and how He is food for the journey. Now, He goes yet further as He tells us how His flesh is true food and his blood is true drink.

As usual, our other readings help to set the scene for this wonderful, yet astonishing teaching. Our first reading comes from the book of Proverbs (9:1-6). A proverb is defined as “a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.” The book of Proverbs in the Bible is just that: a collection of advice or life-lessons collected over many centuries.

Our excerpt this Sunday is a reflection on the nature of wisdom. True wisdom, we read, is likened to food or a feast, and we are invited to eat and drink of this wisdom. For Christians, this image has a special meaning: Jesus is the wisdom of God, so when we eat and drink of Him in the Eucharist, we also partake in this wisdom of God.

Once again, we sing Psalm 34 during the Mass, as we have done for the last few weeks. We “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” The verses chosen for this week focus on a true piece of wisdom. An attitude of trust in God’s love and care for us and then of giving thanks to God for all that He does for us is wisdom indeed. Such an attitude brings a depth and joy to life.

The second reading (Eph 5:15-20) also explores what we mean by wisdom, as well as the nature of foolishness. What is true wisdom? It is allowing the Holy Spirit to help us do God’s will in whatever circumstances and situations we find ourselves. As we have seen in our psalm, wisdom also involves having what is often called “an attitude of gratitude.”

We are almost at the end of Jesus’ bread of life discourse in the Gospel (Jn 6:51-58). We hear the same words at the end of the Gospel last week. Jesus repeats that He is “the living bread that came down from heaven….The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

These are astonishing and puzzling words from our Lord’s lips. Are we to eat His flesh, then? Again, some commentators suggest that Jesus was simply speaking symbolically or metaphorically when He said this. However, this cannot be the case. The crowd understands Jesus’ words not meta¬≠phorically, but literally.

Indeed, they no longer murmur or grumble as they have done earlier; instead, they “quarreled among themselves.” The word in the original language is not “quarreled,” but something much stronger: They had a violent debate or litigation among themselves!

As the writer Brant Pitre notes, the crowd fully understood the realism and import of Jesus’ words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood — so much so that they cry out, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” It would have shocked the crowd, especially given the religious prohibition of consuming any blood.

To drive this point home, Jesus uses words that refer to eating seven times in chapter six of John’s Gospel. No, there is no mere symbolism or a metaphor here, but realism. Furthermore, if the crowd misunderstood the realism of Jesus’ words, He would have corrected them, as He had on other occasions. Indeed, we will hear in next week’s Gospel that many could not accept Jesus’ words, and so they leave Him.

Despite this reaction, Jesus presses ahead and even goes further. He says that, unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we do not have life in us.

This is not a suggestion, but an invitation or even a command.

Why such a demand? Because, as we read, Jesus’ flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. We should note that the word “true” (“alethes”) that is employed here really means not so much a truth, but the truth: a truth that is real, certain and absolute.

Finally, Jesus shows us the result of this real eating and drinking of Him: We abide in Him and He abides in us. In other words, we will become like the one we receive and enter a “holy communion.” This, too, is true and real!

As we prepare for the diocesan Eucharistic Congress to be held Sept. 22, we can again make a strong connection between our readings this week and the Eucharist. May we renew our faith and our appreciation of the real presence of Jesus, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist.