“Then the Jews debated among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
This is where all the hocus pocus happens.
This text has mystified countless, within and without the church, for as long as anyone can remember. What does Jesus mean when he says, “my flesh is the bread of life, and if you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you?”
Augustine famously pulls from Plato in trying to explain what Jesus was talking about, framing out what would become the doctrine of transubstantiation, the Roman Catholic belief that the bread and wine are literally the body and blood of Jesus. Most priests at the time were illiterate, had never read Plato, nor could understand what Augustine was talking about. So, when they got the memo from Augustine laying out the doctrine, they just told their congregations, “listen, here’s the important thing: when I say the magic words, ‘hoc est corpus meum’ (this is my body) then God turns the bread and wine into body and blood”.
“Hoc est corpus meum” became “hocus pocus.”
And the work of faith was to believe that God performs magic tricks.
The 6th chapter of John is a miracle minefield. Jesus walks on water, feeds thousands with some crumbs and a half a can of tuna fish, and then teaches the miracle of Eucharist. If we aren’t careful, we might be tempted to believe that Jesus is some kind of holy magician, pulling food and teachings and spectacular feats of danger out of his hat.
But here’s the thing: there is a world of difference between magic and miracles.
Magic is a trick, an illusion. It is a suspension of reality.
Miracles are truth, actual. They reveal reality.
Jesus walking on water is not about Jesus doing a magic trick but is the performance of the truth that the God we meet in Jesus is the same God who was speaking order to the chaos in Genesis.
Jesus feeding the thousands is not about Jesus magically producing a Trader Joe’s out of nowhere, but points to the truth of the abundance of creation and the Gospel truth that when we share what we have, there is always enough.
And Jesus talking about us chewing on his flesh (the best translation for the word, “eat”) is not about us having to believe that God does magical hocus pocus over bread and wine, but is an insistence that we take the miracle of incarnation as our daily bread.
When God takes flesh in Jesus in the miracle of the incarnation, all flesh becomes holy. All creation is Eucharist. Every atom is eternally beloved.
Jesus invites us to celebrate the truth that God is still taking flesh today in the Body of Christ. Taking that into our very beings, knowing it, chewing on it, until the Holy Presence is so intertwined with ours that we are also a miraculous incarnation.
God seems intent on feeding us God’s very self until the sacred is molecularly bound with our bodies, and the holy life courses through our veins.
And the miracle is this: it’s happening whether we are aware of it, or not.
Each person we meet carries the Sacred Life within them.
Each time we eat or drink, we ingest the miracle of life-giving creation.
Every breath we take is a participation in the divine breath of God.
We are already communing with God and one another, feasting on divine flesh and drinking holy blood.
This is the deepest reality there is. It is the miracle of the incarnation.
More Miracles, Less Magic
Truth be told, many of us would rather have a magician God, who does magic tricks for our benefit or entertainment. Most of us come to religion seeking to escape reality rather than to press more deeply into it.
We want escapist spirituality, and we get earthy incarnation.
The God we get in Jesus is stubbornly non-magical.
This God calls us to love our actual neighbors, to share our actual money, to forgive our actual enemies, to break our actual bread with others and to give thanks over our actual wine.
When our bodies begin to fail due to age or illness, this God doesn’t offer us a magical escape from suffering but insists that we face the reality of our own mortality and lean on the grace of others, depending on the miracle of resurrection.
If we don’t do that, we have no life at all, says Jesus.
But if we do, heaven opens up all around us, and miracle upon miracle, God takes flesh in us.
1. What miracles are needed in the neighborhood where you and your community are?
2. How does the life of Jesus open up the possibility of those miracles happening through you and your community?