THE BREAD OF LIFE
What kind of eater are you at the shared meal of faith? There are at least four kinds but only one to aspire to.
Jesus said: ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’ (John 6:53). This has to rank highly among his hard sayings, though it expresses something amazing about his self-giving love. Is there anything more ghastly than the image of other people feeding off your body? Although he employed it spiritually rather than literally, Jesus caused outrage with these words and trouble intermittently for the Church ever since when it has been slandered as cannibal. Cannibalism is one of the last taboos of society which some people only resort to in a famine. Yet even then it is a dangerous act to commit, as the lynching of Soviet citizens during the terrible famine of 1932-33 suggests.
Jesus sacrificed his own body so that we, who are spiritually starved, may live. As we eat and drink, he infuses us with the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. This shared ritual demonstrates to the surrounding world that there is organic food and drink available to fulfil our needs in ways that the synthetic substitutes of modern life cannot. By this we mean not fast food, but the addictions which fuel our nervy existence, from work and shopping to the more pernicious, like drugs and alcohol.
Yet if people are to join us in this shared meal, we should seem like contented diners. What people see, in practice, are four kinds of eaters. The first is the picky eater who, when faced with a meal, immediately separates to one side of the plate the food she has no intention of touching because she doesn’t like it. In spiritual terms, this happens when we divide the sayings of Jesus into those we can swallow and those we find it too hard to chew. We thus live a partial discipleship, committed to the aspects of the faith we like while ignoring those we don’t. We assume the host does not mind that we leave food on the plate, but we are wrong.
The second kind of diner is the greedy eater. They are a nightmare at buffets which become a feeding frenzy. Their paper plate is so laden down with food that it droops precariously at the edges. Having taken disproportionate quantities of each dish, they return to the buffet table before the last of the diners is filling their plate to compete with them for what remains. In spiritual terms, this is when we are selfish and, lacking in self-awareness, are content to place demand after demand on our fellow Christians without perceiving the toll it is taking on them, or how we might begin to meet someone else’s need for once.
Then there is the noisy eater who makes toe-curling sounds of chewing while sharing a meal with others. It’s fine if we can tune them out, but once we are conscious of the sound, it is impossible to ignore it and begins to put us off our own meal. In the spiritual life, this is when we draw attention to ourselves at the expense of others. It may be the brashness that we develop when we become aware of the gifts God has given us or it may be an exhibitionist faith which compels other people to admire us, rather than the God we are supposed to be pointing to.
Then finally there is the sociable eater. It’s quite an achievement at a buffet meal to eat and drink while standing up with a paper plate in one hand and a glass in the other while enchanting others with the wit and sophistication of your words. Many find it easier to find a seat for the duration and let others come to them. I have a lot of sympathy for this approach. Yet I have great admiration for those who are willing to mingle and find those who look a bit lost in the crowd. This is what we should strive for spiritually: to be generous Christians who share their blessings with others, are eager to celebrate good things and prove kind and sensitive company to those around them.
Jesus said: ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’. This food and drink gives us energy to live for God. How we share it together is another matter. To make ours a table others would wish to join we need to make the right noises.
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