Rev José Mario O Mandía
We have seen previously that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is a figure through which Jesus prepared His followers for a promise – a prophecy – that He would make. We read how later on, in the same chapter 6 of St John, the crowd follows Jesus, and Jesus told them that they were looking for him “but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (verse 26).
He then advised them: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you…” (v 27).
Who would not be interested in “food which endures to eternal life”? So they begged him, “Lord, give us this bread always” (v 34).
Having whetted their appetite, Jesus then declares, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.…” (v 35).
They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They “murmured at him” (v 41).
Jesus told them to stop murmuring and repeated the same words: “I am the bread of life” (v 48) and again, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v 51).
“I am the bread.” “The bread is my flesh.” Incredible.
Now, the Jews not only murmured now but “disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (v 52).
It was becoming clear to them that Jesus was not speaking in parables. On some occasions in which the parables were not easy to understand, the apostles themselves would ask Jesus to “explain the parable to us” (Matthew 15:15). But they didn’t do that here. And to remove any doubts that he was speaking in parables, Jesus goes even further.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (vv 53-58).
Jesus repeatedly says “eat my flesh.” Disgusting. The Greek original uses the word τρώγωνx (trógon), from the verb τρώγω (trógó) which means to gnaw, to munch, or crunch and is used in the sense of eating or partaking of a meal.
So the listeners not only murmured, and disputed but complained: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (v 60).
Either He was a madman, or He was telling the truth. Jesus’ words divided his listeners into believers and non-believers. “For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe” and also triggered the breaking away of the one “that would betray him” (v 64, identified later on in verse 71 as Judas Iscariot). Indeed, John records, “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (v 66).
Either He was a madman, or He was telling the truth. What did His apostles think? He asked them, “Do you also wish to go away?” (v 67).
Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vv 68-69).
On the mountain, the miracle of the loaves and fishes prefigured the Eucharist. In the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus prophesied and promised it.
In the Last Supper, the figure became a reality and Jesus fulfilled His own prophecy: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’” (Matthew 26:26; cf Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:15-20; I Corinthians 11:23-38). (Image: Le repas d’Emmaüs, 17th cent. By Trophime Bigot)