Q. My question regards the teaching of Jesus in John 6:51-58. I hear Catholics say that they are taking these verses literally. Hence at their communion ceremony they are only following the word of God. And if they are using these words to their literal meaning, then the rest of us are not. And, we are supposedly the ones who believe in a literal translation of the Bible. So what is Jesus really saying here? How would I respond to a Catholic on this point?
A. I assume you’re talking about the Catholic doctrine of trans-substantiation, wherein the communion wafer supposedly becomes the actual body and blood of Christ at the moment it’s taken.
In John 6:53 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you.”
But Genesis 9:4 specifically prohibits the consumption of blood. Jesus is the exact representation of the God who issued that prohibition and therefore could not advocate the violation of his own laws. By this we know that He was speaking metaphorically. And if that’s not good enough, at the last supper He made it unmistakably clear. The bread symbolized His body and the wine His blood. We’re to partake of the symbols, not the real thing.
So why did He seem to be intentionally misleading the people? This discourse came on the heels of His miraculous feeding of the 5000. In John 6:26, after a large group had followed Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, he accused them of following Him just because He fed them, not because they believed in Him. When He tried to explain that He was giving them Himself, and not bread, many went away disappointed. He was separating the true believers from those who just wanted a free meal.