This week John’s gospel gets weird. As one colleague pointed out, Jesus says something that will make the adolescents in and among us giggle. Beyond that, though, is the question of just what exactly is happening here. Surely, Jesus didn’t just say that!
Taking a closer look means asking what Jesus really meant when he said “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Early Jewish hearers wouldn’t be pleased by this. Blood was the part of the animal offered to God; it was not to be consumed by humans. Yet, here is Jesus inviting people to eat flesh and drink blood. There’s an invitation here that ought not go overlooked no matter how weird it sounds.
Metaphorically speaking, to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood is to remove the barrier between God and humanity, the barrier that required animal sacrifice. Through Jesus people come to God, experience God’s forgiveness, love, grace directly. When the breaking of bread and drinking of wine becomes ritualized, it symbolizes (among other things) God’s willingness to be with us around our tables, to break bread with us. There is a mysterious beauty here that we would do well to pay attention to even if we do not quite understand it.
On another level, Jesus is offering his whole self to the people – body, mind, and spirit.
There’s something powerful in this simple offering. What does it mean for us to be consumers of Christ? If we accept the idea that Christ lives in us as we live in Christ, then we are the body, mind, and spirit of Christ. That’s quite a transformation when you think about it. We go from being the hungry, clamoring, clueless crowd to being holy, sacred, beloved. Bread of life, indeed! And if the world needs anything right now, it needs life-giving bread.
Think of how understanding ourselves to be the embodiment of Christ can change the way we think about social justice. If God breaks bread at our tables, then God breaks bread at everyone’s tables. I am no more or less the embodiment of Christ than you are. This understanding takes all the foolish things we use to separate from one another and reveals instead divine equality. In other words, if we ignore those who suffer injustice, then we are ignoring Christ.
As the news is filled with the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the one year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, and the marking of one year in the war in Ukraine, I have to ask when we will take seriously these strange words Jesus spoke? When will we break bread with our neighbors and not care what country they have come from? When will we welcome the stranger and not care about their gender identity? When will we offer hospitality to the traveler and not care that their skin color is not our skin color? When will we care for those who suffer and not make judgements about their economic status? In other words, when will we become the Bread of Life that Christ offered freely and completely?
RCL – Year B – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 16, 2015
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 with Psalm 111 or
Proverbs 9:1-6 with Psalm 34:9-14
Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.