Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Text: John 6. 56-69 " We are what we eat: a balanced diet? "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Do you eat a healthy diet? Share with the group how you balance your intake of physical, mental and spiritual ‘food’, and the consequences of getting it wrong.
A Window on the Text
‘The Feeding of the 5000’ introduces one of the seven ‘signs’ in John’s gospel. As with each of the others, it is followed by a long discourse on its inner meaning. Today’s reading concludes one of the most difficult chapters in the bible, yet there is a simple truth here. The Christian community is called to ‘incarnate’ Christ Jesus (himself the Word made flesh), to express his life in and for the world, for his life to be seen and lived, in and through us.
In some church services, we make the astonishing declaration (following St Paul) that ‘We are the body of Christ’. As our physical bodies require nourishment, so too to sustain the Christ-life in us we require the spiritual food and drink which Jesus says is his flesh and his blood. ‘Feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving’ … ‘that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us ’ (CofE Holy Communion).
John gives no account of the last supper yet this chapter is full of allusions to it. When his gospel was written, towards the end of the first century, celebration of ‘the Lord’s Supper’ was well established (cf 1 Corinthians 11). References to eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ would have been understood in the light of their own eucharistic practice.
A literalistic and superficial understanding of Jesus’ words would naturally be offensive and outrageous to the Jews, who understood the Torah’s absolute prohibition on consuming blood. Among the disciples they were heard with consternation and incomprehension. (See verses 60, 61 & 66) Today we still find the idea of this utterly distasteful. The Romans suspected, not unreasonably, that Christians engaged in cannibalism and other ‘abominations’ in their ‘love-feasts’. (Tacitus Annals xv 44.2.-8)
It is said that ‘we are what we eat’. (Scientifically this is the case.) By telling his disciples to do this, Jesus wants them to understand that to be his followers they have to take his very life into their inmost beings. We, like them, are to be transformed by Him living in us. Religious externals without flesh and blood are lifeless. There has to be the inner reality for which the flesh and blood, bread and wine are symbols.
Jesus has now gone too far (v 66). This teaching was more than the majority of them could stomach, and many abandon him. Can we go beyond the safe limits which the ‘church’ today accepts, for the sake of the gospel? There comes a realization that Jesus has an unpalatable message and that he is asking for more than they are prepared to give. Loyalty to Jesus invites risk into an unknown future with him.
Jesus’ question, ‘Do you want to leave too?’ is for us as well. Peter expresses a tentative but real trust, ‘We have no-one else to go to.’ He had little comprehension, but a real sense that he must stick with Jesus! When we receive a glimmer of understanding, however faint; when we receive a new vision, see a new possibility; then there can be no returning to the old ways, the old life. The old has passed away all things have become new (2Cor 5.19).
Responding as a community
- What does it mean in practice to feed on Jesus?
- Do we find it easier to ‘feed on him’ ‘in community’ rather than individually?
- Our society is on the face of it very secular and materialistic. It is often said that the world will not read the bible, but they will read us. In what ways does your church ‘incarnate’ Jesus? Does your church adequately express its corporate life as the ‘Body of Christ’ today in its mission?
Read: John 6.53-56 followed by silent reflection for 2 minutes.
Read: Ephesians 3.16-19, followed by silent reflection for 2 minutes.
Come to this table to meet the life-giving Spirit,
interpreting our search for truth and justice,
breathing into us renewing power.
Come to find, to meet, to hold the living, loving God,
made new for us in bread and wine
From Janet Morley: Bread of Tomorrow. SPCK Christian Aid 1992
Prayer: Lord, give us today our daily bread. Amen.
The organisation called ‘Feed the minds’ was set up in 1964 to assist in the empowerment of people in the developing word through education. Read the mission statement of Feed the Minds. How does this relate to Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel? www.feedtheminds.co.uk
Tom Wright gives us an insight.
He recalls an incident in King David’s battles with the Philistines. Three of his men overhear David expressing a desire to drink water from the well in Bethlehem (then under Philistine occupation). They risk their lives, to break through the enemy lines, draw water from the well near the gate, and carry it back to the King. But he refused to drink and poured in onto the ground saying, ‘God forbid that I should do this. Should I drink the blood of these men who went at the risk of their lives?’ To drink blood was an absolute taboo for Jews (Leviticus 17.10). To drink this water, for David, would be tantamount to drinking the men’s blood. So when Jesus says, ‘You must eat my flesh and drink my blood’, he means that, ‘If you want to profit from what I am doing I will not just put my life at risk but will actually lose it.’ His friends will have their own thirst and hunger quenched and be truly united with him as we ‘feed on him in our hearts’ and his life grows and develops in and through us . ISBN 0-281-05302-2 John for Everyone Vol 1. p85.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion