I have been struggling to write about this passage for a week now. Especially considering that my friend that I’m writing for thinks that the resurrection is weird. I read this chapter and thought “Geesh…what did I get myself into?” Talk about weird! If you read this whole chapter, it’s like the weirdest of weird chapters…
Then after ruminating on it for a few days, I sat down and really prayed about it and tried to consider the whole passage. I prayed for a fresh understanding of this scripture and to really see the message as a whole. Surprisingly, (for my faith-lacking self) I saw some really cool stuff I had never seen before.
After intensely looking at this passage for a few days, I have to chuckle a little at how I picture the reactions of myself and the early listeners to Jesus.
I feel like we are all looking at Jesus’ teaching with about the same depth of understanding that my middle school students had during my classes on figurative language. Really, you haven’t experienced frustration in this world until you have tried to teach a group of at-risk youth what symbolism is! I remember one particular young concrete thinker yelling at me from his frustration, “How can setting the world on fire be a good thing?” LOL My students wanted black and white easy answers so they could fill in the correct circle and get a diploma one day. They had no interest in really understanding or learning. They didn’t want to be challenged. They would constantly ask me, “When am I ever going to use this?” Which is another way of saying, I’m not going to learn this unless you can show me how it’s going to benefit me.
And I think this is exactly how most of us approach religion: OK Jesus. Sure, you are God, but when am I going to use this stuff you are teaching me? I’m not going to follow ou unless you can show me how it’s going to benefit ME!
In this passage, Jesus does a miracle and feeds 5000 people. The crowd is all like, Yummm! This sure is tasty bread and fish. What kind of seasoning is that? Tastes a little like Cajun…that sure am good stuff… (cause I imagine Jesus was down with some Cajun cooking…but I digress)
All of these people had heard of Jesus before. They were curious and they were coming to check him out. They had heard stories about his teachings and his healing people. When they experienced the miracle of him feeding them, they were ready to make him their king.
It is important to take (another) little side trail and really picture this happening in ancient Israel. Getting food to eat was most of what your work would have revolved around. Making bread was an involved process. They didn’t have electricity so even grilling some fish was more involved that anything we cook today. I imagine that most of Jesus’ audience was poor and even the wealthy certainly didn’t have the abundance of food that we have. So, feeding them was a really big deal. The equivalent for us would probably be something like getting a free house.
The people reacted to this miracle by wanting to make Jesus their King. He knew that this was their intent so he left.
The next day, the people who had been fed all set out to find Jesus. When they found him, Jesus began to teach them again.
He starts out with an interesting point that I have not heard preached on much in our materialistic culture:
He said, (basically) “You guys have heard me teaching about God and seen me caring for people and now you only want to follow me because you want me to give you stuff. I’m trying to teach you about more important things that that!”
I think that as incredibly materialistic Americans, it is probably hard for us to relate to Jesus’ speech about bread. We can’t imagine working our lives for bread, it only costs like 3 bucks and Panera gives away their day-old stuff so, why would I dedicate my life to the pursuit of bread?
But we spend our lives in the pursuit of other stuff. We want houses, cars, clothes, beauty, comfort, technology, and continual entertainment. So much so that many in America have made the message of Jesus all about “follow Jesus and you will get a lot of stuff”.
I myself have just realized how much I was guilty of this. I thought I was super holy for having a hippie attitude of not needing a lot of fancy clothes and other expensive stuff. However, the stuff that I work for is just as vain and empty in the long run.
Jesus told the crowd, “Listen, I ain’t about that.” I’m here to show you how to spend your life pursuing what matters.
So, they asked Jesus how to do the work of God and he told them it was all about trusting and following Jesus because as John said in chapter one, Jesus is God’s message to the world. Follow what he did and taught and you will be following God.
At this point in the story, I truly imagine Jesus face palming because the crowd responds with “So…like what sign are you going to show us?
This is the part of the story that gets uncomfortable, (if you can accept the miracle at the beginning…) but when you sort through it, it’s super cool!!!
Jesus goes on the explain to the crowd, “you have been waiting for someone to take care of you and provide for your needs based on your traditions about Moses and the Israelites getting bread from heaven. But the true “bread” from heaven comes from God, not Moses (and your traditional understanding). And I am the “bread” that comes from God. Follow me and you will understand what it really means to be sustained by God.” (very paraphrased, Cindy Felkel version)
The Jews then begin to grumble. They said they were upset because he was claiming to be from God and they were all like, “this dude ain’t from God. We know his parents”. But based on human nature, I imagine they were really more upset because he wasn’t giving them any more free food. He wasn’t going to take care of all of their physical needs or set everything right with their political struggles against a very corrupt oppressive government.
I have to admit that I’m not 100% sure why Jesus said things the way he did in the end of this discussion. I wonder if he was trying to deliberately freak out his audience. As weird as it is for us to read “You have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” It was even worse for them. The Jews were obsessed with clean and not clean animals and following a strict dietary code. They would have freaked out at him saying, “you are going to have to eat a pork steak cooked rare.” So the gross-out factor would be intensified for his audience.
Besides the gross-out factor, there would also have been the moral dilemma. What he was saying went against some of their strictest beliefs. In order to follow Jesus, they were going to have to look at everything differently.
I suspect that Jesus was trying to shake them with what would have been a shocking image. I’m certain he wasn’t advocating cannibalism!
He was saying that following God was different than they thought.
I think the symbolism of “eating my flesh” and “drinking my blood” when you consider the big picture, is talking about being sustained by following God. Your life purpose isn’t about pursuing the “stuff” that this world offers it is about following God.
I think if Jesus had said, “come bite my pinky and you will never have to make any literal bread again”, people would have been knocking each other to get to follow him.
However, when he shook them up and said, “you are going to have to re-think everything and follow me.” People were walking away shaking their heads. This teaching was hard!!
People are eager to be Christians when they think it will guarantee them an easy comfortable life. However, Jesus never promises his followers lots of stuff.
What he promises is a million times better when we fully understand it. He promises that our life will be hard and we may struggle but he will be with us during every single second. He will help us understand spiritual things and show us the beauty and wonderfulness of what life is really all about!
I hope you made it this far and haven’t run away because the teaching is hard and freaky! It gets better, harder and weirder but it’s awesome!!!
I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!