For the last several weeks Jesus has been using his words to distress the disciples. Yes.
Last week he said that if they want eternal life they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood! His followers could not possibly have understood this.* They muttered. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?"
And they left.
This Sunday he makes it even harder.
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were
murmuring about this, he said to them,
“Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the Spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail. …
As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their
former way of life and no longer accompanied him. (Gospel)
A sad scene, and puzzling too. Why is Jesus saying such things to his followers, and how is anyone supposed to understand it?
The following unwritten guideline might help in reading the Gospel of John, from which our Sunday reading is taken.
There, whenever an event or saying does not seem to make complete sense, we can understand that it is masking deeper meanings. In other words, often a delicious significance is hidden behind events that are described in a bewildering way.
Let us try to apply this axiom to a saying from this week’s Gospel:
… ascending to where he was before. …
Where was he “before”?
He was in the bosom of the Holy Trinity. God’s love leaned out to us in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He “descended” to us.
But he will have to “go back to the next life,” because he was a human being, even though he was God. He is telling them this: if body and blood shock you, wait till you see me ascend into heaven!
And what about the words,
It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is to no avail.
In the readings from the past few weeks we have seen that Jesus’ ascension would never be a desertion of us but would be his presence on earth in a new form. The third person of the Trinity was going to dwell within any people who believe.
The third person will dwell in us?
Where will our Jesus be? Well, since the members of the Trinity are at one in everything, they are completely present within each other. So Christ is within the Holy Spirit. That Spirit offers to live deep within each believer, within each person who says yes to its presence. The same thing can be said for the Father.
Ok, but how do we acquire this Holy Spirit? Definitely through Baptism. And, of course, as in Jesus’ command from last week, through eating and drinking his body and blood. Communion makes us “become what we have eaten,” the body of Christ. We are to let Christ have flesh again, in our hearts and in our actions. The Spirit is to be the soul of the Body of Christ, and we are to be the body.
When we are part of the “Body of Christ,” we therefore have eternal life, as he told his followers. Peter sums it up. “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Mass this Sunday will be meant to give us the power to live the Body of Christ into the world.