I attended the men's Bible Study at the Princeton Alliance Church near Queenship of Mary this past Thursday night. I got an email (along with the other regulars) out of the blue from the leader, Barry, which said "We'll kick off this week with Chapter 6, verse 35." No mention of the book of the Bible, but I'm a Catholic, so I know my Scriptures!
What other 6:35 would you start a Bible Study session with? John 6:35. The "Bread of Heaven" discourse! At a non-denominational Bible Study! As a Catholic, I felt compelled to go.
We didn't get to the verses about eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ until the very end of the evening, because there was much more discussion (and disagreement) over some of the verses before those. "All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. ... No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:37, 44) There was some discussion about predestination, why some people answer the call and others don't, whether God calls everyone or only some people.
My contribution to the discussion was to offer that God's desire that all men be saved (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) is distinct from His sovereign will. I argued that we have free will in this way: 1) sin is a transgression against God, thus 2) sin is a transgression against the will of God, so 3) God cannot command or will a person to sin because He would be willing against His will, so 4) our choice to sin is determined by our free will. God is not the author of sin, even though He is the author of those who sin.
It would be utterly contrary to His nature for God to will someone to not do His will. That's a paradox, plain and simple: in disobeying God, that man would be obeying God! Another way to come to the same conclusion comes from the words of Christ: "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21) If we have no free will, then that means we are all doing simply what God pre-ordained us to do: we are all doing God's will for us. That means all of us shall enter the kingdom of Heaven. That's absurd and is refuted soundly by Scripture. Thus, we have free will.
And again, we pray "Thy will be done". Why would we bother praying that if it's already being done?
God knows our free will decisions because He is God. He is outside of time, and so He knows what I'm doing before I go to bed, not because He commanded or willed it, but because He has already seen it by virtue of his omniscience.
With that out of the way, we finally moved onto John 6:53-58. I suggested that I was in the minority in my interpretation of these verses because I'm Catholic. Barry (who is such a gentle and kind man, and is newly engaged, so pray for him and his fiancée) asked me to give that Catholic interpretation.
So I did. I defended the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist several ways. I defended drinking Christ's blood against the commandment not to consume the blood of animals. I defended Christ's language, going from phago ("to consume" which could be philosophical, not physical) to trogo ("to gnaw", which is not used outside of the literal sense). I defended the context of this passage, which starts with the miraculous multiplication of fishes and loaves (a superabundance, an overabundance); which starts with mention of the Passover and ends with mention of Judas' future betrayal (as do the Last Supper accounts of the synoptic gospels). I defended the Church's "policy" on a "closed communion": receiving Holy Communion in the Catholic Church is a sign of being in Communion with the Church and all she teaches and professes to be true. I defended against the argument of "it is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail", because Jesus does not say his flesh is of no avail, and the words that he spoke (which are Spirit and life) are quite plainly: "eat my flesh and drink my blood".
I also corrected a few misconceptions (voiced or not). The Church does not teach that Jesus becomes bread and wine: bread and wine become Jesus. The Church does not teach that mindless and rote consumption of Holy Communion saves us; on the contrary, she believes what St. Paul says on the subject, that those who receive unworthily receive condemnation! (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-30) I answered a question about whether a person has to receive Communion (such as a person who is baptized and dies before receiving Communion), although I didn't cite the Council of Trent (Session 21, Chapter IV).
We didn't finish the chapter, so I'll be going again next Thursday night for some "followup". Please pray for me, and pray for Barry, Steve, Kevin, Steve, John, Alan, Sidney, Joe, Yeol, and Gary.