Sunday, March 4, 2012
Eat And Drink What?!
Interesting discussion lately. Although I was raised Catholic, (yes, I went to 11 years of parochial school; was an "altar boy," even serving at the nun's private Mass at their convent; and was adamantly one of those who proclaimed "I was born a Catholic and will die a Catholic"), after having come to realize that what the Catholic church taught was more philosophies, rituals and traditions fashioned and fusioned from non-Biblical sources, I searched for and found a true worldwide brotherhood whose only source for beliefs comes from the Holy Bible. But that's another story.
Coming back to the discussion I mentioned.... It was something I had long-since forgotten about--the teaching of transubstantiation. Big word. Many today do not even know what it means. It refers to the idea that during the Catholic services, the wine actually, literally, transforms into the blood of Christ and the bread (Eucharist) into the body of Christ. Those who have never been Catholic may be instantly repulsed by this idea as nothing more than cannibalism. That reminded of the passage in the gospel of John (chapter 6 verses 22 through 68).
In verse 26 Jesus observes the true intentions of the crowd that was following him--they wanted the free food he was miraculously providing. (see verses 10, 11) So he decided to test out the intentions of their heart by teaching them a lesson about desiring spiritual nourishment more than physical nourishment. At first, (verse 34) they seemed to appreciate what he was saying. But then, using a forceful illustration, he said that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood (verses 53-56).
Was Jesus really advocating cannibalism? No. In verses 35 and 40 Jesus hits the real reasoning of the point: The people needed a faith so complete, so deep, so unreserved that it would be as a person devouring a meal (as opposed to those that turn up their noses or just "pick at" their plates). Nonetheless, Jesus' audience was repulsed and incensed at the idea of his suggesting what sounded to them as a recommendation of cannibalism. They found it so objectionable that, according to verses 60 and 66, the majority of them left without even attempting to understand.
In verse 63 Jesus helps the ones that did wait around long enough to hear a hint of an explanation that "It is the spirit that is life-giving; the flesh is of no use at all." Later, in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 15, verse 50) Paul states that "flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom" and goes on to explain that when they entered heaven, they would be changed into spirit bodies something like the angels. Returning to John's gospel, Jesus himself indicated that he was originally in heaven (verse 38) and the rest of scripture supports the thought that after his death and resurrection, he returned to heaven as a spirit person.
So it is impossible to take Jesus' words literally. Why? Because that would mean that only those living during his earthly lifetime had any chance of living forever and only if they performed cannibalism. There is no record of any faithful followers of Jesus attempting that, before or after his death. They knew his teaching was a figurative one, illustrating deep commitment.
Later, at the "Last Supper" (a term coined by people decades after the fact and not one directly found in scripture), Jesus instituted the means by which he wanted his followers to commemorate his life and death for us. Recorded both at Matthew chapter 26 verses 26 through 28 and at Mark chapter 14 verses 22 through 24, Jesus did say according to numerous translations, "this is my body" and "this is my blood." Did those eating with him (the 11 apostles that remained after Judas' dismissal), understand that he was teaching some transubstantiation concept?
Although Paul wasn't one of those there, even from the first-hand accounts he heard he was able to draw the right conclusion:
At 1 Corinthians 11:26,27 he acknowledges that the two substances are indeed just bread and wine but the commemoration event was to be so respected that dishonoring the event was viewed as dishonoring Christ himself. I provide two different renderings of the passage below:
Good News Bible: This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. It follows that if one of you eats the Lord's bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord's body and blood.
Amplified Bible: For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are representing and signifying and proclaiming the fact of the Lord’s death until He comes [again]. So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is unworthy [of Him] will be guilty of [profaning and sinning against] the body and blood of the Lord.
So no, Jesus was not teaching some odd form of cannibalism. He was not even remotely suggesting that the bread and wine would, while maintaining their appearance and taste, actually become another substance. But the lesson remains a critical one even for us today: Do we "just pick at" spiritual food, or do we really make a real effort to understand who God is and what He wants from us? (John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:14,15)
See also: http://bartreflect.blogspot.com/2013/05/how-is-jesus-bread-from-heaven.html