Flesh and Blood 7.10.2020
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.
From a 21st century perspective, we who are Christians (or have at least been exposed to Christian teaching) can say ""OH, Jesus is pointing to the Lord's Supper" and merrily go about our way, embracing the beauty in the promises connected to Holy Communion. We have eternal life when we believe Jesus at his word, and he promises that in his body and blood we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. All well and good!
But examine this from the perspective of its first hearers and we may need to think more deeply. These words were spoken in the Synagogue in Capernaum (verse 49), long before Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper in the upper room in Jerusalem on the night in which he was betrayed. These words were spoken to the same crowds that he had been admonishing for only following him for the free bread he provided in the hills of Galilee (v.26). This bit about body and blood had to be heard by his audience as a simply outrageous saying from the mouth of this itinerant Rabbi. Every even marginally-devout Jew knew the Jewish people were never to consume blood. In the Torah, God consistently says life is in the blood, and whenever the people made a sacrifice the blood was not to be consumed but offered to God on the altar or poured back into the earth. Cannibalism was also expressly forbidden to the Jews. These rules were part of the holiness code, which specifically separated the Jews from all of their neighbors. They were to be a people set apart, and these rules helped them and their neighbors recognize their distinctive identity. It had to sound like a blasphemous abomination to the Jewish listeners who heard Jesus say "eat my flesh and drink my blood."
So what is going on here?
Jesus is running a test. To put it crassly, he is thinning the herd. Those who are following him for the temporal rewards of healing or food are being challenged, "Do you really believe in me?" The text informs us that many departed from him, to the point he is left with just the twelve. Jesus has a question for those twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" (verse 67) Simon Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." The disciples do not understand what is going on, but they know who is speaking and believe Jesus will clear up the confusion in his time and in his way. This is faith--believing when reason and experience are telling you otherwise. This is what this passage is all about.
In the Old Testament, God told Abraham to take his son, Isaac, and go and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah. Any way you hear that, it is an awful thing to be commanded to do. It was a test. God stopped the awful deed when it was abundantly clear Abraham was going to do what he had been told to do. The scripture tells us "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness." That test also foreshadowed what God himself was willing to do to save His people. God would send His only Son to be a sacrifice for our sin. Sin is that serious, but God's love is even more serious.
So Jesus here states an eternal truth foreshadowing a reality which at that moment is beyond the comprehension of everyone around him. Those with faith in him are not dissuaded -- we have no other place to go. Those operating from what they know depart from the presence of Jesus and will have to wait for another time to be drawn in to faith.
Jesus does institute this body and blood promise to the chosen disciples on the night in which he was betrayed, but it remains a glorious mystery -- we do not understand the how or often the why, but we do trust that his word is true -- we who commune have eternal life -- Jesus said so. The world outside the community of faith will never grasp this, indeed the charge of "cannibalism" will be used in the early persecution of the church. To this day scoffers wonder what kind of nonsense we believers are up to in this practice of Holy Communion.
The lesson is simple and oh so challenging --
Trust His Word and all things are yours.
Always remember Whose you are --