“Stubborn, stubborn, I tell you.” I can still hear the words of my grandmother fussing about a relative who simply refused to hear “good sense” as she called it. “That boy is a stubborn as a mule!”
I confess, as I enter the latter half of my own life, I can look back and see some places where I was just plain stubborn. And my active refusal to hear “good sense” has a ripple effect through my own life to this very day.
The good news is, I don’t have to remain stubborn. I can let go of my foolish pride and admit that I’m wrong, and in that release of my stubborn pride, I can be healed!
Look at our lesson today in John 6:48-54:
The Lord said to the Jews who believed in him: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
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; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
This passage hit me like a ton of bricks when I was making my way to the Orthodox Church. Oh, I had read it a thousand times before, but without the historical context needed to fully appreciate the radical message Jesus was communicating here. And it’s s message that divides as well as heals.
It divides because we humans insist that our impressions and identity are without flaw and need nothing to correct them. We know who we are, and we stubbornly insist our opinions or insights into our own identity are flawless. And we are wrong! We don’t know who we are UNLESS our identity is informed and shaped by the radical message of Jesus: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Simply put, without the intimate connection to Jesus Christ in His Flesh and Blood, you will always be confused about your own flesh and blood!
Notice how the Jews “disputed among themselves.” A classic symptom of misunderstanding is when you refuse to speak to the Person speaking hard truths to you, and you talk to others about what confuses you INSTEAD of speaking directly to Him! Of course we know why we do that, don’t we? We do it to escape a confrontation that just may require us to change!
To be fair, the message IS pretty gruesome. Jesus says we have to “eat” His flesh, and “drink” His blood. Without some serious explaining, anyone would have trouble with this.
But at the heart of this challenging message is an invitation to intimate relationship. Jesus promises to share His Life with everyone who enters into His flesh and blood. Not in a cannibalistic sense. That misunderstanding is what got the earliest Christians accused of cannibalism by the pagan Roman government. But in the sense that we become so connected with Him that our “food” is His life in us. Our “drink” is His life in us. So the Bread becomes the Body of Christ at the Eucharist, and the Wine becomes the Blood of Christ at the Eucharist. How? By faith, that’s how. By grace, that’s how. Because of love! And Christ makes a glorious promise to everyone willing to risk this closeness to Him in His Flesh and Blood – He will “raise him up on the last day.”
Today, can you describe your relationship with Jesus as intimate? Why or why not? Are you recognizing Jesus in the Eucharist at liturgy, or is this just one more empty ritual done out of habit? The invitation stands today as fresh as when the Lord first said it. Think of your relationship with Jesus as the very food you eat and the very drink you drink so that you’ll be Orthodox on Purpose.