Notice that my friend Larry has just posted a piece ending with allusions to manna & “the Bread of Life.” Just about the time I decided it’s about time we started looking at actual bits of scripture once again, and went back to the John 6 passages where I’d been stuck a couple years ago– where Jesus is being portrayed, apparently claiming to be that Bread.
Now the real Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, just fed people and recommended they pray for each day’s needs… [the very arrangement by which manna is delivered on the way from Egypt, by the way.] This fictional Jesus is being used as a mouthpiece for somebody’s theology– which said ‘somebody’ no doubt believes to be true, but we’re getting it from a fiction. Once again, the challenge is to see what illumination God can bring through this fiction…
And we’re supposed to be getting it through this utterly nasty image of munching on the flesh of Jesus… which suggests to me the idea of people eating a sacrifice. That is, after all, what people traditionally did with a sacrifice… (which was seldom a human sacrifice, though that’s the aspect of this that evidently fascinates people today [Try googling “sacrifice”; you’ll see!]) The Temple cult evidently found something inspiring in the sight of meat bursting into flame; but in less formal times and places, a sacrifice was normally a way of sanctifying the slaughter of an animal for food. In the case of a lamb sacrificed for Passover… a commemoration of Israel being led out of slavery into a new life in a rather unequal partnership with God.. one was supposed to eat every bit of it!
This gospel was almost certainly written considerably later than the other three… but this idea of Jesus being a sacrifice is also an element in Paul’s letters, which may be the earliest writings about Jesus we have… and which definitely were written while the Temple was still in use. Christians may have been praying in the Temple (Acts says they were)– but they weren’t sacrificing there like other Jews. To me it seems likely that Jesus’ “Cleansing” of the Temple was really a symbolic “destruction” of it ala Jeremiah’s prophecy. So that even though the building was still standing, still a convenient place for prayers and missionary activities, Christians had stopped using it as a proper temple. Well before the Romans confirmed Jesus’ oracle with actual destruction, then, Christians (like many other Jews, especially among those living outside Israel) were having to find a substitute for the Temple. Instead of Passover once a year… a ritual meal once a week, celebrating the belief that the congregation was part of God’s Kingdom, ruled by the Messiah Jesus. A meal in which bread (& sometimes fish) was the primary feature… so that that bread might be identified with the Jesus whose “sacrifice” had made that condition possible.
So, what we have here is basically an assertion that participating in this communal [commemoration of ] sacrifice will not just substitute for the sacrifices in the Temple– but will lead to being resurrected as Jesus was, when that time comes. And that one who doesn’t do so won’t have the life of God in him… a bizarre notion, but these gatherings were the only way they knew to assimilate what Jesus brought. (Not the first, or the last time that people have assumed… that the practices they’d been given were a universal Divine requirement.)