Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Eating, Living & Believing

Just so you know that I'm not just loafing around, I thought I'd share with you this brief little exegesis I did of John 6:57.

What does it mean to live, to have life? In Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse” in chapter 6 of John’s gospel, the answer is two-fold: to believe, and to eat. In its most basic definition, the latter would seem obvious; indeed, more obvious than the first. But in the context of this discourse, especially at its near climax in verse 57, it is the believing which Jesus’ audience seems likely to find much more palatable. Indeed, had Jesus merely left things as stated in verse 47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life,” he probably would have met with more success in persuading his audience, which included both skeptical Jews and disciples. Yet, he insists on adding that in order to live, they must not only eat of the “bread of life,” they must also eat his flesh.

When he adds in verse 57, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me,” he seems to further imply that belief alone is not enough. Actually, this is probably more reflective of Jesus’ attention to his mixed audience, some of whom already believed in him. But here Jesus does “up the ante” by adding a requirement probably reflective of the Eucharistic practices of the Johannine community. This “eucharistic” turn in Jesus’ discourse is troubling enough to some of his disciples that we are told in verse 66 that many “no longer accompanied him.” This turn has also caused some biblical scholars to speculate that this portion of the discourse in verses 51-58 might constitute an addition to the original text. This is hardly certain, as it is in many ways consistent with the Johannine style and established theme, even while adding a “sacramental realism” to the bread of life metaphor (Schnackenburg 56-65).

More remarkable is the life which verse 57 promises: “those who eat me will live because of me.” Jesus is the bread of life not merely metaphorically or spiritually, but materially and really. Eating this real food is a real sharing in his life. Even more remarkably, this life finds its source in Jesus in the same way that Jesus lives “because of the Father.” The emphasis on Jesus’ flesh as “food indeed” (John 6:55), with its material, sacramental character, also suggests that this life is not just some promised afterlife, but life, like a sacrament, offered now, and lived now. Perhaps it is this that his disciples then—and now—really find so hard to swallow: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). Their response to this remarkable offer of life would seem to affirm Kierkegaard’s insight that “the real reason that men are offended by Christianity is . . . because it wants to make man into something so extraordinary that he cannot grasp the thought” (Kierkegaard 83). To live on such intimate terms with Jesus and the Father is daunting indeed. But, Jesus insists, it’s the only way to truly live.


Blogger Steve Bogner said...

I was thinking the other day along those lines - that if we really take to heart what Jesus is saying, offering, proposing - that is really daunting, even scary for some of us (me!).

8:07 PM  
Blogger Amy Giglio said...

I just love the Bread of Life Discourse. A wise priest really brooke it open for me during his homilies 3 years ago. I reread it often. I didn't think someone could write so much so well on just one verse. probably means i'm not spending enough time with the Word...

10:42 PM  

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