Psalm 66:8-9, 16-17, 20
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (John 6:51). On the face of it, those words from the Gospel of John sound as if they are simply about receiving Christ in the Eucharist. When you step back, though, and read these words in the context of the whole of John 6 (with the help of a good commentary), you learn that the reference to the Eucharist is only part of what is being said here.
Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John is a Christian meditation that applies Jewish traditions about the meaning of the manna from heaven in the book of Exodus. Jewish interpreters understood the wonder of bread from heaven as a symbol of the gift of the Torah communicating the wisdom of God. The Torah was like bread because it fed the profound human hunger to know how to live in relation to the Creator. When some Jews accepted Jesus as the Messiah who fulfilled the Scriptures of Israel, they readily applied the tradition about the meaning of the manna to him. He, the Word of God incarnate, was a living Torah, the true bread from heaven for which the human heart hungered. From that huge thought it was an easy step to see the Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a way of appropriating Jesus as God’s wisdom incarnate in the sacramental eating and drinking of communion.
Notice the last words of the verse quoted above: “for the life of the world.” Those who come to know the wisdom of God in Jesus—met in a special way in the Eucharist—are meant themselves to be bread for the life of the world. That reality moves us out of the Christian worship service, back into the streets and our workplaces and our homes to be, in some very “incarnate” ways, nothing less than “bread for the world.” If we let this sink in and dare to live it out, our lives become wisdom for others and what we do ministers to the real human hungers they have—to know God, to participate in human community, learn, to have meaningful work, to live in decent housing, to have a chance to develop their practical and artistic talents—in short to have all the kinds of bread for which their bodies and spirits and minds hunger.
The story from Acts tells about a hungry man—the Ethiopian eunuch. He has a great job, a high place in the court of his people’s queen (the “candace”). He is wealthy enough to possess a copy of the Scroll of the prophet Isaiah (when it was not out yet in paperback). He’s well educated, knows how to read at a time when only an elite few had that skill. But he’s a eunuch, which probably means that we was not only castrated but also (at least partially) dismembered. And while he is obviously a devotee of the God of Israel (he has made the tough journey to Jerusalem to worship), his handicap prevents him from getting circumcised and thereby become a full convert to Judaism. Though nothing suggests that he doesn’t have enough to eat, he is hungry in a deeper sense, hungry to know the meaning of Isaiah 53. Philip tells him that it applies especially to Jesus. The line from Isaiah—“who will tell of his posterity?”— must have had a special poignancy for a eunuch, who would of course have no posterity to look forward to. Applied to the risen Jesus, though, the verse takes on new life. Jesus’ posterity turns out to be his disciples. And the Ethiopian eunuch, despite his physical impotence, gets to become a member of that posterity, reflecting another part of the scroll of Isaiah, speaking of the messianic age: “And let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’ . . . to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off’” (Isaiah 56:3, 5). In his encounter with this eunuch “from the ends of the earth,” Philip had become bread for another.
Let’s keep our eyes and ears open for how we can be that today.
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