Cannibalism is not very appetizing to our refined, 21st century palates, nor was it when Jesus spoke to His followers about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Last week we saw how St. John used the common Greek word, esthio, when Jesus spoke of eating. This week, he switches to the word, trogo, which means to gnaw or chew. It’s a word more appropriate for eating something like steak (or flesh) than it is for bread. Why does John switch to this more descriptive verbiage in his recounting of the bread of life discourse?
Perhaps there is more than one explanation but two come to mind, one simple and one more profound. The simple one is easy to recognize for anyone who has baked bread or has eaten out at a restaurant that serves bread with a dipping oil before the meal. Those breads have a hard crust and, sometimes, a hard dry center that requires some chewing and gnawing. The breads eaten in Jesus’ day would have been similar in texture, but there is more.
Jesus calls Himself the living bread and challenges us to believe that eating His flesh and blood in the form of bread will nourish us, body and soul, with Eternal Life. If we were to truly eat human flesh it would require much chewing and gnawing. Jesus is not speaking symbolically here but He is identifying a different kind of bread than what His followers, including us, might be familiar.
First of all, we must recognize that the flesh and blood He gives us is that of His resurrected body. It’s form is not purely human, like ours, but glorified. This mystery is difficult to comprehend or wrap our minds around but it is essential to understanding the bread we receive at the Holy Mass. The mystery of this living bread, which gives Eternal Life, requires much mental gnawing and chewing. The sacred Host is not meant for mindless consumption. It is meant to be taken with Faith and with deep reflection about its nature and its effects on our body and soul. In fact, it is the central and essential mystery of all of our Faith doctrines and teachings. It is a mystery that begs to be mentally chewed and gnawed.