- Eating the Eucharistic Bread 54 (64%)
- Believing in the Lord Jesus 30 (35%)
Comments: The context of John 6 clearly favours the latter option. We 'eat' and 'drink' of Christ's body and blood by believing on him. The Eucharist, as important as it is in the life of the church, is not the focus of Jesus discourse and indeed it was not as yet established (at the Last Supper).
The unbelieving Jews understood Jesus' words incorrectly. They misunderstood him because they would not believe in him as the Son of God sent from heaven. Augustine puts it vividly:
It seemed unto them hard that He said, ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, ye have no life in you:’ they received it foolishly, they thought of it carnally, and imagined that the Lord would cut off parts from His body, and give unto them; and they said, ‘This is a hard saying.’ It was they who were hard, not the saying (Augustine, Psalm 99).Eating and drinking is not with the mouth and the digestive organs of our bodies, but the reception of God’s grace by believing in Christ, as He makes abundantly clear by repeating the same truths both in metaphoric and plain language. Compare for example the following two verses:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life (verse 47).“He who believes” in Christ is equivalent to “he who eats this bread” because the result is the same, eternal life.
He who eats this bread will live forever (verse 58).
The parallel is even more striking between verses 40 and 54:
Everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day (verse 40).Seeing and believing in Christ is equivalent to eating and drinking His flesh and blood, for the result is the same: possession of eternal life and resurrection at the last day. We would not be mistaken if we follow Jesus' own explanation of what it means to eat and drink - Jesus teaches us to believe in Him, the Messiah, the Son of God sent from heaven by the Father for our salvation. Augustine gives us good advice here:
Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (verse 54).
This is then to eat the meat, not that which perisheth, but that which endureth unto eternal life. To what purpose dost thou make ready teeth and stomach? Believe, and thou hast eaten already (Augustine, Tractate 25).