Jesus started off this extended Bread of Life teaching, with the Feeding of 1,000’s, compassionately providing for the needs of all those people at the end of the day before dismissing them to go home. And now, 5 Sunday’s later, he’s told them so many hard and difficult teachings, so many revealing truths, that he’s whittled his mega-church down to just 12, the twelve disciples! What was he thinking?!
“Those who eat my flesh,” he said, “and drink my blood, abide in me, and I in them.” Lord Jesus! Can’t you just tell a few nice pastoral stories about finding lost sheep? Maybe give us a blessing, like, blessed are the poor, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?! Instead, Jesus tells the truth, the prophetic truth about who God is, and what God’s up to in the world. His word, is his weapon. He overcomes violence and ignorance, without sword or deceit. He isn’t in it to make nice, to go-along-to-get-a-long, or to have fame, or even a bigger church.
“…eat my flesh and drink my blood…” “When many of his followers heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it’?”
I have to tell you, when I was a pre-teen growing up, I had a problem swallowing certain foods. Promise you won’t laugh if I tell you. But I hated liver! The thought of it made me nauseous! Beef liver especially, which was a regular meal at our house. And, having an iron deficiency at that age, sometimes my mom went out of her way to make liver, just for me. Some people think it’s a rare delicacy, my mother told me. And, there was one recipe, with a redeeming quality – Liver with Bacon on top. I mean, who doesn’t like bacon? But, what to do with that liver? I actually grew to like poultry liver as I got older, and at Thanksgiving time I used to eat it with my mother-in-law. She was delighted to share with me, as ‘her daughter’ wouldn’t come near the stuff! My mother-in-law boiled it up just to use the broth in the turkey gravy, and so we’d pluck the liver giblets out of the pan together, and chew with satisfaction.
But beef liver… eww, I can still smell the distasteful stuff, if I take, even just a moment, to conger it up… never could get used to that! So what I did – and, you might want to cover your kid’s ears at this point – I was pretty young, mind you, but I fooled my parents for a long time. I chewed it loudly, like I was really enjoying it, but didn’t swallow. Chewed it just enough to be able to kind of store it in my cud, in the back of my jaw, and then, bidding my time till supper was ended, I’d make a bee-line for the bathroom, spit it out, and flush it down. I was terrible, right!?
When Jesus repeatedly said, “… eat my flesh and drink my blood,” the word he used for eat was specific in the original bible language, not the same word normally used for how we eat, but he used the term for how animals ate, the kind of eating a cow would do, loudly, like chewing your cud, which made it all the more offensive, and which ‘helped,’ no doubt, ‘contributed,’ to driving away his congregation!
So, eating his flesh and drinking his blood is more than just a reference to holy communion, as we talked about last week. Surely it is that: Jesus offered himself in the bread and wine again, at the Last Supper, as a final and more complete reminder of the Eucharistic meal we still share and celebrate. But the offense of the loud sloppy chewing is also his way of lifting up, and pointing out, the truth about the world we live in. Because God has sent me, and I live because of God, said Jesus, so whoever eats me will live because of me. Eat me, says Jesus, don’t eat up the world you live in! Don’t be fooled by the institutions and thinking of this world, that chew up and devour human flesh, people, and then, let them be flushed away.
A friend told me about a spiritual exercise she’d participated in, in which everyone was invited to picture what it looked like to follow Jesus – Jesus the truth teller, the one who doesn’t seek a mega-church congregation, but brings the prophetic word of God into our lives, the bread of life that came down from heaven. And the picture was, following Jesus until he abruptly walks off the side of a cliff – the hard truth about his self-sacrificial, giving of his life, for the world. And who wants to follow in those footsteps?! Really, what was Jesus thinking, telling the truth about a world where the justice of heaven might take hold, that the meek might inherit the earth and all may be feed with the bread of life? Eat me, follow me, and let go of the powers that continue to chew up and devour people and spit them out! Does this offend you, Jesus asked them? But he offers no apology. Why didn’t he back off and offer some nice luke-warm half-truths to keep the 5,000 on board – eat crow if you have to, do what it takes!?
What does it mean to you, to follow Jesus? What brought you here? What keeps you going, keeps you coming back? What feeds you here, to send you out, to live as a person of God, for the sake of the world? How does it all fit together and feel right for you?
For me, as you know, it’s about eating good food, and, keeping it down! Good food taste-wise, good food quality-wise, good food justice-wise. For, as we know how the world’s population, now 7 billion, continues to grow exponentially, feeding everyone, is an ever growing concern. The US has led the way in technological production, quantity-wise, supporting a mega-corporate model, but, at a high cost, and at the expense of depleting the richest top soil, practically in the whole world, and risking public health with chemical fertilizers, mono-crops, and genetic engineering, that are increasing the odds of food chain collapse, and which always affects people of color, and the poor in general, disproportionately hard. Jesus told that truth too.
Good food to me, means, food that is truly sustainable in every way: it must be environmentally sound, economically viable, and socially equitable. Socially equitable is especially a concern in our global economy. From as far away as the Middle East where the discrimination of the Dividing Wall on the occupied West Bank, keeps Palestinian fruit and vegetable farmers from their land, and they are held up at military check-points, while their crops rot in their trucks, to the undocumented workers American companies hire to do the hard labor of bringing in our grapes, avocados and crops of all kinds, who are at the whim of often scrupulous employers whether they will be compensated fairly for the work they do – it is hard to swallow the food we buy in our supermarkets, and keep it down, when injustice is rampant. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s about as palatable as beef liver!
Jesus could not abide the kingdoms of this world that do not reflect the justice of the realm of God. As the bread that came down from heaven, Jesus told the bold and honest truth about eating good food and keeping it down, food that gives life to the world, equitable to all people – and, that didn’t sit well with some. Eat me, and live, he said.
Food tastes better when shared with friends around the table of grace, the table where everyone is welcome, and all are filled with the bread of life, come down from heaven.
What does it mean for you to follow Jesus? What does that look like? What are truth tellers, like Jesus, thinking?! Is he palatable in our world today? Can the spirit of Jesus live in us, so that in all we do, we reflect the peace and justice of the realm of God?