Flesh and Blood

Flesh and Blood August 6, 2021

Flesh and Blood
Flesh and Blood / Image by u_g45l9jv0 from Pixabay

This August, Sunday Gospels swim in “John.” The Gospel reading for this Sunday is John 6:41-51. We are going to dive deep into John 6 with the next several posts. What exactly does Jesus mean in the Fourth Gospel called “John” when he insists that his audience must “eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:5158)? What does he mean by “flesh and blood,” anyway? Is he talking cannibalism?

Indeed, say many Catholics, Jesus meant the Eucharist. We consume his flesh and blood when we receive holy communion. Today, any Catholic who carefully reads “flesh and blood” in John 6:41-59 cannot help but notice the substantial and explicit Eucharistic tone, right? The meaning is clear (read, “stop asking questions”).

Here is a video going deep into “flesh and blood”—

Flesh and Blood Meaning…

But Jesus wasn’t addressing Christians (fourth-century reality), much less Catholics. In the story of “John,” Jesus was addressing his fellow Israelites. He tells them to ingest his flesh and blood so that they might enjoy the high life. And by high life, I mean the highest possible kind of life—sky-vault life, “from above.” In other words, the life of the children of God.

Forget all context, too many homilies will say this upcoming Sunday. It’s all about us Catholics. In this business of ingesting flesh and blood, Jesus is obviously teaching Catholics about the Holy Eucharist—really the consecrated species at Mass. Every Catholic knows that!

Beware of spurious familiarity. The anonymous evangelist (named a century later “John”) didn’t have transcripts or tape recordings of Jesus’ lectures (i.e., he got creative with the dialogue). He wasn’t a Catholic or interested in Catholics. “John” didn’t write to Catholics, about Catholics, or for Catholics.  

Flesh & Blood: Anti-Society Talk

Who was “John”? He was an Israelite scribe writing to, for, and about an antisociety in a special anti-language. “Flesh and blood” is an anti-language expression. But what is anti-language? And what are antisocieties?  

Unlike the other New Testament Jesus groups, the Johannine community became an antisociety probably sometime in the 80s CE. According to Context Scholar Bruce Malina, an antisociety is a conscious alternative group to the Dominant Society, in this case, first-century Israel. It is an alternate society rooted made up of those deemed to be social deviants and misfits. Their group is forged in the form of social conflict. Its members are dissociated persons surviving in a social bubble inside within the dominant social order.

Just as societies share language, antisocieties share anti-language. Anti-language is the language of an antisociety. Anti-language gets developed precisely to keep outsiders out. It prevents outsiders from understanding the antisocial group.

On the surface, anti-language looks like the dominant society’s language. But don’t be fooled! While it may employ the same vocabulary and grammar of the dominant language, anti-language words bear different, unusual meanings rooted in chief concerns of the antisociety. This plays into how we must adequately understand flesh and blood.  

Qualities of Anti-Language

Often, anti-languages overlexicalize, and Johannine anti-language with its consuming “flesh and blood” certainly does this. Overlexicalization means too many words and expressions expressing the same reality of concern for the antisociety. Indeed, “John” does this. It features too many words that mean the same thing. It is so repetitive because it says the same something repeatedly but in different words and expressions.

Catholics and other Christians mess up their reading of “John” because they think it was written to teach and communicate ideas (“the truth!”). Instead, “John” was written to imbue Johannine believers with emotional anchoring in interpersonal relationships insider the Johannine Jesus group. Put another way, the Gospel of “John” was written for group cohesion. “John” is all about Johannine believers sticking together like glue forever. The only ideas it has to give are found in the first eighteen verses. After that, it is all rehash.

Flesh and Blood is Anti-Language

That includes John chapter 6, folks. Sorry to disappoint my fellow Catholics, but that means there is no magnificent theological treatise on the Eucharist to be found in John chapter 6. It may have some Eucharistic overtones, sure, as well as nods to Passover Exodus readings. But theological ideas about the Eucharist aren’t what’s going on. Whatever meaning it has was already given in the Prologue, John 1:1-18. Again, “John” isn’t giving us any new ideas in John 6 because “John” doesn’t communicate new ideas after John 1:18.

“Flesh and Blood”: Not New Ideas

Unfortunately, thanks to Scott Hahn and friends and the folks at EWTN, the ever-shrinking Catholic circle in the U.S. is becoming a bubble of proof-texting fundamentalists. So many Catholics in invincible stupidity are proof-texting now and mix-and-match verses from different documents in our New Testament library. But “John” wasn’t written to be fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle piece with the Synoptics.

So misinformed Catholics conflate John 6 with what’s happening in the Last Supper featured in the Synoptic Gospels into a gobbledygook. In the Synoptics, Jesus refers to the bread as his body and the wine as his blood. In contrast, “John” has a completely different context. Unlike the Synoptics and Paul (see Matthew 26:26-29Mark 14:22-25Luke 22:15-201 Corinthians 10:1611:23-27), “John” lacks an institution narrative! Instead, Jesus’ farewell dinner is centered on a foot-washing.  

Sorry but you can’t legitimately take John’s anti-language expression “flesh and blood” and mix it up into a cake-batter with “this is my body… this is my blood” in these other texts.

But who can say no to confused Catholics? Especially those who enjoy reading John 6 to justify their obsessions with Eucharistic devotions and prove their brand of Christianity is superior to all others? Don’t tell them that they ignore our Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and ancient Eastern siblings who share the Eucharist.

Johannine Audience: Flesh and Blood

“John” wrote directly to ancient Israelites, those in his Jesus group. Before we escape into allegory-gone-wild for indirect meanings, let’s read “John” and his “flesh and blood” expression respectfully. To understand his use of “flesh and blood,” you need to first grasp two different social contexts taken from the dominant society of first-century Israel.

We will pick up that thread tomorrow…

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