3rd Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:35-48
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
Christ our Savior manifested the corporality of his glorified body through two principal proofs: First, he allowed his disciples to touch him; second, he ate in their presence.
While spirits, whether angels or separated souls, are indeed capable of appearing in a bodily form, the sight of our Lord eating was taken by the apostles as a certain manifestation of the truth of the resurrection of the flesh.
The risen do not need food
Christ, having risen from the dead, had no need of food or drink – this is obvious. Eating and drinking appertains to mortal animal life, but the resurrection does not restore a man to animal life and mortality; hence (so runs the objection), it does not seem fitting that our Savior should eat after the Resurrection.
To this, the Fathers of the Church affirm that our Lord had no need of this food, but used the act of eating only as a means for the manifestation of the truth of the Resurrection. The eating of fish was given as a proof to his disciples that he had a true body, and that this body contained within it all the normal organs which human bodies possess.
That our Lord could eat proves that his risen body was neither a ghostly phantasm nor a mere exterior shell (hallow on the inside), but was a true and physical human body.
Angels and ghosts cannot eat
Yet, one objects, is it not possible for angels and ghosts to appear to eat? And does this not confute the proof which our Lord gives? Since it would seem that even an angel could have eaten this fish.
I respond that an angel cannot truly be said to eat, for he has not the organs necessary for eating. And, even if it may appear that angels eat (as indeed was done in the presence of Abraham and Tobias), we must affirm that there is no true eating in such cases, as we hear from St. Raphael (Tobias 12:18-19): When I was with you … I seemed indeed to eat and to drink with you: but I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men – by which he means that he is fed spiritually and not corporeally, having no need of material food.
However, the disciples saw Christ eat and they knew that Truth himself could not deceive; therefore, since his eating was given as a proof both of his interior organs and of the corporality of his risen body, we must affirm these truths.
What happened to the fish eaten by our Savior?
And yet, although this eating was indeed a true act of eating – for our Lord did indeed take the food into his body which possessed all the organs necessary for the digestion and consumption of food – we must nevertheless assert that the effects of eating were not present.
In other words, while it is true that the risen Jesus did both chew and swallow the fish, and that he has within his glorified body all the organs which human bodies possess; nevertheless, this food was not in fact digested and absorbed into his body.
St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. Commentary on John 21 lecture 2; ST III, q.45, a.6) and St. Augustine affirm that this food was not transformed into Christ’s body by the natural process of digestion, but was rather dissolved into pre-existing matter by the divine power.
Thus writes St. Augustine (as quoted by Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide), “The thirsty earth, and the burning rays of the sun absorb water, each in a different way; the one because of its need; the other by its power.”
And so, although Christ did not take the food into his glorified body as nourishment (for the risen have no need of food), yet did he truly dissolve the food by his divine power.
Neither would it have been becoming for our Lord to digest food, since this process implies a certain bodily imperfection or defect – namely, the reliance upon external matter for strength.