Are Christians cannibals? The image of eating flesh and blood – so grotesque and graphic in today’s Gospel speech – needs some explanation. Preachers with visitors who are curious about the church but reluctant to dive into a community that is, as so many say, “organized,” might be the most in need of learning how to hear this speech from Jesus. What is John trying to convey about Jesus here?
It is tempting to talk about the Eucharist, the meal of bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord on this day. In 2009 in Homily Service, however, David Tripp expressed an even broader and deeper meaning than the Eucharist itself. Read on.
The passages from John for the next two Sundays share a common context. After Jesus has declared his unity with the Father in the giving of life (ch 5), and has fed the starving crowd in close association with the Passover, after which some of his followers have in error sought to make him a political figure (ch 6:1–21), Jesus challenges the hearers to seek the true life-giving bread from heaven, which transcends the bread of the desert Passover, and to receive the universal mercy that Jesus offers in obedience to his Father (6:22–40). Now (6:41–71), Jesus declares himself to be, in person, the bread of life: the one who chews. . . Jesus' flesh and drinks his blood will abide in Jesus, and Jesus in that person, and thus that person will have life, because Jesus has life from the living Father. . . .
John's time-line differs from that of the three other gospels, and appears to be John's way of interpreting the priorities of Jesus' ministry, rather than simple chronology. Thus the cleansing of the temple comes near the start of the story, and the theme of feeding on Jesus is another early theme, suggesting that Jesus' cleansing power and his nourishing are found in his entire life and acts, not simply in Holy Week and Maundy Thursday. Such power and feeding are to be throughout the believer's relationships, not only in sacramental moments.
The key word in John 6 may be abide (v 56): the image is of a continuing, developing and consistent relationship. Throughout this entire part of the Fourth Gospel, the priority of the Father's sovereign grace is emphasized. The relationship between Jesus and the Father is the basis of the relationship that becomes possible between believers and Jesus.
– David Tripp
Eating together is a hallmark of wanting to move closer in communion. In her invitation, Wisdom includes anyone who desires to enter into the mystery at the heart of life more deeply. By eating of her food and drink, all people may come to a more profound understanding of Wisdom, which, so the author says elsewhere, is the first step toward knowledge of God. In the invitation, Wisdom speaks a great truth. We must make wisdom and knowledge and understanding of God as fully a part of us as the food we eat and the wine we drink. It seems like such a human thing to do; it is also the divine thing to do. – Mary Katharine Deeley
“Be careful how you live… be filled with the Spirit…” A strong link exists between this admonition to the church and Jesus’ statements found in John’s Gospel about abiding in him.
Paul's version of “Carpe Diem” is not about winning medals or trophies or living the exuberance of youth and all its adventures. It is about getting drunk on the Holy Spirit in such a way that it results in singing and playing with all the heart for God. It is about allowing ourselves to be so filled with knowledge and wisdom in the ways of God that we cannot help but live lives that are grace-filled and joyful. – Mary Katharine Deeley
Where and how is the Holy Spirit engaging and filling the life of the congregation you serve?
David Tripp, a United Methodist minister, served Salem United Methodist Church in Indiana, served in the British Methodist ministry for twenty-eight years, and wrote in liturgics and related subjects.
Mary Katharine Deeley is the director of Christ the Teacher Institute of the Sheil Catholic Center, the Roman Catholic campus ministry at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. She is the author of many books, a frequent speaker on diverse topics, and a pastoral advisor.
Homily Service 39, no. 9 (2009): 27-33.