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In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John,

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Jesus mentions “bread,” “loaves,” or “manna”  23 times.

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(It includes Jesus feeding more than 5000.)

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   By the end of the chapter, many were “fed up” and left.

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   What happened?

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[MORE]

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   The problem was about how Jesus talked about food and drink.

   Particularly about bread. And two ways He used to express words:  literal and metaphorical¹.

   In feeding 5000 people, literal bread was multiplied (see last post), stomachs were filled, and appetites were satisfied. That seems to be the sense of the text, looking from a middle distance².

   One day later, Jesus uses that bread to teach:  He declares [boldface, italics, and color is ours]: “Do not work for food that spoils, but food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (Jn. 6:27). Then He says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go away hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn. 6:35); and “For the bread of God is he [referring to Himself] who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn. 6:33). This, of course, is not literal bread.

   Then Jesus’ message strikes a nerve. He says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). The Jews argue about how this is possible. Jesus continues: “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….Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever” (Jn. 6:53-58).

   Then we are told, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (Jn. 6:66).

   So what happened?

   The Law clearly forbids drinking blood (Lev. 17:10-14); and the words–may–suggest the shocking act of cannibalism, if taken literally. Something here is awful or something is critically important–written in metaphoric language–is said and recorded…and hard to forget!

   Metaphor is the calling of something something else. And it’s meant to be taken seriously, but certainly not literally. It’s just is not a literal equation. Here’s a clue to how to think about this: Jesus says (above) “I am the living bread.” He is not a literal loaf. That’s absurd. He’s making a point by comparison. The next consideration, however, is more delicate: Eating flesh required the death of an animal. How was one to take that? Here stood the Messiah, the hoped-for, literal King of the Jews. He couldn’t die! Some, in retrospect we may call this comment a subtle foreshadowing of events soon to happen that were too awful to anticipate. This Messiah die? That couldn’t happen! Perhaps it’s helpful to remember her that Jesus, before He died, called the cup of wine He passed around at the Lord’s Last Supper “his blood.”

   Toward the end of his life Jesus’ time with people became to change.  Something now was afoot that was much more than healing, other miracles, and passing on intriguing moral teaching that took into account the poor and the needy. Something startling and unexpected was about to happen. And it might call for more than listeners had bargained for.

   And to present it, Jesus used metaphor to introduce a powerful literal act that would shock and affect the world for many years.

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   ¹ We’re aware of at least 3 different ways Christians believe Jesus’ body is, or becomes, bread, or bread becomes His body in the Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. We’re not going to try and unravel this! However, we’ll assume 2 things: (1) Whatever way the “substance” of bread becomes Jesus’ body in partaking the sacrament, or ordinance, of communion, be aware that at the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus declared when sharing the bread and wine he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” And He said this while He was physically alive and in the presence of His disciples possessing, if you will, his all His physical flesh and blood. (2) In some respects, whatever else a person thinks the elements might be, it is nonetheless a symbol of (or also a symbol of) the expressing of a person’s belief in and commitment to, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

   ² The “middle distance” to gathering information is a concept we’ll develop in future posts.