The people quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life within you.
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood
have eternal life,
and I will raise them up on the last day.
Jn 6: 51-58
Discourse on the
Bread of Life
continues and, understandably, the crowd becomes increasingly confused. If we trace the crowd's reactions through Jn 6, we find some interesting shifts, all in the course of one chapter:
- At the beginning of Jn 6, Jesus multiplies loaves and fishes, feeding 5000 men, not to mention the women and children who may have been present. With full bellies, the people proclaim Jesus as "the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world" (Jn 6:14). They want to crown him king.
- The next day, when the crowd pursues him across the lake, Jesus claims to have been sent by God and the people demand proof: "What sign can you do that we may see and believe in you?" (Jn 6:30).
- Jesus then identifies with the Bread that has come down from heaven. The people are mystified and try to reconcile this claim with the fact that they know Jesus' parents and the rest of his family -- some of them would have grown up with him, played with him as children, possibly lived next door to him! "Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" (Jn 6:42).
- Jesus' Bread of Life imagery becomes more graphic; he is offering his flesh and his blood for the life of the world. A footnote to the NAB translation states that the verb "eat" translated from the Greek was closer to an animal "munching" or "gnawing" than to human eating. We can understand the horror of the crowd: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (Jn 6:52).
- Jesus explains that his words are "spirit and life" but many of his disciples find his teachings repugnant: "This saying is hard -- who can accept it" (Jn 6:60). Many walk away but Peter speaks for the Twelve: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6: 68).
This discourse could also be described as a
Discourse on the Eucharist;
it challenges us to explore our own understanding of Christ and who we are in relationship to him. For some, as long as Jesus provides for their material needs, belief is easy. Those who believe in a
Gospel of Prosperity
see their own wealth, health and good fortune as signs of God's favor. They have a sense of entitlement, the conviction of being better than others. Their "full bellies" represent divine favor while the misfortunes of others (the poor, the afflicted, those without resources etc.) suggest "those people" are unworthy of grace. As long as the Christian 1% continue to live off the fat of the land, they can preach a Jesus who indulges their wishes and makes no demands.
Then there are those whose literalism gets in the way of belief. Because they have placed Jesus in a clearly defined box ("son of Joseph and Mary," raised in Nazareth....) they cannot imagine he has anything to offer them. Their vision is one dimensional and they fail to see beyond externals. Logic, in fact, suggests that Jesus is an ordinary human who also happens to be an extraordinary teacher; he is someone to imitate rather than follow. Christians of this type may be "conventional Christians" (in other words, churchgoers, do-gooders etc.) but they may never experience a radically transforming encounter with the living Christ because for them he is nothing more than a cardboard character, a historical figure, a cultural symbol....
And then there are those who, like the disciples who "quit," find the whole notion of union with Christ to be repugnant. In the Gospel, it's Jesus' "cannibalistic language" that seems off-putting. However, if we can get beyond the "eating" imagery and examine what it symbolizes, there is another dynamic at play: pride. To feast on the
Bread of Life
involves the willingness to turn away from all that is not Bread in a spiritual sense so that we can
the Christ. The cliché, "You are what you eat," is true of both material food and spiritual food. As long as we are content to live only on a physical plane, we will reject the idea of total union with Christ. Jesus invites us to participate in his life so that we may become more than we are, but there are many who back away because it would mean sacrificing the ego-self. As long as we worship the ego, we cannot consume the Christ to
the Christ. The very idea of offering up our finite identities to live in divine union has no appeal whatsoever.
Finally, there are the few who can say,
"We have come to believe and are convinced you are the Holy One of God"
(Jn 6:69). But now I am jumping ahead to next week......
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- What does "becoming the Christ" mean to you?
- What must you let go of to become the Christ and is this a transformation that you are willing to undergo?
- Why must we sacrifice the ego if we are to live in Christ and if he is to live in us?