Monday, October 8, 2012

Eating Jesus

Sometimes the Lord blesses the reading of his Word beyond the expectation of the reader (or hearer). When he does this, the joy of his grace and truth abound in fresh, exciting ways, whether it be in a single verse or a book in its entirety.

I admit that I experience this sort of "living reading" infrequently. Many mornings I spend in the Holy Bible are spent in rumination, oftentimes identifying and affirming things I have been taught already rather than having a renewed vigor for  given passage. But at times the Spirit breathes new life into the text (or, more accurately perhaps, breathes new life into the reader encountering it).  I had such an experience this morning, and I felt the compelled to share.

I read John 6, from verses 22 through the end of the chapter. It is a long passage that I will not re-print here, but I will call attention to one of its aspects that was opened to me in an exciting way. In John 6, particularly verses 47-56, Christ refers to himself as the living bread and speaks of the believer's need to eat of him. He imparts to his hearers a stunning and controversial instruction about partaking of his flesh as food and his blood as drink. His words may seem cannibalistic to the modern reader, just as they were to some in the first century AD; but nothing could be further from his meaning.  What struck me today about this passage was its universal accessibility and extensive implications. Allow me to explain.

First, all humans eat, and Christ is tapping into a need--not merely a desire. When Christ speaks of his believers' eating him as "living bread" and "bread from heaven", he is not only carrying a Biblical motif. He is implying that relationship with him and consistent engagement with his truth is necessary for spiritual existence. He has already told his hearers that they must be born again, and now they must also eat new food in this new life, mainly Christ himself--his teaching, his example, and the truth that he reveals--if they are to be healthy spiritually.

Second, eating is not simply tasting and swallowing but digesting. What does it mean to digest?  To process and pull nutrients while dispelling that which is  refuse. What does this mean in regard to Christ's life?  When we eat of Christ, we take in his word, his teaching, and his testimony. But taking it in is the first step alone. Following the swallowing of it, we must engage it and pull from it the truth to nourish our spirit. But we must keep only that which is true and be ready and willing to cast off all the rest--the false interpretations, the ruinous ideas, and the blasphemous conclusions--many of which we reach ourselves. We must hold the truth of what he is saying and expel the rest (for example, we must keep the implications of eating but must cast off the literal idea of eating human flesh). 

Third, humans have various responses to eating. At times eating is done for pleasure; at others it is done as medicine. Eating is done alone, but it is often done with others. Eating requires preparation but can also be done "on the fly". Eating may even be done despite someone's desire to forego it. Consider the modern adage, "I am so busy I can't stop to eat, and yet I know I must so I do." This seems very transitive to our need for taking time aside with God to "eat of Christ", does it not? Along that same line, think of the way in which a human is nourished by fast food versus a diet of conscientious preparation and deliberate dining. What does this tell us about spiritual patterns? Needless to say, the idea of eating carries with it a great number of possible implication and applications (but note that these, too, must be digested in order to purge those ideas that are useless or damaging). 

Fourth and finally, Christ claims that those who eat of his flesh and drink of his blood will never thirst, but this morning I was convicted in that I often find myself eating and drinking elsewhere. What do I mean by this? Well, I go to other things for my satisfaction, for my spiritual wellness, for my self-esteem, or perhaps for my pleasure. And yet, I find that I always return to Christ; and only in him do I find peace and contentment. When I look to my accomplishments, my standing, my intentions, the culture, the community, or any other place for my spiritual meaning and fullness, I am found wanting. Sure they may satisfy for a moment, perhaps longer; but they do not last. I hunger again. I continue to thirst. And I return to Christ, and I eat; and I am filled. And renewed. (until I forget, and the process repeats, as it so often does [but that is a discussion for another day]). 

Christ told his followers to eat, and in doing so captured a great deal of our human plight, our inherent need and our desire to fill it. I love him for that. I love him for the accessible, universal picture he provides. I love him for choosing a picture with so many implications. And I love him for revealing it to his people anew, always to their benefit and his ultimate glory, for he is indeed the bread of life and food for the human soul.

There you have it, not quite a 3-point sermon but something worth sharing nonetheless. Thank you for reading, 


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