"Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me."
August 20, 2021, Words By: Valery Vital-Herne, Image By: Karen Andersen
Our world is complex, full of individual, cultural and socio-economic differences. Yet, there are certain common denominators that unite us as humans, such as food. Not only do we eat food as a nutritional necessity, but we also build rituals around its preparation and consumption. Food sustains our bodies but also draws our communities and families together. It feeds our needs at many levels.
This week’s lectionary text, with Jesus addressing a crowd, tackles this truth. Interestingly enough, at the beginning of John, a few verses before we arrive at today’s reading, we see Jesus feed the 5,000. In that famous passage, the crowd was hungry. Some had nothing to eat, but others with more privilege were able to feed themselves. It took a child to provide his lunch and a board meeting of disciples to start doing something for the hungry crowd (John 6:5-9) before everyone else could get their fill. The people who had gathered to hear him speak needed their physical daily bread to remain alive. And Jesus addressed that need.
But in our reading for today, he goes further and seeks to deepen how they understand what sustenance is.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” (John 6:56-57)
As Jesus speaks to the crowd here, he makes clear that he gives access to ANYONE to eat His flesh and drink His blood. He is providing food without discrimination or limit. No religious institution or economic system will serve as a mediator to grant or deny access to this food. Who doesn’t like free food?
The food we eat has nutritional value, but provides life for a short time. Jesus gives eternal life. I like the word John uses for “life” in today’s text: “Zao.” In Greek, it means, “true life, a life worthy of its name.” It is not merely a quantity of life, but above all, a quality of life. It includes basic nourishment and thriving.
Last year, one of my friends passed away. We mourned his loss deeply. But in the midst of the sadness and death, I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that he did more than just survive, he had “Zao.” Though he passed in his forties, his quality of life was inspiring. Many of us can live to be one hundred years old, chasing after things that don’t give us true life — devouring things that don’t lead to real joy.
You would think after Jesus fed the 5,000, the crowd would’ve been ready to hear his message from this week’s text. But sometimes, we crave manna more than the bread from heaven. The bread can be too hard to eat, “too tough to swallow” (v. 60, The Message)
Jesus recognizes the goodness and importance of daily bread for our body, mind, and soul. He wants to unite us with the Father so that through Him so that we can have eternal life, a life worthy of its name.
Dwelling Among Us
I can recall the stress I go through whenever I have to flip the conversations from physical food to the eternal meal. But at the end of the day, true life comes only from this meal. This message might not sustain our organizations, it may diminish our popularity, it will transform and sustain the communities that embrace it.