Benediction Online

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Eat, digest,become Jesus
John 6:56-69

If you’ve been paying any attention these last few weeks you’ll know that Jesus is the bread of life. This is such an important idea that we’ve been hearing about it for four weeks. The gospel of Mark is our basic text this year but the Church considers this to be so important that we have made a lengthy detour into John’s theology of bread.

In today’s gospel we hear that it was a make or break concept for many of Jesus’ followers. They could not get their heads around the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. It’s certainly quite a gross cannibalistic picture! Many of his followers gave up and went home.

Eating is a strong metaphor. Eating is something we need to do for life but it’s also something we do for pleasure and to share with family and friends. Psalm 34 says ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’. What we eat becomes who we are. Jesus was not telling his disciples to believe certain things but to become Jesus. This is indeed a hard teaching. It is easier to have a list of things to believe than to become Jesus.

We are what (or who) we eat. To become Jesus means to be willing to be compassionate, totally present for other people, constantly listening for instruction from God, and responsive to the needs of others without losing one’s own center. To become Jesus means being sufficiently detached from food to be able to fast for long periods, being able to pray through the night without falling asleep, being willing to suffer extreme pain to fulfill one’s vocation of service. To become Jesus means being stripped of one’s ego desires, letting go of all pettiness, worry and frustration and being transformed into a Christ-like being.

That is our calling. To eat Jesus, to digest Jesus and to become Jesus. Being a disciple of Christ is not learning a litany of beliefs. Nor is it following a list of rules. It’s not even taking part in a specific form of meditation or other spiritual discipline. Being a disciple of Christ is more difficult to grasp and more difficult to do. Eat, digest and become Jesus.

This is not the same as trying to imitate Jesus. That is good and it is important, but imitating Jesus can just be acting out a part without allowing the inner changes that are necessary to become Jesus.

I know this isn’t an easy teaching. This is where true discipleship begins. That’s why a whole load of the disciples gave up and went home. But as Peter said, ‘where else are we to go? You have the words of eternal life.’ For us, life is in Jesus, the living bread.

How do we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood? The obvious answer is that we do so in the Eucharist. As we gather here together we are participating in Jesus’ life-giving work, and we are eating Jesus in the bread and the wine. But it’s not that simple. It is possible to come to communion every week and never eat and drink Jesus. A sacrament is a sign of God’s grace, it’s not a magic spell. It does not take away our freedom.

Because God is free, God made us free. Which means that the followers of Jesus were free to go home, and not continue into the deeper mysteries and the deeper discipline of his teaching. It means that we can come to the eucharist without the willingness to digest Jesus in our souls. If you inadvertently swallow a small stone because you failed to wash your rice or lentils enough it goes through your body undigested because we don’t have the capacity to digest stones. If you are choosing not to digest Jesus the eucharist can also leave you unchanged.

The New Testament lesson reminded us that we are working on a spiritual plane. We are called to counter the negative forces that seek to destroy and to pull down. We are called to work towards fulfilling God’s mission to bring all things into reconciliation. We are called to be different from those around us. We are called to be the children of God.

That means eating and drinking Jesus. Letting him into every part of our lives. Choosing to be transformed. Choosing to take the risk. Challenging ourselves to become more, and in some ways less, than we ever dreamed. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us softening the hard places and strengthening the weak.

Eating and drinking are active verbs. This is not something that happens without our choice. This is not something that happens when we are busy doing something else. This is something we choose to do in co-creation with Creator God. It does happen in the midst of our busyness. We do not have to become monks or live in an isolated place. But it is always our conscious choice.

Just when the disciples thought they had it all sorted out, Jesus came up with this bizarre statement, ‘whoever eats me will live because of me’. Often life suddenly doesn’t fit with our theology. We think we have it all sorted out, we understand what Christianity is all about, and then God throws what is known in cricket as a ‘googly’ – a ball that spins the wrong way. Like Jesus’ followers we have a choice, a choice to stay connected to God and to roll with the unexpected, blindly hanging on until we begin to grasp what is happening, or we can quit.

When we choose to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood we may find that things become more difficult as the Holy Spirit uses our everyday circumstances to help us digest and become Jesus. Jesus’ life was not an easy one, but it gives eternal life. Being Jesus’ disciple is not an easy life but it is a fulfilled life because only in Jesus do we become the people we were created to be.

As we come to the eucharist together today, let us make the difficult choice to eat, digest and become Jesus.


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