“What’s in it for me?” Jesus seems to be playing into this most basic human question…Human beings often want to know what they will get out of making a particular choice…Throughout the various “bread of life” texts Jesus draws us in with his use of classic “IF-THEN” logic…“If you eat this bread, then you will live forever.” The problem with this image is that we, like the ancient Jews in Scripture, can’t really make any sense out of a literal interpretation of Jesus’ words. It sounds a lot like cannibalism. Besides, as we discussed last week, we are all going to die one day – that is unavoidable…Jesus must be talking about something else.
As we try to understand what Jesus means here, let’s consider our own relationship with food…When we eat, food is digested and nourishment flows through our bodies…This process is essential to sustaining life…The nourishment we take in becomes part of us…You know the old saying: “You are what you eat.” The thing about our relationship with food is that it can be healthy or unhealthy depending on the choices we make…We can choose to eat foods that are good for us, that strengthen us, and lead to a long, healthy life…OR, we can choose “junk food” that contributes little to our nutrition and can be harmful to us…Could Jesus be talking about a relationship with him that “sticks to our ribs,” nourishes us, and shapes who and what we are? That sounds like a good way of looking at this otherwise troubling imagery.
When Jesus talks about bread, he is not talking about flour, water, and yeast…In verses 49-50, Jesus calls on a familiar ancient story about God feeding the Israelites in the desert: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness and they died.” Then he indicates himself as the bread come down from heaven that brings eternal life. Jesus uses familiar images and the knowledge we have about eating and drinking food to help us get past the literal and see into the metaphor…John wants us to hear again the words that began his gospel: “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning…14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This is the incarnation of God – stepping out of eternity and into our history, in flesh and blood, as one of us…It is why the “bread of life” images are repeated over and over again in John’s gospel…John’s repetitiveness must be seen as a sign that this is really important…It is also a sign that the concept being communicated is difficult to grasp so it must be brought home repeatedly until we get it…“Incarnation” – the physical presence of God in the flesh – is foreign to our modern and limited minds. The ancients were much more familiar and accepting of images of gods and other heavenly beings walking around on earth…This was part of their belief system…For us, incarnation is more troubling…It goes against our natural, widespread expectations for what is spiritual vs. what is material…We need to hear Jesus say that this incarnational flesh is where God chooses to meet us. The more we listen to Jesus talk about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the harder it becomes to really embrace his incarnation…It’s not enough to simply follow Jesus, as hard as that is for most of us…We are to consume him completely; we are to take all of him into ourselves…What this really means is that there is no longer room for us in this transaction…We must die to ourselves in order to make room for Jesus to take his rightful place within us.
Bishop Will Willimon offers us this insight: “The metaphor reminds one of Paul’s claim of ‘no longer I…but…Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). There is no knowing who the Christ is without visceral, total engagement. We will not be able to comprehend him by sitting back, comfortable in the pew, and coolly considering him as if he were an abstract, disembodied idea.”
Incarnation means “embodied”…If we are truly to engage Christ and receive the promised life everlasting, then we must boldly step forward with empty hands outstretched to receive his body and blood…We must get up from our comfort zone and take hold of the fullness that is Christ seeking to come and dwell within us…Jesus intends to have all of us, body and soul…His truth wants to take root deep inside of us, consuming us as we consume more of him…His blood wants to flow through us and nourish every part of our being…Jesus has come down from heaven intent on taking us back – all of us…And he wants us to have all of him…Whoever knows this, knows how to live forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen