Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
I’m going to go out on a little bit of a limb here. Normally when I write about our lectionary readings I take a stance that I’m pretty confident about. But John chapter six is one of those really difficult portions of Scripture. The Evangelist says that Jesus’ words were offensive to many of the people around him, but that he doubled down on what he was saying. This provoked many people to depart.
What was so offensive? Jesus was talking about eating his body and drinking his blood, and he was speaking in very graphic terms. To the people of Israel, who had always known not only that cannibalism is inappropriate, but also that you need to take special care in draining the blood from an animal to be eaten, this was especially offensive. But that’s precisely what Jesus says here. He is setting up the idea that eating his body and drinking his blood feeds people to everlasting life.
What could he possibly mean? This is where I walk out on that limb. But many others have walked on the same limb before. I think it will bear our weight.
It all has roots in the Old Testament. Jesus tells us that all the Scriptures are about him. Sometimes that’s a little hard to see, but we’ll try to deal with it. He’s God the Son. He knows better than I do. What of that command not to eat animals with the blood in them, and not to drink blood? Judaism has a history of holding very strictly to this command. They have special supervision and procedures for slaughter of animals. I recently spoke with a Muslim who told me that in the absence of Halal meat this particular family was fine with Kosher processing. The issue was making sure the blood was drained. Of course, I can’t say how closely different individuals hold to these standards or how they interpret them. What I can identify, though, is the strong opinion that you are not supposed to be consuming blood.
How do we see Jesus in this? John chapter six gives the strong impression that Jesus is saying the only blood we are to consume is his. Are we offended yet? What does the Christian have to do with that kind of a statement? We have to do one of two things. Thing one: “Jesus is speaking metaphorically and saying that he is the one who gives us true life.” Thing two: “Jesus is speaking quite literally here and he is saying the same thing when he institutes communion. Somehow, in a way we cannot understand, he is physically present for us in his body and blood in communion, and this is a way he nourishes us to eternal life.”
This was always a troublesome passage to me until I put it together with 1 Corinthians 10, where the apostle Paul says that the bread and the cup are “a participation” in the body and blood of Christ. So on this limb I walked us out to, I’m going to say that Jesus is getting literal with us. We can’t understand how it can be. The substance in the cup and placed in the mouth or in the hand certainly shows all the characteristics of wine and bread. But as Jesus is saying they are blood and body and that they are for eternal nourishment, I’m going to stop questioning him. The alternative is to be offended and walk away. Like Peter, then, I’d have to ask who I would go to. After all, Jesus gave me words of life. Nobody else seems to have those. I’ll go with it, though I can’t fully understand it. Let God be God.
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