A “Foodie” is a person that spends a keen amount of attention and energy on knowing the ingredients of food, the proper preparation of food, and finds great enjoyment in top-notch ingredients and exemplary preparation. They go to great lengths to make sure what they eat is healthy, nutritious, and appetizing. Here is perhaps the main difference between a foodie and a gourmand. A foodie will never answer the question “What are you eating” with the answer: “I don’t know.” A foodie will never answer about his food: “I don’t know what this is or where it came from.”
It seems that the followers of Jesus in today’s gospel would have flunked the foodie test. Remember the context. This discussion follows immediately after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. And remember, John does not have an institution narrative at the last supper. Instead, he gathers the teaching of Jesus about the Eucharist into one place. Today’s reading is the summit of that discourse.
“I am the living bread come down from heaven and the bread I give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus is trying to help them, in our modern parlance, become a foodie – understand what the food is that he offers and where it comes from.
Scandalized, the Jews retort: “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” Eating of flesh with blood in it was strictly forbidden all through the Old Testament. Blood was the principal of LIFE – and belongs to God. So no one can take it upon himself the prerogative of eating flesh with blood. Yet here is a fellow Jew saying “UNLESS you eat my flesh, you will have no life with you.” And the language he uses could not be mistaken for symbolic language. Sarx = MEAT. That would be extremely objectionable for the Semitic mind. And yet, rather than back down from that language, rather than try to mollify the crowds, to get the foodie in them on board, Jesus insists on the reality of this language. He uses the Greek work TROGAIN which means “gnawing” – in the same way a lion would eat the meat off its prey. Unless you gnaw on me, you will not have life within you.
This discourse is the ground for the catholic belief in the real presence. What Jesus is offering – this bread from heaven, is not just a symbol of Jesus, not just a sign of his love and sacrifice. It is the Body and Blood, the soul and divinity of our Lord that we consume at this table. On the level of substance, on the level of ‘being’ –the bread and wine of the Eucharist change.
How do we explain it? We know that some human words change reality. When a couple says: “I take you to be my wife/husband” their reality changes. When a police officer tells us: “You are under arrest” our reality changes. There are certain human words that change reality, that effect what they say. So when an umpire says: “You are OUT” – the reality of the game changes moving forward.
So too, we know from the stories of Genesis the creative power of the divine word. When God speaks – reality comes into existence. Let there be light – and the light was. The Divine word is creative, not just descriptive.
So, when Jesus, the Son of God, says over the bread and wine – this is my body and this is my blood, he says that not just as an ordinary human being who is speaking symbolically. What he says IS. What he says BECOMES. By his power as God – the bread becomes his body. The wine is his blood. Really present. And we have his promise: “The one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”
This is the life that Jesus promises you and me, each time we come to this table. The Bread that came down from heaven – the very, real presence of our Lord, welling up within us – that is the food we gnaw upon here at this table. And as often as we feed upon him, there is the reality of His life, greater than our own, welling up within for eternal life. Food for the journey, strength for our living.
What are we eating? Where does it come from? The Catholic foodie in all of us knows…