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Anthropologists have found very few behaviours that are condemned by every society. But one of them appears to be cannibalism. Though there are reports of cannibalism being practised by a number of tribes, close examination has revealed that they are largely based on information provided by enemies of the accused. It seems the ultimate insult to any group or society is to say that they eat human beings.

With this in mind, we turn to John 6:54-57 and hear Jesus say "He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him." Why would he deliberately violate this most universal of all taboos? And what did he mean by such a teaching?

It is doubtful that anyone fully understands what Jesus was getting at. Tradition teaches that he was saying we must go to church meetings where we will sip wine and eat bread in memory of him. What an incredible leap from "eat my flesh and drink my blood"!

Catholics, unlike most Protestants (who cannot even tolerate the stigma attached to using real wine), say the wine and bread magically turn into blood and flesh during the mass. But anyone who has tasted real blood knows that it does not taste at all like blood. And unless Christ's body was made of flour and water, the communion wafer is as much a wafer after the hocus-pocus as it was before. At best, the "change" is only symbolic.

So what does it really mean to "eat" his flesh?

We have a theory based on the observation that in every area of discipleship Jesus asks us to consider the absolute, most extreme demand that he could possibly put on us... whether it is the last cent of our wealth, our last friend, or our last breath (e.g. Luke 14:26, and Luke 14:33). By telling us that we must (at least appear to) eat his flesh, Jesus seems to be taking a universally condemned practice (cannibalism) and to be challenging us to have the courage to break it. He is calling on us to let go of any traces of respectability that we may be clinging to. This is a huge challenge to people who pride themselves on being "good".

For years we had gloried in the fact that, as despised as we were, we were never seriously labelled a cult. And then we were called a cult on national TV. The rejection we experienced as a result of that broadcast showed us just how precious our reputation had become to us.

And, contrary to Matthew 6:1-4, we have at least let friends know when we have done things of a charitable nature. Why? Because we don't want people thinking we're lazy, selfish, or too heavenly to be any earthly good.

What would we do if people seriously thought we were cannibals? Could we handle it? Even some of his closest friends could not. (See John 6:60) Such is the rejection that goes with following Jesus.

We're not talking about the highly respected Jesus of the churches, but the despised flesh and blood Jesus of history. He was pure and innocent; yet he was treated as totally evil for us. Can we take up our cross and follow him?

(See also Respectability, and WWFJD?)

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