Text: John 6:48 – 58
We live in a death denying culture. When we go to a grocery store to buy meat, for example, we don’t see the slaughtering process, which is bloody and nasty. What we see is the meat wrapped in the plastic package. You probably have seen the hideous part of killing animals especially if you grew up in a farm. If so, you have seen clearly how a living creature turned into your food. Some organism dies in the process of giving nourishment to another organism. By hiding the dying process, we only see the half-truth. The whole truth is that it is dying that makes living possible. Life and death are inseparable. We cannot talk about one thing without the other.
The death denying culture also forces us to think that death is a form of failure. Living is normal and dying is alien. My colleague in ministry, who had a terminal cancer, once expressed the problem of the language, such as “fighting a cancer.” She said, it not only failed to describe what she was going through, but also dishonoured her journey as a whole. By denying death, and removing anything that reminds us of our mortality, we make ourselves lonelier and more isolated.
I want us to think beyond the narrow definition of death as the end of life. Every living thing involves eating in order to live, and eating requires a dying of another. Everything we eat – including plant – had first to die, and none of us get out of this world alive. We can say, therefore, that life consists of the constant flow of giving and taking. Arthur McGill says that life is always and exclusively a matter of communication. Life involves communicating something of ourselves—of our real selves—into the lives of others.
Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This is a very troubling verse especially in the death denying society. Jesus, however, was not afraid of talking about his dying and death. Three times, the gospels say, Jesus foretold how he was going to die to the disciples although they closed their ears. Jesus understood death not as the end of life, but as the consequence of expanding himself into the lives of others. To love is to be used up, and therefore to be eaten. Jesus was willing to become the food, the nourishment for others, which was the highest form of love.
That is our true food and we must eat it, said Jesus. As a matter of fact, aren’t we all hungry for the true love? No matter how satisfying, happy or safe our life seems, at the end of the day, nothing can quench our thirst as the unconditional love does to our soul. Everyone lives through some levels of giving and receiving. However, seldom do we see the perfect giving without expecting something to be returned. Many of us are generous in giving, but can we really give what’s essentially ours to the point that our giving can bring us danger? Most of us first want to secure our basic needs, and then think about what to give among extras, because we want to live.
What’s shocking about Jesus’ teaching is that it tells the opposite of what we usually believe. The real giving is giving what is essential to us to the point that it can make us vulnerable and needy. In other words, it is by dying, by becoming the food, the nourishment for others that we can truly live in the lives of those who eat the food.
Perhaps, this is what a theology of caring looks like. When we care for our loved ones, with all the physical, emotional and spiritual caring we provide, we find ourselves vulnerable and needy because we have been willing to become the food that is much needed. I know that many of you have been there. All I can say is that God blesses all those who struggle to act with compassion and be compassionate while taking the risk of giving what is essentially theirs, and therefore feeling vulnerable.
Jesus is willing to become our food. By the perfect giving to the point that he became nothing, he became the nourishment we need. But the only way his life can pass from him to us is for us to receive it. We must eat our food thankfully, and that’s how we celebrate his radical act of love, and that’s how he continues to live on in our lives. In the same way we are meant to be the nourishment for one another, as we are nourished from each other.