Recently, I received an emailed “essay” attacking, specifically, transubstantiation. The author claimed to have had an “intellectual epiphany” based on the “unshakable Scriptures”. We, however, choose instead to follow the word of Scripture, which calls the Church–not the Bible–the bulwark of Truth. (1 Tim 3:15)
We choose, likewise, to believe the words of Christ during the Last Supper. He did not say that this bread is like my body. The God of the universe, He who said “let there be light” and there was, also said “This is my body.” And so it was. Yes, Jesus also said “I am a door” and “I am the vine”. Does that mean we must believe He is a physical door or that He is a plant? Certainly not. Beyond the grammatical differences in some cases, there is a difference in context and a big difference in emphasis. Jesus is clearly using metaphor in calling himself a door, a gate, a way, a vine, and so on. No one contends otherwise. But when Jesus says He is the bread of life, people then, as people now, take His words very differently.
The Jews questioned Jesus about the Eucharist: “How can this man give us flesh to eat?” They did not think He was speaking metaphorically. When they questioned, He did not correct them. He answered by saying “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man… you have no life in you.” (John 6:52-53) Again, the disciples said that “this is a hard saying”. What is hard about a metaphor? They recognized the difficulty in what Jesus was saying, but He did not correct them. (John 6:60-61)
It is not the flesh of the priest — the man — that works a “magic spell”, as the email said; it is, instead, the Spirit of God that transubstantiates the bread and wine. The flesh is of no avail, Jesus tells us; we cannot work “magic” by saying the right words or making the right gestures. It is God working through His Church, through His people, as He did in Scripture. It is God working through the physical world, through objects, again just as He did in Scripture. Jesus healed a blind man with mud and spit. A touch of His garment cured the sick. The flesh, the physical world, is of no avail on its own, but it becomes miraculous and powerful with the power of God.
We are all faced with a choice in the Gospels. The people turned and left Jesus. When? When he repeated over and over that He is the bread of life. (John 6:66) When he repeated those words in increasingly strong language. They left Him over the Eucharist, and He let them go. He asked the disciplines that remained, and He asks all of us, “Do you also wish to go away?” We all have to consider that: will a hard teaching prevent us from following the words of Christ? Will we turn away from the Bread of Life as well?
Copyright 2017, Joe Wetterling
Image courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Juan_de_Juanes_002.jpg