How can the bread actually be Jesus’ flesh if the flesh is useless? It is a question I have heard many times from people trying to disprove the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. However, it has one very obvious fault: it is a comparison of verse 63 to verses 55-56. Let us, then, compare these two verses.
John 6:55-56 “For MY flesh is true food and MY blood is true drink. Those who eat MY flesh and drink MY blood abide in me…”
John 6:63: “…THE flesh is useless.”In the former verse, Jesus is referring to His own flesh; in the latter, the flesh in general (in other words, your flesh and my flesh). Verse 63 cannot render null the literal interpretation of verse 55, because Jesus is speaking of two totally different fleshes in each one. With this understanding, let us now read verse 63 in context. Crack open your Bible and read John 6:60-65.
In this passage, we see the disciples tell Jesus, “This is a hard teaching to accept! How can we believe it?” To this statement, Jesus responds, “What?! Am I not credible yet? If you saw me ascending into heaven where I came from, then would you believe me?” Jesus goes on to give the listening disciples the same lecture He will give to Thomas in John 20:29. “You want to believe your eyes, your own flesh. But the flesh is useless! You must believe in your spirit, in your heart. Blessed are those who have not seen, yet still believe. This knowledge is given them in their hearts, told them by the Father. For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
John 6:63 is not meant to render null and void verse 55. It is, in fact, a very clear rebuke to those who do not believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. At this point, I would like to point out another fact worthy of note, and that is that John 6 is not simply a command to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink Jesus’ blood in a very literal sense. It is also a claim to divinity.
“Jesus would not drink blood, or command others to! The Jews were forbidden from drinking blood!” is typically the objection that comes next from my Protestant/Evangelical friends. And yes, it is true that the Jews were forbidden from drinking blood. But, why was it forbidden?
The Jews were forbidden from drinking blood because they, along with the pagans, believed that if one drinks blood they consume and assume the life of the one whose blood they drink. Assuming the life of a mere animal or human is then indeed repulsive. Who wants or needs the life of another mortal? Ah, but the blood and life one who is divine and immortal. That would grant eternal life. Doesn’t this sound familiar? John 6:51, 53 “…whoever eats of this bread will live forever. …unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life within you.”
Jesus is telling the disciples that if they drink His blood, they will have His eternal life. He is claiming to be divine, and they know it. That is why he points to the Ascension as the miracle they would need to witness to believe. They would need to see Him returning from whence He came to believe that He actually came from heaven.
So, no, John 6:63 is far from a disproval of the literal Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As we have seen in this blog post and the last, the entire passage only makes the utmost sense in light of the doctrine of Transubstantiation. So, my friends, “do you also wish to go away?” Or do you believe?