There are plenty of strange things in the Bible. But since it’s recording things about people and life, the oddness lends to the Bible’s credibility. If things were too perfect, it would have to be fake, because if we humans are anything, we are strange.
One mind-boggling thing recorded was something Jesus said to a large crowd, which contained a mix of His devoted followers, uncommitted gawkers, and hostile religious leaders. Let’s pick up Jesus’ words from John’s Gospel account:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (6:47–51)
Jesus calls for the crowd (and today, to us) to believe something in particular and act upon it in order to gain eternal life.
The thing to believe = Jesus is the bread of life that came down from heaven.
The act = eat the bread. Which is Jesus’ flesh.
You’ve got to admit, that’s weird. What is that supposed to mean? Because at face value it sure sounds like an invitation to cannibalism or some sort of zombie feast. The crowds reacted likewise, so Jesus clarifies:
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. (6:52–59)
Welp. Jesus did clarify… that He really, truly did mean that His flesh and blood give us life. And conversely, without taking in the flesh and blood of Jesus, “you have no life in you.”
Jesus is saying that we need real food, real drink, that what we ingest has the potential to bring us real life. His real body was broken, His real blood spilled so that we might have it—real spiritual life. This back-and-forth between physical and spiritual affirms the reality of both and how both are of consequence. If our physical life is going to be more than a zombie-like experience, we need spiritual life. We need the life Jesus offers. There is something about who He is that will bring life to our zombie-like insides.
The IVP New Testament Commentary helps:
Here, then, is some of the deepest New Testament teaching about the Eucharist. The focus of this teaching is on sacrifice and shared life. These are inseparable since there is no sharing of life without the laying down of life. The once-for-all sacrifice of Christ is the pouring out of his life for the life of the world, bringing forgiveness and a new power of life. That sacrifice also shows us the deepest reality about God—his love—and about life: all true life is sacrificial. Life is a matter of exchange: my life for yours, yours for mine. In this sacrificial web of exchange we find the communion, the community, of the Godhead. At Eucharist we receive into ourselves, into our bodies and souls, the life-giving power of God, and precisely by eating and drinking we proclaim the Lord’s once-for-all death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26).
Jesus sacrifices everything for us so that we can come to life and leave zombie living behind. All we have to do is take in all that He is.
What’s striking to me is that taking in food and drink is never a onetime occurrence. Most of us nourish ourselves several times daily. Similarly, our spiritual selves need ongoing nourishment. We need the food and drink of Jesus applied time and again—remembering who He is, what we believe, how He brings true life. We need to keep on taking in the life Jesus. He is the food and drink our souls need.