COME TO THE TABLE
"'I AM the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died... But here is the bread that comes down from heaven which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world.'
"The Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, 'How can this man give us His flesh to eat?'" John 6:48-52 (NIV).
Jesus' words sound bizarre, don't they? What in the world is He talking about and how can He expect His hearers to believe what He is saying?
Once more a literal interpretation of His words leaves us with the idea that He is advocating cannibalism! But we know that He cannot possibly imply that, so what is He saying?
We have to turn again to the Hebrew way of thinking. Where the "western" Greek-orientated mind-set is to interpret His words literally, the ancient Hebrew mind would recognize something different in His meaning.
Middle-eastern people were very hospitable but they never ate with anyone with whom they had issues. To eat with someone meant much more than sitting down together and sharing a meal. They only ate a meal with someone with whom they were reconciled.
This practice arose from the origin of the ancient concept of a table. The Paleo-Hebrew word for a table - shulkan - was also the word for reconcile and lamb skin, depending on the sense in which it was used. The connection between these meanings was like this: where there was no table available, for example, when they left Egypt in haste and they had to eat the Passover meal in readiness to leave, the skin of the lamb that was eaten at the Passover was used as a "table", a sort-of picnic blanket.
The members of the family had to eat a sacrificed lamb as a symbol that they had set aside their differences and were one with each other. They could not travel together on a long journey if they had issues. Hence a meal - shul - was eaten at the table - shulkan- as a symbol of reconciliation.
Was Jesus inviting the people to be reconciled to God through His flesh? It sounds very much as though that was what He was getting at. There is certainly no hint that He was implying that, in some mystical way, the bread eaten and the wine drunk at the Last Supper literally became His body and blood. That would make Him the advocate of cannibalism which is unthinkable.
It also denies the clear teaching of Scripture that His death was a once-for-all, never-to be-repeated, all-sufficient sacrifice which reconciled us to the Father. To insist that, every time we participate in the memorial feast of "Communion" or the Lord's Supper, we are re-sacrificing the Son of God and eating His actual flesh and drinking His actual blood is to turn it into a satanic ritual rather than a symbol of what He did on the cross for us.
"Jesus said to them, 'Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.'" John 6:53-55 (NIV).
When we read His words with the understanding that He was talking about reconciliation, not cannibalism, they make a whole lot of sense. To be reconciled to the Father through the sacrifice of His Son brings us back into union with the source of life. Physical death cannot separate us from Him because He has conquered death. Just as bread sustains and energizes our physical bodies, so also, as we "feed" on Him, our spirits are nourished, and our life in Him grows.
Jesus was not instituting a new, cannibalistic religion, but teaching God's people that the sacrificial lamb they ate when they celebrated the Passover was only a picture of what He would do on the cross. His death would bring them back into fellowship with the Father and reconnect them with the source of life.
Do you have this life?
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