“Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever…. For this reason, I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” –Jesus (John 6:57-59, 65, NRSV)
It would be weird if someone insisted that they chose to be born. I think most of us would respond something like, “Um, wait here just a moment,” then go and call the local psych ward. That’s because we have no problem understanding that well before any of us were born, the love of two people conceived us. Our choices within our family of origin are ours to own. Yet, the initial choice to be a person on this planet was not ours to make. We, rather obviously, are delusional to think otherwise.
The same is true on the spiritual plane. Just as life is a gift given to us, so to be born again and have eternal life is a gracious grant given to us by God. Yes, if we are Christians somewhere along life’s journey we chose Jesus. Yet, long before our own individual choices were made, before the foundation of the world, God himself conceived of us and decided to give us the gift of faith to believe.
Before we get in a huff about the perceived lack of control on our part, stop and consider what a crazy hot mess of an apocalypse there would be if you or I were in charge. Whatever issues people might have with God, having someone else in the driver’s seat is a bit like putting Homer Simpson as the sentinel guarding the donuts. Probably not the best of ideas.
I would rather stick with Jesus, even when his words seem edgy and scandalous. After all, telling folks they need to “eat me” could really go sideways in a hurry. It’s no wonder that the early church often got accused of practicing cannibalism at the Lord’s Table.
God in Christ chose us so that we could enjoy an incredible restored relationship with our Creator. Jesus, the Jew that he was, often spoke with deep layers of meaning. What on the surface might seem super-strange is meant to convey things in a much richer and fuller way. If it confuses some people, then maybe we need to sit with Christ’s words for a bit before simplifying them into some mish-mash of blither that ends up having no real meaning at all.
Beyond the sheer literal description of eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood, and merely flattening it out to mean Christian communion with wine and wafers, it could just be that Jesus wanted us to grab hold the grace of discovering the following five realities of his merciful passion up close and personal.
To ingest Jesus is to participate in him. It is to have a close, intimate connection and union with him. Jesus identifies with his people so closely that it is as if we have absorbed him into our very being as much as any food nutrients.
I once lived near an old fence line. The fence was long gone but one lone fence post remained. A tree had grown up alongside and then around the post. The post remained because the tree assimilated and engulfed it. The only way to remove the fence post would be to cut down the tree – they were that much a part of each other.
We are in union with the Lord Jesus. No one is snatching us out of his clutches. We participate in his life. We live because he lives. We make choices because he first chose us.
When we eat, what we eat, how we eat, and whom we eat with are anything but ancillary issues to the ancient Near Eastern mind and practice. Food is a gift, a gracious gift given to us by a merciful Father who has our best interests at mind. At the very heart of God is a hospitable bent that invites the misfit person, the misunderstood, the misanthrope, the miscellaneous, and any other “mis-sed” person into his wonderful provision of food.
Eating meals for most people around the world isn’t just about food; it’s about offering the acceptance of hospitality and communicating encouragement and recognition through lively conversation with the dignity of listening to another. We severely truncate the power of meals when food is just gobbled quickly down alone by ourselves to satiate our growling stomachs.
Christ’s words about himself being the living bread that comes from heaven is chocked full of meaning. On the heels of just having fed the five-thousand with bread, Jesus not only connects himself with the manna God gave the Israelites in the desert, but also lets his followers know that he is the only provision that will truly satisfy the most intense hunger. “Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness,” he explained in his greatest Sermon, “for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6, NIV).
Through the provision of food, God invites us into his life. What’s more, we are ushered into the realm of those who are recognized, seen, and accepted – regardless of our glaring warts, quirky idiosyncratic ways, and shadowy sins. That’s because when God creates, he provides. And when he provides, he graciously gives his blessing.
Maybe it goes without saying that, by now, God will protect those whom he engrafts into his very life. Yet, it still needs to be said with deliberate unction: God protects his own.
Getting back to the food thing, God’s meal-deal includes a generous portion of protection. To come under a person’s roof to enjoy a meal together is to come under the owner of that home’s protection. God never intended to save us, feed us, and provide for us without giving us everything we need for life and godliness in this present evil age (2 Peter 1:3).
All the implements we need to both defend ourselves and move forward with offense are graciously given to us. The helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the shoes of peace, and the sword wielding Word of God are all for our protection. We only need to put them on, pick them up, and use them (Ephesians 6:10-20).
The nub and the rub of Christ’s discussion about being living bread is that people need to eat him, that is, him only. In other words, you only get to God through Jesus. Period. No exceptions. Understandably, this was a hard teaching. It was so hard that, when his followers grasped what in the heck he was saying, a big chunk of them left. They didn’t sign up for this kind of exclusive rhetoric and crap about only being one real bread.
It has always been the scandal of Christians throughout the ages to insist that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can come to the Father except through him (John 14:6). But there it is. And no amount of watering it down makes it go away.
I love and adore a variety of people. I have many friends from different faith traditions and belief structures. I would die for every one of them. I would come to their side at any time they call me. And I believe they need Jesus. I believe everyone needs Jesus. I understand that not everyone wants Jesus, or acknowledges him, or believes he is who he claims to be. Nevertheless, to try and mitigate or diffuse or minimize Christ’s very hard words is doing a disservice and an injustice to what Jesus was truly saying and claiming.
To profess Jesus as Lord and Savior is a gift that is being received from a gracious and merciful gift-giver, who is God.
The simple observation about eating is that you don’t just eat once, never to eat again. Nope, we continually eat every single day, most of us doing it multiple times in the day. We in the West have refrigerators full of food, some of which ends up getting moldy and no good. Maybe we stockpile food because we don’t connect it with Jesus. If God is the One who truly gives the grace of a decent meal, perhaps we would feel less prone to buy food and eat it like it’s going out of style.
We are to eat Jesus. Not once. Not twice. But continually. Every day. Christ is the perpetual feast. We are to come to him day after day, receiving his gift of sustenance for us in every sense of the concept.
We can choose to come to Jesus because he has first given himself to us. Before we chose God, God chose us by giving us deliverance from our misguided ways through the merciful work of Jesus.