“At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that
came down from heaven.” John 6:41
“Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh
to eat?” John 6:52
The Jews grumbled, they argued, they did not see with spiritual eyes. These two verses from John are a part of one the most amazing discourses (John 6:25 – 59) in the gospels. Jesus states who he is and what it means to follow him. And the Jews miss the point. Sometimes, so do we.
This passage takes place the morning after Jesus has fed the 5,000 plus. The people wake to find Jesus has left and so they chase him down to Capernaum. They ask when he got there and really are not ready for his response. Jesus knows why they have followed him, not for the hours long teaching of the previous day under the hot Judean sun. They haven’t searched him out for more wisdom. And he plainly let’s them know he knows it has to do with the feeding them physically, not spiritual that they have sought him out.
They blindly argue that Moses gave them manna in the wilderness. Jesus corrects them,
“Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from
heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God
is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:22 – 23
Yet they miss the point. Then when they demand this “bread of life” they demand a miracle from him. They are unprepared for his statement,
“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and
whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
Jesus takes it further; he stretches the metaphor to a point of vulgarity.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.
This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:51
They argue. In their feeble understanding they believe him to say they must cannibalize him. “Eat His Flesh”. What an impossible thing to hear.
Most of us have heard the theology of this passage over and over. Of course, Jesus isn’t advocating cannibalism, not physically anyway. But on a spiritual level there is much more to this metaphor than just a wafer and glass of juice or wine at communion.
The whole point of this very direct discourse is the taking on of Christ. In this passage he is pointing out that he will lay down his life for everyone and that unless we take part in that we are missing the point. Repeatedly Paul talks of laying down our lives as Christ did, being a servant to the least, so that God might be glorified. In Galatians Paul says,
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
When we come to communion are, we putting on Christ? When we were baptized did, we cloth ourselves as Christ? Each time we take communion we are told, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Are we doing that? Are we feeding the 5000? Or are we just living out an ideal?
If we are truly taking in the bread of life, shouldn’t we also be feeding the poor?
If we are truly taking in the bread of life, shouldn’t we be helping the widow, the orphan, the refugee?
If we are truly taking in the bread of life, shouldn’t we be fighting against oppression and injustice?
If we are truly taking the bread of life, what are we doing for the least of these?
Jesus’ language was harsh in John 6:25 – 59, it needed to be, because as we read further in John 6, it separates those who are willing to follow from those are just looking for a magic worker. John states many disciples fell away. We need to reread this passage again and again and read it with spiritual eyes that are unflinching to the vulgarity of what Jesus suggest in the ‘eating of his flesh’.
We cannot come to the table and partake without understanding what the bread truly represents. If we are to be disciples, true disciples of Christ we must recognize that the eating of the bread is a commitment not just of remembrance, but of action.
We must do it without grumbling or argument. We must fully accept our responsibility to our neighbor. And we must “put on the clothing of Christ” and work diligently in this world to rescue the least of these.
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