Musing on John 6, 35 and 41 to 51
We are what we eat.
In 1826 the French author Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote his Physiologue du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie in which he said ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are’ (in French, of course). Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life – eat me (v51).’
What did he mean?
From the way they responded to him at the time, the people who heard him expected him to ‘do a Moses’ and provide manna like he had when their ancestors were in the wilderness for 40 years., but heavenly provision of food to sustain the physical body wasn’t what Jesus was offering. And they start complaining (v41) and pick up on his claim to have ‘come down from heaven’ (v38, 42). After all some of them grew up with him so how can this be?
‘I am the bread of life’ is one of several ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus. Is it significant that Jesus uses the same words as when God was asked his name and replied it was ‘I am’ (YHWH Exodus 3, 13-14)? Was Jesus saying he is God who has come ‘down from heaven’? Yes, he was!
He seems to say to the crowd, ‘go away unless the Father has drawn you to me’ (v44). Would we now see that as about the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to himself? And he says it will be he who will raise those who come to him ‘on the last day’.
He then quotes from the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah (Is. 54,13 and Jer. 31,34 – it’s God speaking through them) ‘I will teach your citizens and their prosperity will be great’ (prosperity referring to the restoration of Jerusalem after the exile to Babylon). In other words Jesus is telling the people these words apply to him – listen and learn from him, believe in him and they’ll receive the ‘prosperity’ of eternal life (the ‘new Jerusalem’). I wonder if any of the people, post resurrection, went ‘Oh! That’s what he meant!’
He tells the people that everyone who has learnt about God in the scriptures should recognise who he is and come to him (v45) implying that all the scriptures pointed to him.
Again he is telling the people that he is God.
‘Very truly’ he says – and we know when he says this it means everything that follows is really, really important – then he repeats his statement about who he is (the bread of life), and his promise of eternal life to all that believe in him. That was the good news he preached and that we are asked to carry to the world (v 47 to 51)
‘Eat me’ he says, meaning ‘take me inside you’, something that was only really understood after resurrection and the gift of his Holy Spirit. Allowing the Holy Spirit within us slowly transforms us to be more like him.
In our Holy Communion we eat a wafer like a piece of manna as a reminder of his promise, as a reminder to welcome his Holy Spirit within us, as a reminder to give thanks that our simple belief in him means we need no longer need fear what follows our death. It’s a physical reminder, a physical declaration of our belief and trust in him.
When Jesus looks at us on judgement day he will only see a reflection of himself because ‘we are what we eat’.