6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
6:54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;
6:55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
6:58 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.”
A Question or Two:
- Why is the Exodus so important to John?
Some Longer Reflections:
Jesus. And bread. And Jesus. And bread. Again.
You likely know all the things I know about Jesus and bread, week after week, year after year.
I work with a text study group: strong pastors, gentle people, kind colleagues. I was rehearsing all the usual paths through this scene: bread is the “staff of life” (especially for ordinary folk in the ancient world who surely could not even imagine the kind of diet we think is normal); so Jesus is the living bread that everyone can afford, not just the wealthy; the word translated as “eat” actually means “gnaw,” which is worth thinking about; more shocking than that is the line about drinking Jesus’ blood, which runs contrary to any imaginable teaching; etc. It was going okay.
And then one of the pastors (John Hansen, actually, a strong and insightful person) wondered what the Greek word for “food” was. “What if this scene isn’t about the Sacrament?” he wondered. “What if it is about the Incarnation?”
That is a terrific thing to wonder.
What if Jesus means to say that, having come down from the sky, his body is now wormfood? That is an essential characteristic of human being (and being human). It also fits strikingly well with the word the storyteller uses for “food.” The word,βρῶσις, means food, that which can be eaten. But it also refers to rust and the quality of being liable to be “eaten into.” In other words: wormfood.
Our imaginations reach to the stars, and our inventions travel to them. Our creations are stunning, both in their beauty and in their destructive power. Our hopes reach beyond all limitations. And we are wormfood. That physical fact does not reduce our soaring imagination or creative ability. And our simple mortality energizes our spirit. If the Deity truly shares our human being, then Jesus’ body has to be wormfood.
This is a short provocation, but it is a strong one.
The notion that the Creator (apart from whom was nothing made that was made) becomes fully subject to the limitations of that Creation is a strange notion, and a strong one. There is a deep stream in Christian theology, going back at least as far as Irenaeus, whose explorations of the Christian imagination I find amazing. He reflected on what the Incarnation did to human being, and his imagination soared to the notion that Jesus brought us to share Divinity.
This is a powerful idea.
But this provocation goes in the other direction. What does the Incarnation do to God? Our limitations, our unshakeable mortality mean that we can break things that cannot be fixed. We can lose things that can never be recovered. We learn that our best creations can be lost and forgotten. And we learn this together. It teaches us how precious life is, and how transient. It teaches us how precious we all are.
In our short time together, we grieve and we rejoice. We give birth to ideas and to each other. As we huddle together, we discover love. We discover love because we are mortal.
That puts an interesting spin on John 3:16. “Thus God loved the Cosmos: God gave the son as a firstborn.” Perhaps mortality (discovered in the fact of Incarnation) gave birth to the mutuality of ἀγάπη. That might be worth thinking about slowly.
It all starts with being wormfood.