There are still many things Jesus said that I don’t quite understand. This one certainly stands out.
So Jesus said to them, “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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:53–55)
Jesus is speaking to a diverse group of Jews—some believed, and some wanted to see if he would do a few more miracles like when he fed the five thousand. In such situations, Jesus could be more provocative and cryptic. Yet, at the same time, his purpose was that the people would believe in him, the Son of Man, sent from God. For those with ears to hear, what were they thinking about him at this point? Eat his flesh? Drink his blood?
Perhaps the most similar use of this concept is found in a lovely episode in David’s life (2 Sam 23). While on the run from his enemies, David openly mused about the wells of Bethlehem and how pleasant it would be to drink from them, which was impossible given that the Philistines were garrisoned there. These were the words of a man who had been on the run for a while, and his thoughts were returning to things familiar. Little did he know that three of his “mighty men” heard these words and considered it an opportunity to bless this man whom they loved like a brother. At great risk to their own lives, they brought David water from the Bethlehem well.
But he [David] would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD and said, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” (2 Sam 23:16–17)
David is not being ungrateful. He is honoring these men while educating us about how Jews thought about blood. In the Hebrew mind, life was in the blood. In this sense, “life” and “blood” share a common meaning. The basic idea is that to “drink the blood of the men” was to benefit from their life and sacrifice. They risked their lives for him, as only the closest of kin would do for another. David deemed himself unworthy of the sacrifice made by these men. Their act was heroic and holy, worthy as a drink offering to the Lord.
Therefore, when Jesus invites us to drink his blood, he is saying that only in his endangered life can we find life. When he invites us to eat his flesh, he is saying the same thing. Only in him and his coming sacrifice will we have life. Jesus is your mighty man. He binds himself to you by his love, he secures life for you, and you respond by faith, which is another way of saying, “Yes, I need your life.” Water from Bethlehem is not enough. Only his life—his blood, his living water—brings eternal, full, satisfying life. Don’t pour it out because you feel unworthy. Drink. Eat. You need what only he can give, and he delights to give it. Receive him with thanks, and get accustomed to feeling unworthy and on the receiving end of blessings. Be willing to benefit from his life and sacrifice.
If you feel unworthy—and how could you not?—you are almost ready to receive him. You have arrived at the necessary starting point. But, by nature, when you feel unworthy, you tend to refuse a generous gift until you have something to give in return. An extravagant gift, given to you when you are empty-handed, is awkward, even embarrassing. We prefer exchanges that have symmetry. In other words, your unworthiness must be accompanied by a keen awareness that there is nothing you can give. Your gratitude and delight in the gift are more than enough to touch the heart of this giver.
This brings me, and you, to the Lord’s Supper. When I take that teeny cup of grape juice, I will remember that there was nothing stingy in Jesus’ bloodshed. Instead, his blood is poured out, which means his life is poured out. Better to think of an immense pitcher that pours life all over me. Or, even better, as Paul writes, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5). The bread, too, though a mere wafer in my hands, is the feast that points to Jesus himself. His life is given to us through his Spirit.
Then we speak to the Lord about drinking his blood. “Yes, I will drink. I did drink, and now I have your life in me. I had the blood of Adam in me. Now, by believing in you, I have your blood in me. I have been brought into your line. Your destiny is mine. Your sacrifice, for me. Your resurrected life, with me. Would it seem greedy for me to ask again, please, today, pour out your life all over me?”
Greedy? No. Greed is limited to earthly desires. With heavenly desires? “Open your mouth wide,” says the Lord, “and I will fill it” (Ps 81:10).