“Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real 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 live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” – John 6:53-57
In continuing the Exodus and wilderness wondering themes in John 6, Jesus continues the thought by paralleling himself with the mana their forefathers ate in the wilderness. John has a lot of double meanings (some call it double entendre) but usually Jesus is more subtle about it than he is here. Why didn’t Jesus just say, “Very soon the Passover festival is going to change. You are still going to eat unleavened bread and drink wine but the meaning will change. You will remember me when you eat the bread because just as you break the bread so my body will be broken. You will remember me when you drink the wine because just as wine is poured out as an offering my blood will be poured out as an offering for you.”
Why would Jesus be this confusing? Following the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 we have the following conversation,
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?…This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ” ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. – Matthew 13:13-17
Jesus later references this same scripture in John1237ff in regard to those who disbelieved even though he had done so many signs and wonders before their eyes. Those who want to follow Jesus will trust that what he says is true whether they understand it or not. At face value, Jesus seemed to be telling them to violate the law – drinking blood and eating human flesh would have been an abomination. How could Jesus have expected them to understand his words any other way? It is no wonder the disciples responded the way they did, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” – John 6:60.
The answer is found in the concluding verses of the chapter,
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
The grumbling is another clear parallel of the wilderness journey of their forefather who, although presented with bread from heaven, grumbled against it. Jesus’ generation is no different. Even when presented with bread from God they reject it and not just any bread – bread that brings life. Jesus said all of this knowing which of them would leave. A genuine follower of Jesus would have the same response of Peter, an understanding of who Jesus is, “to whom shall we go?…you are the Holy One of God,” and what Jesus is offering, “You have the words of eternal life.” If you don’t start with that understanding the words of Jesus will only result in grumbling and rejection.
Was Jesus being unreasonable? Only if he was not able to deliver on what he promised. What do you think?