I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.
John 6: 51
It is Jesus himself who is the source of life, who is life for us. Jesus is “the way” (John 14: 6) as his people had seen the Law as the way. As they saw life as coming from obedience to the Law, so all who received Jesus would receive not a life that ends but rather eternal life. Yet the life giving flesh and blood of Jesus is life giving precisely in the fact that it is to be given “for the life of the world.” Jesus says he will bring his life to the world by giving it over and up, by spending it all in love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son” (John 3: 16). Jesus is the way to the life and love of God. But it is clear, as the gospel of John sees it, that the nature of God’s love is the giving over and giving up of life. God so loves the world that God gives to that world, that in large part refuses him, his “one and only son.” Jesus so loves the world in the same way that he gives his flesh for its life. When we come to truly know and be taken over by the love of God, we too shall desire to give our flesh and blood for “the life of the world.”
Last night in Los Angeles, California, Kobe Bryant, perhaps the greatest basketball player of his time, played his last game. After the game, he said that he left his “heart and soul” on the basketball court, that he gave everything he “possibly had to the game.” At risk of a blasphemous comparison, can we say that this is the nature of the experience of God’s love: that in love we pour out all we are “heart and soul,” and that we give everything we have for the life of the world.
Jesus does not give his life to appease an angry God; he gives his flesh and his blood out of the love of God for the world, a love that is the very life of God and of Jesus and a love that must spend and empty itself. When we speak of vocation and search to discern our own vocation, must we not ask ourselves who or what we love so much that we will give everything we possibly have out of love for it? What separates most of us from those who come to be recognized as geniuses in some field or another? One thing for certain is singleness of mind and heart, the willingness to give our whole life to our goal out of love for it. The author Mark Salzman, who had been accepted on scholarship to the Yale School of Music, writes that he decided to forego his dream of being a concert cellist the day he saw Yo Yo Ma play. At that moment he realized that he did not have the love of the cello and the self-transcendence that he witnessed in Yo Yo Ma as he played.
The theologian John S. Dunne writes that if we love anyone or anything with all our “heart and soul and mind and strength,” we are loving God. We know the love of God in us when we approach such a love. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) The laying down of one’s life is not the cause of the love; it is its necessary outcome. The work each of us has “been given to do” (John 17:4) is that work for which we would and do “lay down” our lives. God’s love for us is always experienced as a call and a direction. As we attempt to capture in our doctrine of the Trinity, God’s very nature is outpouring love. It is not self-actualization that fulfills us but rather self-transcendence, our own sharing in the bread of Jesus’ flesh, which he is always giving “for the life of the world.”
But this Soul, thus pure and illumined, sees neither God nor herself, but God sees himself of himself in her, for her, without her, who—that is, God—shows to her that there is nothing except him, for there is nothing but he. For whatever is has its being of God’s Goodness; and God loves his goodness, wherever he has given it in goodness, and his given goodness is God himself, and God cannot so separate his goodness that it does not remain in him; and therefore he is what goodness is, and goodness is what God is. And therefore goodness, of his goodness, sees itself by divine light in the sixth state, in which the Soul is illumined. And so there is no one except Him Who Is, and who sees himself of his Divine Majesty in this state of being through the transformation of love of that goodness which has been poured forth and has been restored to him. And so of himself he sees himself in such a creature, without appropriating anything from the creature; all is his own, but his very own. This is the sixth state which we promised to tell to listeners, when Love takes hold, Love who of herself by her exalted greatness has paid this debt.
Margaret Porette, The Mirror of Simple Souls