The title of this devotional could have also been “Thinning out the Crowd,” or, “Scaring off the looky-lous.” When Jesus told the people that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, did He mean that literally? Of course not. There are three reasons why this could not be literal. 1. If the consumption of Jesus’ body was going to be the means of salvation for the whole world, there just wouldn’t be enough to go around. In fact, not even everyone in the crowd that day could have gotten a piece of Him. 2. To eat human flesh would have violated a core principle of the sanctity of life that is so prevalent in scripture. 3. v. 63 tells us plainly that Jesus was speaking in spiritual terms. He says, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”
Here is an interesting factoid for you. Many of the early Christians were persecuted by the Romans because of this issue. Rumor had spread throughout the empire that this radical sect of Jews believed that they had to eat the body of their teacher to know God. Many Romans believed the Christians to be cannibals and feared them. This misguided and prejudicial fear is one of the many motivators the Romans had to throw Christians to the lions.
So, why did Jesus speak in such controversial terms to this crowd of people? First, He did it to get rid of leeches. Most of the people in the crowd were not interested in truth. They were interested in getting fed or healed by Jesus the miracle worker. Jesus didn’t need that kind of publicity or that kind of following. Jesus was and is all about truth and having authentic disciples who are willing to follow Him all the way. In each Gospel we see Jesus turning his teaching tough just before he heads toward Jerusalem to be executed.
Second, through using this metaphor, Jesus was teaching a deep spiritual truth to those disciples who were ready to hear it. Just as God provided the physical needs of His infant nation in the desert by sending manna every day, so will God provide for the spiritual needs of His maturing Kingdom by providing life itself through Jesus. If we want to experience true life — life to the fullest (John 10:10) — then we must eat our spiritual food. Our food is Jesus. He is all we need. To eat His flesh and drink His blood means to become completely immersed in who He is. We must saturate our minds with studying everything we can about Jesus and His teachings. We must open our spirit to receive the Holy Spirit that He sent to us and experience the supra-rational presence of Jesus in our lives; the presence that empowers us to actually obey His teaching. We must activate our bodies to behave in the loving way that He commanded us to behave and “take the gospel to the streets.” We must be willing to love to the point of death, just as Jesus did. This is what it means to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
The next time you come to communion and look at that little piece of bread and drink the little drop of wine, close your eyes and meditate on this passage. Ask yourself, “Did I eat the Jesus bread this week? Or, did I just let that bread get crusty on the shelf at church?”