"Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’(John 6:60)
Recently I heard that 60 percent of Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Well maybe it was only 40 percent. Either way that’s a large number of people who are not aware of the grace we receive each time we receive this precious sacrament.
With this article, I would like to provide some biblical basis for our belief in the Real Presence. And in doing so I hope that whoever reads this will feel compelled to share this with others and lead them to a closer relationship with Christ.
Let’s continue with John 6 where we read the words of Jesus:
27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you
Jesus then goes on to refer to the manna that God provided the Israelites as they sojourned 40 years in the desert.
32Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven….35Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Following this we begin to see the disbelief, the thoughts of incredulity that those in his audience feel as they listen to Jesus. Wait a minute they think. Isn’t he just the son of Joseph? What does he mean that he has come down from heaven? He is the bread of life? What?
43Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves…..47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Still, we see more angst. "My flesh"? Is he serious?
52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
At this point let us note a few things.
- Jesus’ listeners are taking him to be speaking literally. Not figuratively or symbolically. Why else the strong reaction, their aversion to his words?
- Jesus does not soften his words. He makes no attempt to clarify them in the manner his listeners would have expected. Instead what does Jesus say next?
53So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
Wow! Jesus becomes even more emphatic. In these five verses he mentions "eat my flesh" twice, "eat the flesh of the Son of Man", "my flesh is true food", "whoever eats me will live because of me" and "but the one who eats this food will live forever". He says we must drink his blood, that it is "true drink". In 1 Corinthians 11 we read of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. We also read the following:
27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.
In 1 Corinthians we have the words of St. Paul. Surely, he took Jesus literally. Why should we worry about eating the bread and drinking the cup in "an unworthy manner" if we were simply eating and drinking a symbol? It would make little sense of Paul to mention we bring judgment upon ourselves by eating and drinking without "discerning the body" symbolically.
I began this article with verse 60 and I provide it here again:
"Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’
Jesus responds with this:
61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you?.... 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him…
Now we have a choice. Do we take Jesus at his word(s)? Or are we like his listeners in John 6:66 who refuse to believe? Let us continue to follow Him, be His believing disciples and share this good news with our brothers and sisters in the pews!