Jesus would have been terrible on Twitter. He didn’t communicate in sound bites, nor use all caps to emphasize his exact message. Instead, he told thought-provoking stories and challenging parables. He employed examples and allegories. He required listeners to work to understand the meaning behind his words.
That’s why many, even some disciples, turned away, especially when he said things like “Eat my flesh; drink my blood.” That was anathema for people in his day (especially the blood part). In fact, it sounds so crazy that I can’t blame them for abandoning this teacher who they felt had finally gone too far. Even we “modern” Catholics with Eucharistic theologies in hand have a hard time looking past the words, instead choosing the safe interpretation embodied in literally eating the consecrated host and sipping from the chalice.
But what if Jesus is asking for more than just consumption? What if he is requiring that his flesh and blood – in other words, who he is and what he is made of – become who we are and what we are made of? What if Jesus wants us to increasingly become a living embodiment of God, and to feed others in the same way? What if Jesus wants us to spill our blood for the salvation of the world? That’s a much tougher message.
Given that the lectionary pairs this Gospel with the story of Paul’s complete turnaround reinforces that transformation is precisely the point. Granted, Paul’s hand was forced by a blinding flash, a vision complete with Christ speaking to him, and blindness that was only healed by a disciple of Jesus. And yet, he allowed the “flesh and blood” of the Christ – the very being of God’s incarnate One – to fully enter in and completely transform his life. He began to live no longer for himself, but for Christ. Driven by an urgent mission, he began doing whatever was necessary to spread the message and bring the Reign of God into being, even though it eventually resulted in his own death.
Such visions are rare – God does not generally force our hand – but accepting the identity and mission of Christ should not be. As Augustine taught, each one of us is called to literally become what we eat, to become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am blown away when I think of it. I am humbled, unworthy, and frightened. But if I allow it, then every time I approach the table and accept the Body and Blood of Christ into my own body and blood, God can mold my heart, shape my will, and create in me a willing instrument of salvation.
What a challenge! I hope you can join me in responding, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.