“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.”                                                  ― Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

Sometimes powerlessness hangs heavy in my heart. There are days—frequently coinciding with dreary, blustery weather—when I come face-to-face with my own limitations: typhoons devastate entire regions; militants terrorize public places; companies downsize; insurance plans discontinue coverage; 3-D printers create undetectable guns; children make bad choices; spouses grow apart; friends contract cancer.

At low times like this, plunging into the Bible can be therapeutic. One Gospel passage that calls to me is deep in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. It makes me think of a time I would consider a low point for Jesus:

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
John 6:51-68

This narrative astonishes me for two reasons:

1) Τρώγω

The Greek word used for “eat” here is not the one John’s readers would expect. John uses the word Τρώγω (“trogo”), which indicates gnawing or munching, a very deliberate, even athletic, kind of chewing. Jesus announces that his followers must gnaw on him, putting me in mind of a dog working a meat bone. Jesus knows this shocks his friends. They cannot accept it.

Here’s a point in Scripture’s favor: it exposes the “failure” of Jesus’ approach. This passage, in which many followers reject the radical Jesus, suggests the Bible really is telling the truth. Why expose setbacks in Jesus’ ministry when a little massaging of the facts might paint a better picture of the earliest Christians? But no, Jesus reveals the depth of his sacrificial love, and his numbers crash. If #Jesus had started to trend, “eat my flesh” was a social media disaster.

How bracing it is to imagine myself in that moment with Jesus. When I’m feeling powerless and ineffective, I slip inside this story and look at the face of Jesus. I hear his voice and watch his mouth as he forms his words about the Bread of Life. My gaze widens, and I see the men and women around me react in horror and disgust. I watch them walk away. (And do I want to go with them?) The Savior of the human race—of all people!—knows how it feels to lose. Why would I expect not to encounter similar pain?

2) And you?

Jesus then turns to his chosen Twelve. He poses a heartbreaking question: “Do you also want to leave?” In various moods, I hear Peter’s response differently. Sometimes his voice is desperate—he’s sorely tempted to hit the road, but he can’t think of anyone who would welcome him home at this point. At other times, I hear Peter in tender tones, offering reassurance, affirming his belief in this unlikely Messiah.

And so the learning lads stick together with their Jesus. A motley dozen, they are in for worse. They will lose one of their own. They will mourn; they will rejoice. They will live in communion, and they will be set free.

This weekend my family got together with our own community, an urban tribe of a several families, all dear friends with gaggles of lively children. We gathered to have fun, as always, but this time also to pray. We packed into my living room to pray for the friend who once upon a time introduced us all to each other, a friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. As the rain poured down outside the windows, the youngest children led us in prayer. And, for the first time since I learned of our friend’s diagnosis, I cried. Feeling the strength of praying in community, and the power of friendship with God and others, I felt free.

I cannot control many situations in life, but I have the freedom to choose how to respond. Thanks be to God, I have a community of friends choosing to keep each other close. Dorothy Day says life can be a banquet, “even with a crust, where there is companionship.” I’ll gladly take that crust, broken and shared with friends.

Jesus gives himself as real bread and shows how to offer ourselves to others. Even in the midst of troubling times—maybe especially at those times—we can give thanks for our companions in the Body of Christ.

                                                   Heart Bread Photo