Feeding on Flesh
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus feeds those who come to him with bread and flesh—well, fish, but you are eating flesh if you are eating fish. In the Second Reading, Jesus feeds people with bread and flesh, too—his own flesh, which the bread of the Eucharist is.
It is not so hard to understand why Jesus would feed those people with the flesh that is fish. They were hungry, and they were used to eating fish. But why would Jesus feed people with his flesh? People being fed in the Eucharist are definitely not used to eating human flesh, and they aren’t hungry for it either.
Think of it this way. Because we ourselves are flesh, we need food to live; and every need carries with it a kind of vulnerability. If your need is not met, you will suffer or die. But vulnerability makes trust essential. If you are vulnerable, you will have to depend on others and trust them for help. And so one person’s feeding another makes a kind of intimacy of trust between them.
When a mother feeds her baby, the vulnerability of the baby and its dependence on its mother is so great that the mother’s feeding of the baby makes a powerful intimacy between them. There is a kind of loving union between the mother and the infant who needs her to feed him. When she breastfeeds him, she feeds the baby with herself. What is part of the body of the mother becomes part of the body of the baby; and, in her milk, she herself is what the infant needs to live and grow.
Adults, too, are needy and vulnerable—to sin, to the death of the soul, to all the afflictions and sorrows of this world—and the need for help is correspondingly very great. That help lies in Christ. And so, like a loving mother, Christ feeds us with himself. He does not suckle us at his breast; but he feeds us in an even more powerful way, by his dying, which is memorialized in the Eucharist, where Christ himself is present to us. And so, there is a way in which, when we eat the bread of the Eucharist, what was part of Christ’s body becomes part of our bodies.
In that union, we have intimacy with the Lord who feeds us and gives us what we need to live. And that is why Jesus feeds his people with his flesh.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University