13th Sunday after Pentecost
You are what you eat. I’m sure that you’ve all heard that before. It’s very true! Have you ever seen that movie “Super-Size me?” The guy eats McDonalds for a month straight and his health just goes right down the tube. This guy willingly ate tons of garbage food, he gained weight, his blood pressure went through the roof, he had troubles sleeping from all the sugar and caffeine. It’s sad to watch what that guy went through for the sake of “science.”
While, “you are what you eat” clearly applies to our physical health it also applies to our spiritual health as well. As psalm 42 says, “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you oh, God.” Our creator has endowed us with an inborn desire to crave him. Our souls need to be fed and nourished otherwise they starve or become malnourished. If we neglect our spiritual health and let it starve, just like anything else it will wither and die. Just as we need to eat right physically, so we need to eat right spiritually. Today, in the Gospel according to John, our Savior tells what to eat. He says we need the living bread from heaven. He encourages us to “Eat and Live!” He tells us that it matters what we eat, and when to eat.
Jesus gives this bread of life discourse when he’s back in a familiar place, the town of Capernaum. The same place where he did his first miracle of changing water into wine. Just prior to this bread of life sermon, Jesus gave the people of that area an object lesson, he fed 5000 with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. There the people ate and had their fill! But when Jesus saw that after that the people were going to make him their new king by force, he left. Yet, they followed him around the lake, chased him down. When they caught up to Jesus, he basically said, “You followed me not because you wish to know who I am, but rather you filled your stomach!”
PART I: It Matters what you eat
This whole incident drives Jesus to get the Jews to question what they had been eating spiritually. Just 2 verses before the text for today, Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.” See, the Jewish religious leaders had been teaching their people for years that when the Messiah came, he would be greater than Moses. Meaning, he would do signs and wonders that were greater than the ones Moses was permitted by God to perform. So, when Jesus fed the 5000 they thought, “Well that’s pretty good, but a drop in the bucket compared to the nation of Israel 2 million strong that were fed DAILY when Moses led our ancestors in the desert.”
Yet, as Jesus points out – they died! Jesus is driving them to look beyond the physical. He wanted them to stop thinking only ever about their earthly needs, that they had eaten and had their fill when he fed the 5000, that they wanted a leader, a king, who would revive Israel’s armies and drive out the Romans who occupied their land. This is the sort of thing that their religious leaders and politicians were feeding them – peace, prosperity, a new golden age of Jerusalem – right now. Christ Jesus offered them something greater. He wanted them to focus on their spiritual welfare. In so many words he says, “I am greater than Moses!” When he says, “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.”
But they didn’t want to hear it. This sort of thing was literally disgusting to them. They were still thinking of the physical when they said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” But then Jesus goes even a step further! When he says, “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.”
Drink his BLOOD? That thought would have been abhorrent and revolting to them! Just as it would be revolting and abhorrent if someone told you that! “He wants us to eat his flesh and drink his blood – this is what we have to do to eat and live – PREPOSTEROUS!”
On physical level, preposterous indeed! But that’s the point. Jesus leaves no room to remain thinking about the physical. He’s directing us to look not at the physical but to the spiritual. That our greatest need lies not with the flesh and blood that we see with our eyes. But in the Spiritual, the needs and the hungers of the soul that which we cannot see – yet surely exist.
I think Christians are tempted in the same way, to seek after answers for their “best life now.” It’s almost inevitable for Christians in America at least. Our lives are pretty cushy. We have homes, cars, and the nearest meal is a microwave away. Most of the technology out there today is based around creature comforts. Not that I’m even necessarily opposed to those things, many of them are extremely helpful to us – even in the case of Gospel ministry. However, to maintain that standard of living the world around us is driven by a desire to take in knowledge. All that we might improve our lives right now, that we might be comfortable and well fed right now. Our culture worships the physical. It worships things that seem imperishable. I mean that’s pretty obvious when we have a culture that worships youth. And that is an easy thing to get caught up in, it’s sweet and it tastes good, but it’s spiritual junk food. Because reality tastes quite bitter. Who isn’t afraid of dying, who isn’t afraid of that box in the ground six feet down, who doesn’t want to live forever?
But this is what Jesus answers here isn’t it! Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
Jesus is the bread of life, the genuine article! He said, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” He implores us to make him a part of us, so then to eat, is to believe. Believe that he is who he says he is, God made manifest, the Savior, the one sent to take away our sins and remove the power of death. This is what he wanted those Jews of his day to see, and this is what he wants us to see. He is far better than manna from heaven, that satisfies for a day but then leaves a person hungry again. This bread from heaven was given for the life of the world.
PART II: When we eat
When Jesus says, “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.” This is not altogether different than what he had preached and taught on various other occasions. It’s similar to what he told the Pharisee Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in him (Jesus) is not condemned but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” It’s reminiscent of when Jesus tells his disciples that he is the vine and they are the branches – if they remain in him he remains in them.
For the Jews who heard Jesus on that day, Jesus illustrates the idea of “remaining” in him in a unique way. As St. John recalled this bread of life discourse, and wrote it down, the word that he chose for “eat” is rather graphic. It’s not like “eat a light snack.” Literally, the word that John chooses here is gnaw. Chew on continuously, like a dog gnawing on a bone! He wanted them to ponder him, to follow him, to listen to his words daily, to grow in their knowledge of who he was.
It’s really for that reason that this bread of life discourse isn’t expressly talking about holy communion. Sadly, we know that there are some who partake of the Lord’s Supper and take it not to their benefit, but to their condemnation as Paul says in Corinthians. Jesus is talking about a continuous eating – like the psalm talked about – a tree planted by a stream of water whose leaves don’t wither or fade.
Jesus wants us to come to him continually and often. Part of the reason that Jesus uses such extreme language here – eating flesh, drinking blood, gnawing on him – is because this is a matter of spiritual life and death.
One of you, just the other day was telling me that you were talking to someone about their lack of regular church attendance. The phrase that was used was, “If you don’t water the grass, it’s going to die.” How true that is! The believer plants his or her self in the Word. We feed on the Word of Jesus. We have an everlasting source of spiritual nourishment, this living bread from heaven. This is what coming to church is all about. It’s about feeding our souls.
I’m reminded of a lady that I used to visit while she was in hospice care. I remember her telling me that she had many regrets about how she’d spent her time in life, as a mom, a wife, even as a daughter. But one thing she said she never regretted, even on her death bed as she looked back on her life, was bringing her children, her family to church with her. Even when she felt it would be too hard to come that Sunday for whatever reason. Even when she thought that she probably didn’t need to go that week – she realized that when she got there that she needed it more than ever. Her soul was starved during the week. Spiritually her strength was sapped and she needed to come to the bread of life.
At the end of the day, that is what church is about. It’s not all the meetings, activities and programs. It’s regularly sitting at the feet of our Savior Jesus and feeding on his Word. Meditating and believing on that message that his flesh, and his blood were given and poured out for us, for the forgiveness of all of our sins. And his flesh and blood rose again! Proving that he was LIFE, the main ingredient in him was eternal life.
This is why as Christians we eat this bread often because even as this mortal shell fails, even when all the food and drink in the world would avail us nothing and we have hours to live; not even the bitter taste of death can take away the effects of eating this bread. The Gospel is the bread of life, given to us that we might have eternal life in Christ Jesus. Remember you are what you eat – so eat and live! Amen.