Sunday, August 26
By Tom Micinski
For the whole month, we have been reading from the Gospel of John, specifically Chapter 6, which is called the Bread of Life discourse. The Gospel at the beginning of August starts with Jesus recounting the story of God sustaining the Israelites on their journey in the desert with Manna. Jesus then boldly proclaims that he is the new Manna, the Bread of Life, whoever eats this new bread will live forever. People began to murmur and question Him. His own town even began to question and doubt Jesus’s teachings.
Then in last week’s Gospel, Jesus steps it up a notch and gets very specific. He tells the people they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. This is very unsettling for the Jews because one, they are not supposed to drink the blood of animals, let alone humans, and two, the Gospel uses the Greek word ‘trogo’ to describe the type of eating Jesus is talking about. ‘Trogo’ means to gnaw or munch, stressing the slow process of the action. This word, which is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, paints a graphic and physical mental picture that is not necessarily pleasant for people.
Therefore, in this week’s Gospel, which is the final passage from the discourse, many feel Jesus has crossed a line with his language and decide to leave him. At the end, only the twelve apostles remain and Jesus asks them if they want to leave too. Peter answers for the twelve with a strong proclamation of their faith in Jesus.
There are debates among theologians as to whether this language about eating should be taken metaphorically. Many theologians, especially on the Catholic side of the fence, believe the choice of such strong, graphic language to describing the type of eating should be taken literally because it enforces the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
I don’t want to debate the various theological positions of the Bread of Life discourse. Instead, I want to focus on the particular Greek word used to describe the type of eating; TROGO, which means to gnaw or munch slowly. I think I have a unique perspective from which to analyze this word more closely. Back in March, I broke my jaw and my mouth was wired shut for six weeks. This meant the only way I could eat was to liquify my food and drink it. I was able to eat and consume food, allowing me to get the nutrients I needed. However, I could not chew, munch, or gnaw my food.
When I first broke my jaw, my main concern regarding food and meals was the ability to create a variety of tasty food in a liquified consistency. I love to cook and experiment with food, so the process of creating liquified meals turned out to be fairly straightforward, even fun at times. I ate very well, from protein shakes, to grilled salmon to cheese burgers with french fries; all from a blender.
I got plenty of variety and tastes, but there was something missing. What I quickly realized was I missed the ability to chew my food. Many people asked what food I craved the most or what was going to be my first meal when the wires were removed. I didn’t care what I ate first, I just wanted to be able to chew. As humans, we are definitely meant to chew our food. I discovered that the act of chewing seems to do more than just break the food into smaller pieces, although that is an important function. The act of chewing has some psychological and emotional attachments as well.
Because I wasn’t able to chew and eat food in the ‘normal’ fashion, I noticed I felt a separation from everyone else at meals. At home we try to eat our dinner meal together. I sat down with a cup of blended food and the rest of the family had plates full of normal food. Because I wasn’t able to fully partake and enjoy the meal like everyone else, I felt a detachment or separation.
I had a similar feeling when I attended Mass. I was no longer able to receive both the body and blood of Christ at Communion. I could only receive the blood of Christ from the cup. This felt very strange for me. In my head, I knew I was still receiving Christ, but somehow I felt I was missing something. What I was missing was the ability to chew. I can’t give a clear explanation, but there was something about the act of chewing that seemed to connect me more to the Eucharist. Instead of just consuming the Eucharist, the act of chewing, trogo, provided me with an active role of making the Eucharist part of me.
Jesus’ teachings in this section of John’s Gospel, whether they are taken literally or metaphorically, are difficult to comprehend. Living in a Western Society, we tend to want definitive answers that are figured out logically in our heads instead of accepting an understanding that we ‘know’ in our hearts. I am grateful for the experiences I had because of my broken jaw. These experiences have shed a little more light on God’s mysterious gift of the Eucharist, providing me with a heartfelt understanding and assurance instead of a definitive intellectual answer.
Tom Micinski is the Coordinator of Liturgy at Old St. Patrick’s Church.