(Jos. 24:1-2a, 14-18, Psa. 34:15-22, Eph. 6:10-20)
[Jesus said,] 56”Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
In her story entitled, “A Very Special Meal,” Mirabai Chrin tells of a very poor and devoted woman who always prayed to the Glory of God, asking very little if anything for herself. But one thought, one desire, continued to recur and finally she prayed, “Lord, if it were possible I would love to prepare a special meal and have you share it at my table.” God, in His love for this goodly woman, said he would come the next day and share the meal.
Ecstatic, the woman went out the following morning with her meager purse and purchased such delicacies that she felt would please the Lord. When she got home, she prepared a banquet and waited patiently for her most honored guest. Soon there was a knock on the door, and when she opened it, there stood an old beggar asking for something to eat. Being a woman of God, she could not turn the beggar away, so she invited him in to partake of her table. The beggar felt as if he was in a dream—such a feast set before him! He finished all the food, thanked his hostess, and left.
The woman was only slightly disheartened. She gathered up her purse, her coat, and hurried back to town to get more food for her special guest. Her funds were less now so the food was not quite so elaborate. Nonetheless, she lovingly prepared another meal and sat to await the arrival of God. A few hours went by and there was a loud knock on the door. This time is was an old gypsy woman with no teeth, who was deaf, who spoke quite loudly and was, rather rudely, insisting that any true believer in the Lord would not deny her something to eat. Though the woman had no more money with which to buy more supplies, she invited the woman in and offered her a seat at the table. The gypsy ate everything, did not even thank the woman and left without closing the door.
By now it was beginning to get dark both inside and out. The woman’s faith was strong so that, though somewhat distraught, she did not give up but rather looked around her humble house to see if there was anything she could sell in order to buy more food to set before the Lord. She hurried to town with a silver cup that had been in her family for several generations, but she was willing to part with it for the great honor that God was going to bestow on her—the sharing of a meal. Late in the night she rushed home to prepare yet a third meal. She waited and waited until, once more, there was a knock on the door. Holding her breath, she slowly opened the door to find yet another poor man in the guise of a wandering monk in search of a meal. Again, she offered hospitality, with as much grace as she could muster in her disappointment. This man also ate all that was set on the table and left after blessing the woman for her kindness. She was so discouraged and dismayed that all she could do was nod slightly to acknowledge the thanks.
Now it was too late, with no way to buy any more food and no more money with which to buy it. She got down on her knees, weeping such heart-broken tears. She asked God what she had done wrong. Why had God not come to share at the table as He had promised?
And God, in all his divine compassion and mercy, lifted the woman off her knees, and holding her close to his heart, said, “My child, I enjoyed your hospitality so much that I came three times!”
Over the last 5 weeks, we’ve been exploring how God comes to us as the bread of life. All throughout scripture we hear of a variety of ways that God comes to us. In his earliest appearance in the book of Genesis, God came as a mere voice summoning all of creation out of nothingness. That voice would carry through those early chapters, cursing Adam and Eve for their wickedness, encouraging Noah to build his infamous ark, calling Abram away from his home to become the father of many generations, arguing with Abraham to save the people of Sodom, and empowering Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery. God came to many in the form of a dream or an angel. God came as a burning bush and a whirlwind, manna and plagues. Finally, God came to us as a man. But even then God comes as more than just a man. Jesus is more than a man. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection convince us that he is more than just a man. And the book of John describes seven distinct ways that Jesus comes to us. In Jesus, God comes as the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way and the truth, the true vine, and the bread of life. Indeed, God came and comes to us in a variety of forms just as He came to that poorly woman in 3 different forms as a beggar, a gypsy, and a monk.
One would think that with such a variety of forms we’d gain a clearer understanding of who God is. God has come to us so many times in so many ways…why is it so difficult to understand God and God’s ways? Perhaps more importantly, why is it so difficult to place our trust in God and God’s ways? God reaches out to us in such a variety of ways so that we might come to realize just how abundant his love is for us. At the root of all the ways that God manifests himself is a deep and abiding love. God wants to be in relationship with us. God wants to share his love for us. God gives us opportunities to share our love for him. God came to the woman three times, effectively giving her three opportunities to share her sacrificial love. She gave and gave and gave, not knowing to whom she gave but giving out of the abundance of love she felt for God. Isn’t this how God gives to us? Doesn’t God give, and give, and give, not necessarily concerned with whom He gives to but simply giving out of an abundance of love He feels for us.
It is easy to take advantage of God’s love, to simply assume it is unconditional and never-ending. Children regularly take advantage of the love of their parents! And that is the blessing of a parent’s love—it is meant to be taken advantage of! It is meant to be assumed as unconditional and never-ending! But sometimes we need to remind ourselves to appreciate our parents’ love more. This is what Joshua was reminding the wandering people of Israel in our first reading. He advised, “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” We, like the wandering Israelites, can take advantage of God’s love and choose to worship any number of false gods: family, career, wealth, power, status, knowledge…you name it, we can serve it. Because it is harder to understand God and God’s will—harder to place our trust in God and God’s will—we serve what we can see and claim to understand. We often need reminders to serve God and fully appreciate his deep and abiding love for us.
Jesus’ assertion of being the bread of life is hard to understand. Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Make no mistake about it, this is a difficult understanding of who God is. Is Jesus suggesting cannibalism? Are we to literally eat his flesh and drink his blood? While we can argue the literalness of Jesus’ statement (i.e. are we literally eating flesh and blood at the communion table or mere representations?), what’s important to keep in mind is that Jesus is fully embracing his humanity. Jesus understands that to be human means to have hunger and thirst. We all have hunger and thirst—it’s just a part of owning a body! Jesus wants to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Jesus is willing to give the ultimate sacrifice of his body and blood to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Jesus’ bread of life satisfies our hunger like nothing else, as we’ve explored these last several weeks. Jesus’ bread is plentiful, imperishable, and imparts imperishability. But there is one final aspect of Jesus’ bread worth mentioning—it brings people together with each other and with God.
We all need to eat and drink and sharing a meal can be a great opportunity to nurture relationships while meeting basic shared needs. Sadly, our culture is quickly removing the importance of a shared meal in our homes. But Jesus maintains its importance. Jesus gives us an opportunity to gather for a shared meal. Jesus’ bread is giving for all to eat, not just a select few. Jesus’ bread satisfies anyone’s hunger and all are welcome to enjoy its nourishment. We might not all understand the sacrifice Jesus made to give it to us. We might not all understand how God comes to us through it. But we are ALL invited to feed our hunger with it. When we eat the bread of life, we connect to both our eternal God and each other. The bread of life feeds both our bodies and our souls. As we close our series of dwelling in Jesus’ bread of life, let us rejoice and be glad for not only the bread that lasts, not only the bread that sustains, but also for…the bread the unites.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.