John 6:51-58 Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
It seems Jesus had an affinity for gatherings that involved food. We meet him at formal and not so formal dinner parties in all four gospels; the wedding at Cana, dinner with the stranger Zaccheus, meals with the good friends Martha and Mary, picnics with thousands, repasts with sinners and tax collectors, the last intimate supper with his closest friends, and who can imagine how many times he wandered into a town and was invited to break bread with a stranger. During the three years of his itinerant ministry Jesus depended on the generosity of other people for his food and drink; he depended on the work of their flesh to prepare and provide his living sustenance.
Still Jesus did not get all that he needed from friends and strangers. He knew that he lived “because of the Father…” and so he chose to believe and be in relationship with God the Father. I like to imagine that each morning when Jesus woke up and went off by himself to pray that at least part of what he prayed was, “Thank you God for sending these women and men to care for my needs. Please bless them as they have blessed me.” I like to think that Jesus knew with his whole being that he was utterly dependent on the grace and goodness of God flowing through the hands and hearts of others to provide for his needs, to give him life, and thus his life overflowed with gratitude. Perhaps this is what prompted him to stand in the synagogue at Capernaum during Passover and make what is arguably the most scandalous statement in the New Testament, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Those are really difficult words to swallow (sorry). How are we supposed to eat “the flesh of the Son of Man?” Frankly, if we take the words literally we imagine scenes of cannibalism and are likely to be repulsed. But Jesus was speaking metaphorically when describing himself as “this living bread that came down from heaven?” God, through Jesus, gives life to the world. That is to say, God works through the flesh of Jesus to give life, life “that will live forever.”
Here is the thing. Although God draws us to God’s own self it is our responsibility to choose to believe or not to believe, to ‘eat’ or to reject these words. When we eat something we take it in, we digest it and incorporate it in our flesh. When we eat something it becomes the substance of our energy, our growth and our actions. If we choose not to eat earthly bread we will not live physically. If we choose not to eat mystical bread (that is to say, choosing to believe Jesus as Jesus chose to believe God the Father) we will not live spiritually. The life we receive from earthly bread will not last forever. The life we receive from mystical bread is eternal. Now then, do you choose to believe, “to eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood?” And if you choose to believe, do you also allow God to use your flesh to bless and provide for the life of others?
On Sunday the 19th folks from St. Barnabas will bring food they have prepared to feed folks who are homeless in Phoenix. Might you join them? Call 480 948 5560 for details.