“Muktuk with Ooksuk” is the favorite breakfast of my host family in Paulatuk. That translates to whale blubber soaking in fermented whale oil. I apologize if that image is unsettling to you but it evokes a sense of how those listening to Jesus in today’s Gospel may have felt as they contemplated the words, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.”
The foods we eat when we are young set the stage for what we consider “good food” later in life, whether that be pork chops, lasagna, Jiggs dinner or caribou head. The sight and smell of food evokes deep memories in us and every spouse knows that no matter how well a recipe is followed it will never taste the same as the way their mother-in-law used to make it.
But we can acquire new tastes. Picture a mother trying to introduce a new food to her child. It’s strange looking and smells funny, but mom is kind and trustworthy so its worth a try. With eyes closed and nose pinched the first bite is tasted and, to the child’s surprise, it’s not so bad.
As Jesus shares his life and teachings with his followers he encounters resistance. This is a different teaching, not what they were used to. It was challenging to their senses and still, there was something there that was attractive. Some would hold their noses and turn their heads while others tentatively took that first bite.
One who refused to accept the new teaching was Saul. Saul was a connoisseur of God’s word, a true zealot of the Jewish tradition. The Christians, whom he persecuted, must have seemed to him like a canker on his sophisticated palate. He refused to consider how this new way of worshiping God could add anything to the faith that he had given his life to. Yet when he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus he faced a realization, that the food which Jesus offered was richer and more satisfying then he could have imagined. Also, while the way of the Christians might have seemed new, in fact the food that Jesus offered was not.
When our parish children are preparing to receive their first communion we always practice first, having them taste the host and drink from the cup. This is new to them and they sometimes giggle because it’s unusual. But what is not new to them is who it is that they are preparing to receive, Jesus. This relationship with Jesus was already begun at their baptism when they were welcomed into God’s family and their taste for God was stimulated. It was already begun when they were conceived and the memories of their creator were first fashioned on their hearts.
The life which Jesus offers, in the gift of his flesh and blood, is God’s life; the very life that sustains us. Jesus’ invitation is to understand that we are not just creatures in need of bodily food but that we are God’s children in need of spiritual food. If we place our faith in Christ, that hunger will be satisfied.