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 6:52-58 ESV)
This passage bothers people today about as much as it bothered Jesus’ original listeners. After all, we are told in verse 66 that many of His disciples left Jesus shortly after hearing about it. Today we have an easy answer to what Jesus was talking about. We say that He was speaking of His suffering and crucifixion. We say that “eating” has spiritual meaning in that we must believe in Jesus and trust that He died for our sins and drinking His blood means to trust in His atoning death. Many churches use similar language as they celebrate communion. I’m not going to dispute any of that.
But, Jesus was a great teacher. He often spoke of physical or earthly things to symbolize spiritual matters. He obviously did not mean in the above passage that someone must literally eat His flesh or literally drink His blood to be saved. No one ever did this. And so we speak of His crucifixion.
The problem with ending our thinking there is that by doing so, we forget the opening line of John’s Gospel, for one thing, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”(John 1:1 ESV). We are also forgetting a couple very Hebrewish concepts that impact believers (or at least can or should). One pertains to studying, especially Scripture. One must read it and re-read it. And not just read it but ponder it deeply as if one is sitting at the most elegant banquet. Take a bite, chew slowly, tasting and enjoying every delectable morsel and swallowing only when every tantalizing taste has been experienced. That most satisfying mouthful and those preceding a afterwards, then become a part of one’s very existence through digesting them in the course of one’s life. Jesus’ Body, therefore, represents Scripture that must be studied carefully and diligently.
The second concept is the idea that blood is the source of life. That is why the Hebrews were supposed to drain all the blood from meat before it was eaten. All life belongs to God and therefore, blood was not to be eaten or drank. Jesus blood which is “true drink” and gives life must be the Holy Spirit that must be taken into one’s being to give it true life.
As a mentor of mine used to say during my seminary days, “Every day, we must get on our knees and in the Word.” Prayer and study. That’s a practical application of Jesus’ teaching about eating His body and drinking His blood. More can be said, as always but I’ll end with a reminder that unless we study and pray, there will be no life in us. How can our faith be sustained if it is lifeless. That reminds me of a famous passage from James’ letter. But that will have to wait for another time.
Food for thought.
- Another Look at Communion (christophercrandolph.wordpress.com)