Gospel of John #38 : John 6: 52b-53; “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 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.John 6: 60-64 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.”
Who can accept that Jesus (infused with the Spirit of God) should die and his flesh and blood be ingested by the disciples? Or that we, in imitation of Jesus, must “die” to the flesh, ourselves, in order to be reborn in the Spirit? How may we understand this death and rebirth, a doctrine that lies at the center of Christian spirituality?
I will discuss this death/rebirth dynamic, first, as it pertains to our spiritual lives and secondly, as it pertains to the life of Jesus, who models the way to God.
Death and Rebirth in our Spiritual Lives
Our own death to the self can be experienced as a rebirth into joy and wellbeing, particularly if the self that needs to die is constructed of painful tendencies and destructive personality dynamics.
Many are consumed by self-criticism, for instance, which leads to depression. We seek that “perfect” life and a fully meritorious way of being in the world. The vulnerability of Life seems like a rude error. Denying the prospect of suffering, failure, injustice, or struggle, we desperately try to create a facade of perfection, which becomes a counterfeit self, a false identity. (See this article: Perfectionism and Depression)
The false self– which is enslaved to counterfeit values (such as criticism and perfectionism)– can lead to death. Where there’s excessive criticism, which is neither constructive nor conducive to growth, how can we love? Once we are impeded in love, we lose joy and well-being –which, in turn, can make us sick and die in the soul. The soul’s death leads to disease in the body.
If we are courageous enough to allow the false self to die– and its perfectionism and criticism to be demolished– we may enter more fully into the life of God (who is Life and Love). The death of the false self may hurt; one may even mourn this imposter once he or she is gone. New Life takes the place of death, however, a LIFE that is without boundaries. We then honor LIFE itself in whatever guise that Life takes and in whatever form that Life shows up. In short, the death of the false self liberates our lives so that we may be taken up in Spirit–in a kind of ascension of our own–to experience life in God.
The Death of Jesus
As this passage in John indicates, to accept the difficult teaching (that Jesus must die and be consumed) is to honor the Son of Man, while the one who does not believe (namely, Judas) betrays him.
Difficult teaching: Jesus Christ claims that one must ingest his very body as bread and drink his blood, in order to discover the life of God within oneself. This suggestion of cannibalism (see previous post in this series #37) is offensive to his audience. Death is implied as a preliminary to this feast.
If Jesus is merely a human being, then he commits blasphemy (as his accusers suppose) for his claim of being not just a prophet (like Moses whose people received bread in the desert) but instead of the same substance as the Father God, i.e. “the heavenly bread”. Jesus claims union with God which would be offensive for a mere mortal (according to his accusers).
If Jesus is in fact divine, then it is difficult to understand how the divine (who is Spirit) must die like a human being in order for his flesh to be consumed. What a bizarre notion! That one should feed on the body of God and drink his blood. Gods do not normally have bodies.
Death of God as a Model for our own Spiritual Death and Rebirth
Consider, though, what we gain when we ingest the body and blood of Christ. The false self having fallen away, we feed upon an expanded awareness of divine Life as a spiritual reality, beyond the boundaries of the flesh or the ego (the false self).
As Rumi the poet says, the thing that seems most bizarre and difficult may be a guide from beyond to be welcomed, the Messenger who brings a gift to the guest house. In the guesthouse, which is our hearts, we relish the joy of Life however Life shows up. Such is Life in the Spirit: abundant and omnipresent.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,