“‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he 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, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’” - John 6:51-58
In the world Jesus inhabited, bread was life. A day without bread was a slide in the direction of starvation. Meat was a luxury, but bread was a staple. So when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” he wasn’t mincing words. He was saying, of course, something like, “I am your sustenance. I am your strength. Without me as your vitality, you have a life-sapping hunger that cannot be satisfied or filled.”
So to play out the image, we might come to something like, “My flesh is your daily nourishment. My righteousness feeds you so you can give up all your striving and scorekeeping. And my blood is the drink that keeps you irrigated and vibrant and fertile, not parched and barren. My sacrifice revives you so you can put down your shame and scandal. Feasting on my body and blood, you can be daily made new.” Of course, we receive these things through the eucharist, but whether or not you can make it to the altar rail every single day is beside the point. Jesus is talking about the spiritual reality at work in the eucharist, but not limited to it - that is, a dependence upon Jesus. (Another way to say the same thing is, eating and drinking is a tactile renewal of our dependence, but eating and drinking is not necessary to our dependence.)
Always the literalists laying traps, the Pharisees object to Jesus’s words and fail to grasp their spiritual meaning. They fail also to connect Jesus’s self-disclosure here to his feeding of the five thousand the day before (6:1-15), which certainly they’ve heard rumor of. By calling himself bread, Jesus is saying, “Don’t you get it? I meet you in the wilderness. I supply your greatest eternal need, not just the nagging momentary ones. I fill your emptiness. I provide what you cannot produce. Like bread for a crowd too big to cater, I am the banquet God has sent - I am the covenant kept, I am God’s will upheld and performed from desire, not duty. I am holiness, and faithfulness, and love and righteousness. I am your offering and sacrifice. I am your atonement. Because the Father approves of me, I am your approval. You need me like you need bread.”
It’s enough to make the devout forget the formalities and leap for sheer joy. That doesn’t mean these words are any easier to swallow, however. If we use a softened form of Jesus’s claim and say, “You can’t live without Jesus,” most folks will still find it distasteful. Which only goes to show, it’s not the strange mandate to eat his flesh and drink his blood, but the very notion that we need a Savior that people can’t stomach.
Faith and Practice:
In what specific ways do you need Jesus to fill you, like bread fills the ache of hunger? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Let's face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives - to backslide. We are all faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of the Church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship. Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship is a small group Bible study on the Book of Hebrews intended to lead participants into a deeper intimacy with the Living God in the context of New Testament worship. Draw nearer to God in authentic worship today!
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