After hearing this, many of Jesus’ followers said, “This language is very hard! Who can accept it?”
Jesus was aware that his disciples were murmuring about this, and so he said to them, “Does this offend you? Then how will you react when you see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, not the flesh. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. But among you there are some who do not believe.”
From the beginning, Jesus knew who would betray him. So he added, “As I have told you, no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
After this many disciples withdrew and no longer followed him. Jesus asked the Twelve, “Will you also go away?” Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We now believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
In the previous gospel readings of the past week we heard strange declarations made by Jesus such as this one: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh… My blood is true drink… whoever drinks my blood remains in me” (Jn 6:51, 55, 56). Upon hearing these words, as we see in today’s gospel reading, many of his followers recoiled in horror. They thought that Jesus was advocating some kind of cannibalism. And they began leaving him by droves. Now at this point Jesus had a choice: he could have backed out of his declaration by shouting to them: “Hey, come back! I was only speaking figuratively. The eucharistic bread and wine are only symbols, a commemoration, not really my flesh and blood”—what most of our protestant brethren believe. But Jesus, at the risk of losing all credibility and all his disciples, does not retract a single word he said. He is dead serious about the utter reality of his presence in the consecrated bread and wine. He risks everything on this central mystery of our faith. Let us not water it down either. The Eucharist is Jesus physically real. Period.
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