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Eat this! - John 6


People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. - Matthew 4:4

In John 6 we find the story of Jesus feeding the 5000.  He noticed the crowd coming and he asked his disciples how they should feed them.  After expressing some doubt, one of them mentioned that a child among them had 5 loaves of bread and a couple fish.  How were they to feed so many with so little?  Jesus was not worried, he blessed the food and had the disciples pass it out.  Everyone ate their fill and the leftovers filled 12 baskets.  This is a well known story, mentioned in all 4 gospels, but John connects this event with a couple more stories that add some new depth.  

The crowd was so impressed that they started to murmur among themselves, they were ready to make Jesus King, and he was concerned they might try to do just that.  It was not yet time for a revolution, so he retreated into the mountains.  That night the disciples crossed the sea of Capernaum on a boat, and several from the crowd saw them leaving, but noticed that Jesus was not among them.  Jesus slipped by the crowd in the quiet of the night.  He walked on the water, startling his disciples with a display of power unlike anything they had seen before.  They were afraid, but Jesus reassured them and they eagerly brought him into the boat.  As Jesus got in the boat they were suddenly on the shore of Capernaum, they had reached their destination somehow.  In the morning the crowd was confused, they knew that the disciples had left, but they couldn't find Jesus.  After some time they decided that Jesus must have snuck past them, so they made their way to join them in Capernaum.  

In Capernaum, as the crowd formed around them, it was even larger, as people from neighboring towns had come to investigate the commotion.  It was here, in this context, that Jesus first instituted the idea of consumption of his flesh and his blood.  He noted that the crowd had followed him because he had filled their bellies with bread and fish, but here they were, hungry again.  Instead he offered them food and drink that would really fill them, they would never hunger again.  His flesh and his blood would be more filling than the manna that God had given the Israelites wandering in the wilderness.  He promised that those that ate his flesh and blood would have eternal life and that he would raise them up on the last day.

The crowd was made up of a mostly Jewish audience and this was too much for them.  To their ears Jesus was asking them to participate in cannibalism, a repulsive practice even to our more liberal modern sensitivities.  The crowd turned away from him and dispersed.  But Jesus didn't let this idea go, he continued this teaching to the very end, when he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  A practice we still participate in each Sunday for Communion.  

As I wrestle with this text I find myself drawn back to John 4 when Jesus talked to the Samaritan Woman at the well.  After his encounter with the woman, the disciples tried to feed him, but Jesus said "I have had food to eat that you do not know about".  Jesus understood that food was not just what we eat with our mouth, but the ideas and activities we consume.  When tempted to turn stones in to bread during his 40 day fast he refused and said "People shall not live on bread alone, but by every Word that comes out of the mouth of God".  To Jesus, food and drink are what nourish us, not just physical substance.  He saw eating and drinking through the eyes of Ezekiel.  In Ezekiel 3 we are told that Ezekiel was instructed to eat a scroll, to eat the words of God.  After eating the scroll Ezekiel was sent to preach those very words to all the nations.  In the same way, if we are to consume the Word of God, Jesus, we are to internalize his teachings and do the work of Christ, to fill our bellies with the nourishment of doing and spreading the words of Jesus.  

When we spend time with others, eating, drinking, and laughing together, we are told we are in communion with one another.  We are told that we become like those we spend time with.  We internalize them, we consume them.  Are you partaking in the sort of communion that you wish to be? When you look at your diet of ideas and activities, are you consuming enough Jesus to sustain yourself?

God, help us to be closer to Jesus.  May we be covered in the dust of our Rabbi.  May we internalize all that he was and is.  May we receive him within us, and shine him out into the world.  Amen.     


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