Jesus sure had some shocking, gruesome things to say sometimes. For example, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them” (John 6:54-56).
(This is a brief, meandering meditation on John 6-7, btw…)
Seriously, for devout Jews to hear something like this would be akin to showing a clip from The Walking Dead in the middle of a lecture to fundamentalist Christians in the 1950s.
But of course Jesus isn’t simply going for shock value here, he is seeking to help people understand and embrace something crucial about himself. Earlier he proclaimed (after multiplying bread to feed a massive crowd), “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…”
That statement, and the grisly metaphor he eventually gets to, reminds us of what the apostle John proclaimed at the beginning of the Gospel: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”
Where Does Your Life Come From?
It’s LIFE that’s the thing. There is a kind of life in bread. Something in it that enlivens and sustains life. Likewise, there is something in Jesus that enlivens and sustains spiritual life. Eternal life. A true life. Whoever “eats his flesh” and “drinks his blood” has life.
And it’s an eternal life that means they will be “raised up” at the last day. In other words, resurrection then is the natural result of receiving and digesting eternal life now.
The Spirit (through Jesus) gives life, the flesh counts for nothing, he tells them.
This all plays out in the next scene (John 7) when Jesus’ brothers give him some teasing, “fleshy” advice. Here’s my paraphrase of what they tell him:
Seriously, Jesus, people who want to be famous and have power (clearly this must be your goal) don’t hang out in the backcountry, performing magic tricks for peasants. They go to the city! They go to the centers of power! They attempt to make a name for themselves.
Since this seems to be the life path you’ve chosen, head to the festival! Try to make a big splash, see if the elite and powerful will be as impressed as the peasants from your hometown.
It seems they’re advice was tongue-in-cheek and tinged with contempt, but nonetheless, it’s advice that many people do take. It’s the way people make a life for themselves! They pursue power and pleasure and reputation because they’re seeking life. The same thing Jesus said only comes by eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
Jesus responds graciously to his brothers, telling them he won’t be seeking to “come out” at the festival this year. He knows it’s not his time (more importantly, he knows that’s not the way to do what he’s actually trying to do).
Instead he goes to the festival secretly, but people are talking about him anyway… “I think he’s a good guy!” … “No, he’s deceiving people.”
Real Life Comes From Only One Place
None of it matters to Jesus. It’s all “flesh” and Jesus knows it counts for nothing in the end. It’s just people and their ideas and energy and willfulness, all rooted in unbelief. Jesus knows the Spirit gives life. And that he is the bread of life that’s come down from heaven to give life.
And life is the thing. Life is what we’re all really after. It’s the reason we conspire and scheme and manipulate and kill. We think that if we could just attain that thing, that we would get life, that everything would be okay, that we’d obtain a sense of glory and purpose.
All in vain, though. Our “fleshy” pursuits will never deliver on the promise of life. There’s only one place to get it. His name is Jesus and he calls himself the bread of life, because everyone who trusts him will never be hungry, will never lack everything they need for life.
It’s an absolutely secure investment. A slam dunk. Because he has life in himself and anyone who trusts him will have the same kind of life in them, because he is generous and shares liberally.
And the best thing is that it will last forever. He will raise us up at the last day. Nothing will be lost. Nothing done from this place of life will be in vain. We’ll never be hungry for life. Never thirsty for it again. Abundant life forever.
Eat the flesh. Drink the blood. Get life. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.
photo credit: Eric Feather, “Christ Feeding 5000,” mixed media.