As someone who likes to eat–and someone who has developed stomach problems over the years which limit what I can eat–I find it fascinating the way in which both the fall of man and our salvation are wrapped up in eating. Mysterious as parts of the creation account may be, there is something completely, blatantly obvious about the idea that the world was plunged into sin and darkness by the eating of forbidden fruit. The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was forbidden, which was fine with our first human parents, right up until the moment that the serpent convinced Eve that if she ate that fruit she would be like God. That must have been the same line she used on Adam, who seemed to think that eating was a much better idea than obeying. They wanted to be like God, so they ate something which they thought would give them a piece of God’s power. They ate the fruit because they wanted to become God. They wanted to take God into themselves, to have His knowledge, to steal His mojo.
In many ways, this is still how we approach the world. In our day and age, we no longer believe in the One True God, or even in the idea that there could be a One True God, but we have many gods to take His place — gods of entertainment, power, politics, sex, you name it. We worship them because we want to be them. We attempt to consume them, to take them into ourselves so that we might have what they have so that we can then be done with them. This consumption takes many forms, of course, not all of them literal. We consume ideas and products just as adeptly as we consume pastries and pasta. We get outraged at the stuff we’re supposed to get outraged at, depending on which set of gods we wish to ingest that day. We buy whatever has been endorsed by our favorite celebrities, because if we use his toothpaste or her lip gloss, we might just become the gods we’ve always aspired to be.
And then the One True God comes along and spoils the fun by becoming incarnate of the flesh of the Virgin Mary. While we are busy consuming in order to become gods, God is busy self-emptying in order to become us. All this time, we’ve been trying to eat our way to the top, and then Jesus stands before us, God in human flesh, and offers us Himself to eat, His own flesh and blood. And we don’t want to eat Him. We turn our noses up like children presented with vegetables.
Jesus fed the multitudes bread that they could consume. When He did that, they followed Him because they wanted to see what else they could get out of Him. But He rejected their consumerism. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” says Jesus (John 6:26). The kind of eating that we want to do and the kind that Jesus wants to give us are totally different. We want to have Him as a possession, to keep Him handy like a genie in a bottle, to use Him and then spit Him out. We want Him to do whatever it is we need Him to do–to comfort us, to make us happy, to entertain us, to give us a “spiritual charge,” to give us a sense of identity, to tell us that we’re just fine the way we are–and then we want Him to be gone until we need Him again. We want Him to be our comfort food, totally filling, totally designed to make us feel good, totally disposable and forgettable. We want to rot our teeth on Him, but that is not what He is offering. He wants us to eat Him, but in a totally different way and for a totally different purpose:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. (John 6:53-57)
Eating is not simply consuming. It is also joining. We are what we eat. We become what we eat, and what we eat becomes us. The consuming of food does not just fulfill a desire for us, it actually transforms us and builds us into who we are. If we eat good food, our bodies become healthy and whole. If we eat junk, we become junk. Either way, eating is never just a utilitarian exercise. It is what makes us human, what binds us to the earth. We do not simply take possession of that which we eat. We merge with it. And when we eat God, we merge with Him. When we eat the very source of life, we become life. We do not possess God, nor do we possess life. We become it. Jesus gives Himself up, even to death, so that we may eat Him and thereby become a part of Him, just as He thereby becomes a part of us. Every Holy Communion is salvation in miniature.
In our modern quest for spiritual awakening, it is popular for pastors and new age hipsters alike to say, “Do whatever feeds you.” While this is a dangerous prescription for many reasons, it does reveal an important truth. Whatever we feed will grow. Whatever we starve will die. If you go blindly searching for something that tastes good, you will eat a lot of bad meals and feed a lot of bad appetites until they grow out of control and swallow you whole. But Jesus wants you to eat Him. The Lord kept the fruit away from you in the garden not because He wanted to deprive you but because it would not have been good for you to have it. Jesus wants you to eat Him because He wants you to grow. He wants you to eat Him because He wants you to live.