“Repetition works. Repetition works.” Jesus repeats his words in the gospel.
In case anyone missed I am the bread of life, from last week’s gospel, Jesus repeats it one way or another, four times, in today’s passage (John 6:35, 41-51), in verse 35, 48, and in two different ways in 51.) His repeated words underline the importance of his message.
Once again we are stuck with interpreting not only the metaphor but also the meaning for our lives. How is Jesus like bread? Is it in being nourishing? Is it like the manna sent by God to the Israelites in the desert? How do we “ingest” Jesus?
Christ uses bread as a metaphor for his life-giving nature. As the bread was available to all of the 5,000 he fed just before today’s gospel begins, it is available to all. It provides strength, satisfaction and sometimes pleasure.
But it is more than a metaphor. Ingesting Christ, making him part of our lives, and becoming part of his, is what he was talking about.
The letter to the Ephesians tells us one way we can ingest God; be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us. Imitation is one way to incorporate Christ into our lives. Looking at the world as Jesus looked at it, with love, is one way to imitate Christ. The beatitudes in Matt 5 are one way. (Substitute the phase beloved of God for the word that we translate blessed, to understand Jesus’ perspective viz; Beloved of God are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Beloved of God are those who mourn for they shall be comforted…etc.)
Acting as he did is another way to imitate Christ with acts of compassion toward those who are in physical or spiritual need, whether they were hungry or possessed by daemons.
Aside from the instruction in the letter to the Ephesians, Christianity includes a long history of repetition of this instruction to imitate Christ.
In the early 4th century Saint Augustine viewed the imitation of Christ as the fundamental purpose of Christian life.
In the 12th century Francis of Assisi believed in the physical as well as the spiritual imitation of Christ, and advocated poverty and preaching like Jesus.
Thomas a Kempis wrote a profoundly influential spiritual book called The Imitation of Christin the 15th century.
Imitation involves more than study… it takes the struggle of practice and putting oneself in the mind of Christ. I believe that Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th century theologian, author of the Cost of Discipleship, who took part in a plot to assassinate Hitler was imitating Christ in the way that he saw to be most honest.
In the 1960’s a Peruvian priest, Gustavo Gutierrez, looked at the situation of poverty in South America and Christ’s behaviour towards the poor and developed Liberation Theology very much in imitation of Christ.
Each took Christ as their model of behaviour as a way of tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. By following the example of Christ they tried to experience the invitation to this bread. How God works in one’s life is highly personal. Each of us must taste and see that the Lord is good. Our job is to be open how God is working in our lives. In the words of psalm 34:8 Our job is to taste and see that the Lord is good.
- In your life, when you imitated someone’s attitude or action did you find that you became more like them? It could be in sports, or in musical technique or copying the way a great artist drew. Did you come to “see” the world as they did?
- One can study another’s life as a form of history or appreciation of specific technique. But the experience of trying to replicate their lifestyle provides a different kind of understanding. What is a way that you have tried to imitate someone else and what did you learn?
- What is one way that you try to imitate Jesus in your life now? What is one way you could add some other form of imitation?