Be wise, be wise, be wise! Wisdom calls to us – come in! Eat my bread, drink my wine, sit at my table, and become wise!
Be wise, be wise, be wise! Understand the will of the Lord and don’t be foolish!
The wise sought out the Lord, he fed them miraculous bread, and the wise wanted him to be the new King of Israel. But the Lord ran away. The wise sought him out again, and the Lord said you are foolishly seeking bread that perishes. Seek the everlasting bread from heaven. The wise asked, “Give us this bread!” The Lord said, “I am this bread.”
The wise began to murmur… who is this man? He is saying he is from heaven? No he’s not… we know his parents and siblings. He is a mortal.
The Lord replied, “Don’t murmur. The only people following me are those who God has sent me. But the bread is here for everyone. Whoever eats the bread, my flesh, lives.”
Now the wise go from a murmur to distress. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
A cannibalistic king… or vorarephiliac king… a king who wants us to eat his flesh… does not sound like a wise king. And only foolish people would follow such a king.
Jesus hears them arguing. So, he fans the flames. Our English Bible says “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood,” but in Greek, Jesus has changed verbs here. First he politely said eat me. The second time, he says, “Nom, crunch, chew my flesh and slurp my blood.” It is very graphic language.
This is too much for the wise. We’re told after today’s passage that many people left following Jesus. Being a cannibal — even a cannibal for Christ — is going too far.
Today, some of us will consume blood in the form of raw steaks, or blood pudding, blood sausage… or just any meat that isn’t wholly drained of all its blood. But we’re the strange ones. Today Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians alike all refuse to eat or drink blood — even that left over in something like a steak — because our scripture. In Genesis 9:3-4, God tells Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”
This is elaborated later in Levitius 17:10-14 when God tells Moses, “If anyone of the house of Israel or of the [foreigners] who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any [foreigner] who resides among you eat blood. And anyone of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside among them, who hunts down an animal or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.”
Quite, quite clearly, in the old ancient world, people understood that our bodies are alive because of blood. Blood is life. Life is blood. They are synonymous. And with science, today, we know that is pretty close to the truth. Your arm is alive, but if circulation is cut off to it… within four hours, all the cells in our flesh will die without the nutrients, oxygen, warmth, and LIFE that blood brings. A stroke is so deadly and damaging because it is a part of your brain that lacks blood – and the brain cells rapidly die. Six minutes without new blood to the brain, and the brain dies.
What’s more, science tells us blood is alive… inside blood are cells. These continue to be alive after they have left your body. Once in a great while, our blood transfusions go badly. Our blood cells attack the new blood cells.
We also know how many infections we can catch from blood! Jesus’ time didn’t have AIDS, but that’s just one of so many things we can catch.
So when Jesus starts telling people to DRINK his blood and EAT his flesh… isn’t that disturbing?
It was for the early Romans. Surviving documents from early Rome accuse Christians of meeting in the dark to worship their dark god by sacrificing a child and consuming the baby’s flesh and blood. Our church father Tertullian mocked the claims, “Come! plunge the knife into the baby, nobody’s enemy, guilty of nothing, everybody’s child. . . catch the infant blood; steep your bread with it; eat and enjoy it” (Apol. 8.2).
Augustine, another great ancestor of our faith, “argued that the words of Jesus refer to “the validity of the mystery, not to the visibility of the mystery, given to the one who eats inwardly, not outwardly, one who feeds his heart, not one who chews with his teeth.” The bread and wine are “signs,” said Augustine, and “the signs of divine things are, it is true, things visible, but … invisible things themselves are also honored in them.” (De Cat. Rud. 26.50). A thousand years later the Council of Trent would thus describe a sacrament as a “visible sign of an invisible grace.” ((https://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20120820JJ.shtml))
Countless Christians were murdered in Rome under charges of cannibalism.
You’d think the argument would have ended since then… but it really hasn’t. WHERE Christ is in our Eucharist, in our communion, is a sticking point among our denominations. Does the bread and wine become literally the flesh and blood of Christ? Yes, say the Catholics. No, but Christ is infused into them, say the Lutherans. As Reformed, most of us say ‘No’, Christ is in the whole act of the sacrament.
That’s one example how the real world is still being influenced by this ancient debate…
… Another is with our medical laws. When you go into the hospital for surgery, you’re often asked to sign a paper permitting a blood transfusion. This is “eating” or consuming blood to some faiths. And therefore, it is banned.
The same when you go in for your license. Are you signed up as an Organ or Flesh donor? Is receiving a kidney consuming another person? Is donating your skin for grafts after you die considered permitting another to eat your flesh?
Bioethics, biological ethics and religious concerns with medicine, struggle today just like the wise struggled with Jesus back then.
Our easy answer is Jesus was not speaking literally. Jesus was never literally a vine, literally a gate, and never literally meant for us to eat and drink him.
Yet every communion we remember Jesus saying “This is the cup of the new covenant, in my blood” and “this is my body, broken for you.” And we have a cup. And broken bread.
Where is the line between literal and figurative? Symbolic and metaphorical?
Other Christians believed Jesus was using signs to point us towards God. The eternal, everlasting life is the life we have now, enjoyed with God, and the life we will continue to have, after our last day. The bread and wine, or flesh and blood, from Jesus is his life and life-giving qualities.
Many of us take a symbolic and metaphorical approach… but not all of us.
Context matters. It helps us understand what these words mean. For example, the Bible does say in Psalm 14:1, “There is no God.” But in context, it says, “The fool says in their heart, there is no God,” and then goes on to sing praises about God.
Context matters! Throwing Bible versus around out of context gets us things like, “…then he went away and hung himself,” “and Jesus said, ‘Go away and do likewise.'” (Matthew 25:5b; Luke 10:37c.)
So when you read your Bible, or someone’s quote, ask yourself: what is the context?
Who said this?
Who did they say it to?
Why did they say it?
When? What was going on at that time?
What was said before this?
What was said after this?
And then you can understand the context, and better how this verse, or phrase, or quote was intended to be understood.
The context of “eat my flesh and drink my blood” is very different between church and a horror film.
So where do you stand? What does your God-given wisdom say?