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Some Christians hold that the Eucharist is capable of causally affecting a person such as to make them a spiritually better person, which necessarily involves the process of eating what appears to be a piece of bread. Theories on what this bread actually is vary. Catholics, for example, hold that the 'essence' of the bread has been transformed into Jesus, while the 'accidents' (how it looks, tastes, smells, its chemical composition, and so on) are the same as a regular piece of bread.

Some other Christians hold the Eucharist can causally make a person spiritually better, but the eating of the bread and whether the bread enters someone's stomach isn't actually necessary - rather, it is the beliefs and actions of the heart associated with the eating of the bread.

How does the former group reconcile what they are saying with what Jesus says at Matthew 15:16-18?

"Are you so dull?" Jesus asked them. "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean'."

Not only is Jesus casting aspersions on the idea that eating or not eating this or that thing is what is spiritually important, because the causal affect isn't on the heart but on the stomach, but he castigates the disciples for being 'dull' for thinking so.

How do those who hold eating the Eucharist is crucial for spiritual development reconcile that belief with Jesus' teaching on the importance of eating or not eating things for being holy?

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    Jesus is responding to the tradition of washing hands before eating (v2). Not only is Jesus casting aspersions on the idea that eating or not eating this or that thing is what is spiritually important I don't see how these verses are saying anything for/against specific food items-more of what comes out is what makes someone unclean. Can you clarify more how you came to this conclusion (why does anything need to be explained)?
    – depperm
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:03
  • I think that it would be helpful to have context for this verse, that way we don't interpret Jesus incorrectly by only reading a fraction of what he's saying.
    – Luke Hill
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:08
  • @LukeHill You're in luck! ;) biblehub.com/bsb/matthew/15.htm Dec 5, 2022 at 18:19
  • @depperm The disciples were eating their hands? Dec 5, 2022 at 18:21
  • no, Jesus is specifically addressing the point of unwashed hands making someone unclean being false and that words/heart are what make someone unclean. (unclean in spiritual sense not physical) Matt 26 Jesus specifically gives bread/wine comes to mind where Jesus is specifically mentioning food items for spiritual purpose, these verses don't seem to assert what you say they do-hence the ask for clarifying your point
    – depperm
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:38

2 Answers 2

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This is a good example of our needing to be aware of 3 elements in using a Bible verse for spiritual living:

  1. Hermeneutics: proper interpretation based on context, author's worldview, etc. In this case, we determine that the context of vv. 16-18 is Matt 15:1-20 about the parable that says people aren't defiled by what they eat (v. 15) but by what they think, say, and do (v. 19). This is in contrast to the Pharisees's lopsided meticulousness in considering ONLY whether they become defiled
    • by the manner the food is prepared & stored cleanly and
    • by the manner the food is touched (i.e. ceremonial hand washing, v. 2).
  2. Theology: combining all relevant verses regarding breaking bread and eating, not just one isolated verse. Thus, we need bring these verses together (source: this article):
    • John 6:54-57: Jesus's command to eat his flesh
    • John 6:48-50: Jesus's interpretation of his flesh as bread of life
    • 1 Cor 11:26: Proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes
    • Acts 2:42-43: Communal life with breaking of the bread
    • 1 Cor 10:17: Symbolic communion as single body of Christ by sharing a loaf of bread
  3. Authoritative interpretation: Using the example of the Catholic church as a group that "holds eating the Eucharist as crucial for spiritual development" (the OP requested perspective), the Catholic church interprets further the Biblical theology above into the teaching that the physical act of eating of the transubstantiated wafer becomes the means for Jesus to become the channel of grace which we need for our spiritual progress. Other groups like Lutherans and Reformed have their own development of the Biblical theology into their own version of Eucharist as spiritual food.

If you only consider Matt 15:16-18 in isolation not only from Christian Biblical Theology (considering the whole canon) but also from a Christian Tradition, you will end up with a wrong use of that verse, because:

  1. Biblical theology will not consider Matt 15:1-20 as in the same category of discussion of the bread of life, since the passage is about regular meal at home. It is not about making one clean through eating. Nor is it about increasing spiritual health, which in the OT it was through repentance (water baptism) and through proper sacrifices at the temple.
  2. The theological category of communion has to do with "eating" Jesus, which is not at all in view in Matt 15:1-20, so it's a "category mistake".
  3. A sacramental theology includes typology (such as fulfillment of OT manna or as fulfillment of OT ceremony of the eating meat that has been properly sacrificed (cf 1 Sam 1:9)), consideration of other commands of Jesus to "eat for life", as well as connection with other doctrines regarding Jesus's presence in the world.

Conclusion

The question:

How do those who hold eating the Eucharist is crucial for spiritual development reconcile that belief with Jesus' teaching on the importance of eating or not eating things for being holy?

Jesus uses eating in connection with several different teachings:

  • In Matt 15:1-20 the "input" is physical. The teaching is that it's the "output" that can defile us. Jesus teaches that spiritual "output" (thoughts, words, deeds) can defile us. Spiritual "input" is not discussed at all. So here Jesus IS SILENT about the efficacy of a spiritual input. Therefore, Matt 15:1-20 does NOT exclude the spiritual benefit of the Eucharist
  • It's in other passages mentioned above that Jesus teaches how spiritual input (his body) will result in spiritual development. (Although Eucharist should not be seen as making someone holy; that is in repentance + absolution for Catholics or justification for Protestants). The justification of this teaching is done through other verses and the group's sacramental theology which connects physical "input" to become spiritual "input" which in turn produces spiritual improvement in the heart. It is still the heart's actions APART FROM THE EUCHARIST that will subsequently defile us or not through the heart's spiritual "output" (thoughts, words, deeds).

The general lesson is that proper hermeneutics, theology, and authoritative tradition are 3 necessary components to use a passage for spiritual application. We cannot interpret one passage in isolation with only logic and linguistic as the sole interpretive tools.

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Here's what the Catechism says about the benefits for receiving communion:

What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh "given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit," preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism. This growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion, the bread for our pilgrimage until the moment of death, when it will be given to us as viaticum.

Jesus doesn't say that the soul and divinity of the food you eat passes into the latrine. If food is spiritual unclean, it's still not OK to eat, St. Paul says we shouldn't eat food sacrificed to idols, for pragmatic reasons - not reasons of our own spirituality, but because it looks bad to others.

It would be entirely Manichean for Catholics to believe that there is Good food and Bad food and they mean different things, bad food has no power it is nothing to us, Good food (and I'm using the word Good intentionally because no one is Good but God) is everything to us.

Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is "given up for us," and the blood we drink "shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins." For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins:

For as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord. If we proclaim the Lord's death, we proclaim the forgiveness of sins. If, as often as his blood is poured out, it is poured for the forgiveness of sins, I should always receive it, so that it may always forgive my sins. Because I always sin, I should always have a remedy.

That last part was from St. Ambrose, the Eucharist a remedy for sin. Some remedies are taken proactively, some are taken after the fact (after venial sins at least).

As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins. By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him:

Your belief in Christ and His love doesn't go away when the Bread of the Eucharist is absorbed into your bloodstream.

Since Christ died for us out of love, when we celebrate the memorial of his death at the moment of sacrifice we ask that love may be granted to us by the coming of the Holy Spirit. We humbly pray that in the strength of this love by which Christ willed to die for us, we, by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, may be able to consider the world as crucified for us, and to be ourselves as crucified to the world. . . . Having received the gift of love, let us die to sin and live for God.

CCC 1392-1394

The Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of Christ on the cross, not just the Last Supper, the whole celebration is done in connection with the Cross. If it were the case that a remembrance of a celebration should be quashed then Jesus ought to have turned the tables over at the Wedding at Cana instead of miraculously making wine.


Maybe this addresses your question, but St. Paul says you have to receive worthily

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died

1 Cor 11:27-30

First, we need faith in Jesus’s true presence in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not a symbol. It is the body and blood of Jesus that he offers us to enter into communion with him.

https://denvercatholic.org/receiving-the-eucharist-worthily/

You don't "enter into communion" with a chicken sandwich. You have to believe that the Eucharist is what Jesus says "my Body".

Second, we also need to remove obstacles to receiving the grace of Jesus’s presence. If we are in a state of serious, mortal sin, we are not able or ready to enter into the communion that Jesus offers us

ibid

You must be in a state of grace to receive Communion in the Catholic Church.

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  • +1 although I'm not sure this really answers the question. How is it that the essence doesn't continue on into the latrine, btw? Since it's 'in' the bread, is it somehow pulled out by the stomach and absorbed by the body? Does the CC say? Dec 5, 2022 at 18:27
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    @one there are canonical norms for dissolving a Host that is not fit to eat. I think you dissolve the Host in blessed water and pour it out in a special drain that goes out to the ground - not to the sewer.
    – Peter Turner
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:28
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    This is one reason I always pray before receiving Communion that I be a "fit Temple of the Holy Spirit", because I want to be like the blessed ground for Our Lord.
    – Peter Turner
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:30

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