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August 19, 1994     The Message
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August 19, 1994

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19, 1994 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 9 tion- rots, may ;his from , the fac- Commentary i Reaction to Jesus' sermon: Division in Christian community Gospel commentary for Au. st 21, 1994, Twenty-first Sun- by, Ordinary Time, Cycle B, Iohn 6:60-69. The sermon we call "The Eu- aristic Discourse" has ended. 10hn finished his composition of is sermon with a triple repetition the real presence of Jesus' body ad blood to be consumed as food ad drink. At the same time he in- isted on the necessity of eating ad drinking the body and blood of esus as a requisite for eternal life, have the life of God within one- elf. It is true that these words of John attributed to esus have been interpreted by some from early ',hristian times until today as referring not to the resence of Jesus' body and blood in and under the atward appearance of bread and wine consumed in le Lord's Supper, but rather to the words of Jesus ad to Jesus himself as God's revelation. If this were , why would John have to repet what he had al- .ady explained at length in the majoi- part of the .rmon? What he added in verses 51-58, last week's spel, must have the additional meaning explained l last week's commentary. Other interpretations speak of Jesus being pre- nt in the Lord's Supper only when the consecrated r blessed bread and wine are received. Others say e body and blood of Jesus are present only in a tl P'ritual sense. But our Church defined after cen- hries of debate that the Lord Jesus is present in the [essed bread and wine in such a way that it is no bager bread and wine but is the body and blood of sus under the appearances of bread and wine. A B(N FATHER DILGER COLUMNIST substantial change has taken place. What we have in John 6!51- 58 seems to be the equivalent of the Last Supper institution of the Eucharist in the other three gospels Limitations of space do not allow further commentary. Now the reaction. Many of Jesus' disciples said: "This is a hard saying. Who can lis- ten to it?" John is of course speaking of the situation in his own time rather than at the time of Jesus. He portrays his interpretation of the words of Jesus as being the cause of many leaving the Christian commu- nity. We may assume that many of those leaving were Jewish Christians. Not only had John's inter- pretation insulted Moses and the sacred Torah. It had replaced the Torah with the teaching of Jesus as the "true manna from heaven." Had John stopped at this point some of those leaving might have been able to handle this new interpretation of the ancient miracle of the manna. But John also insisted that acceptance of Jesus and his teachings in place of Torah were re- quired for eternal life. The same affirmation had once been made of the Torah: "Lay to heart all the words which I enjoin upon you this day, that you may command them to your children, so that they may be careful to do all the works of this Torah. For it is not a trifle to you, but it is LIFE .... " This is from Deuteronomy 32:46-47. John now insisted not only on acceptance of Jesus and his teaching or Torah as required for a share in the life of God. Now he insisted on eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Jesus as a new and even more radical interpretation. Chris- tians were asked not only to consume the words of God but to consume the Word of God made human. We might wish that John had been less graphic, that he had stopped with a merely spiritual mean- ing. But John was not the only one who taught such a doctrine. Paul had written long before John: "Those who eat the bread and drink the cup 6f the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guihy of pro- faning the body and blood of the Lord," I Cor 11:27. What can we say, we who believe that our New Testament contains the revelation God granted us in Jesus' teachings? Where the mind fails faith must supply. When Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century was asked to compose the liturgy for the feast of Corpus Christi, among other profound in- sights he wrote these words: "A teaching is given to Christians that bread becomes flesh and wine be- comes blood. This you cannot grasp, you cannot see. Faith becomes the foundation of the mind in this matter which is beyond nature." (Thus ends our limited commentary of the past five weeks on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. To comment on this chapter one has to take into account the Old Testament roots of John's in- terpretation, the traditions of the universal Christ- ian Churches from early times, and the defined teachings of the Catholic Church to which this com- mentator adheres. A difficult task that requires five volumes instead of five half-pages in a newspaper. I have tried to accomplish this task with sensitivity toward our roots in Judaism and our life in the Christian Catholic Church.) 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