Second century fresco,
Catacombs of Priscilla,
© Wikimedia / Christian Art
This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?
John 6: 60-69
After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?
‘It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.
‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.
Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’
Reflection on the fresco
Today’s reading is the conclusion of the long chapter 6 of John’s gospel which talks about Jesus as the Bread of Life. It follows on from yesterday’s reading, where we heard Jesus’ instruction to eat his body and drink his blood. Today we read some of the reactions to Jesus’ words: “This is intolerable language” and “How could anyone accept it?”
We know how the Eucharist is a magnificent gift from Jesus to us. Yet many people back then struggled to accept Jesus’ self-gift of his own flesh and blood, and many still do. The temptation is that we tone down the significance of the Eucharist, thinking that the bread and wine are merely symbolic. But in the whole of Chapter 6 of John, we are being told over and over again that in the Eucharist we do eat Jesus’ real body and blood.
One of the earliest depictions of the Eucharist is the Fractio Panis (in English: Breaking of Bread), a fresco in the "Greek Chapel" (Cappella Greca) in the Catacombs of Priscilla here in Rome. This second- century fresco depicts seven persons at a table, six men and a woman. The fresco is found upon the arch immediately over an altar alcove, in which sacrament of the Eucharist was performed. We see a bearded figure, sitting somewhat apart at the extremity of the table. He is holding a small piece of bread with his arms stretched out in front of him showing that he is breaking it. On the table immediately before him is also a two-handled cup. Further along the table there are two large plates, one containing two fishes, the other five loaves. At the outer left and right we see baskets filled with loaves (four baskets at one end, three at the other).
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