“51I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. 52The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 53Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 54Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. 58This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. 59These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. 60Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 61When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? 62What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?63It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. 65And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. 66From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. 67Then said Jesus unto the Twelve, Will ye also go away? 68Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. 69And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. 70Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? 71He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the Twelve.”
Chapter six of the Gospel of John draws to its conclusion with the identification of Judas Iscariot who, according to the Greek texts, was already in the process of betraying Jesus:
“71He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.”
That phrase, “for he it was that should betray him,” should be translated as an imperfect, that is as an action already initiated to be perfected in the future: “he it was who was already acting so as to betray him” or “he it was who was about to betray him.” The point is that Jesus, without identifying the traitor, knows what is going on in the mind of Judas. Furthermore there is a warning, a call to us all to wake from sleep, be attentive, be intelligent, be discerning! Note especially the last words in the last sentence identifying Judas’ special relation — “being one of the Twelve.” But I am getting ahead of myself.
Let me recapitulate what the Beloved Disciple has reported in chapter six.
First of all the Beloved Disciple reports that it was Passover and a multitude, a “polli,” had followed him, presumably from Jerusalem, out to the Sea of Tiberius because they were eyewitnesses to his miracles. The event is electric, highly charged, and the “polli,” approximately 5,000 souls, were fired up and volatile. The whole event has the marks of being completely unplanned, impulsive even, since there was not sufficient food for them to eat. Jesus took a handful of little fishes and a few loaves of bread and as he began handing it to the Twelve who then handed it over to the people — thus he miraculously multiplied what was hardly a plate of food so that around 5,000 people ate their fill. Then, as his Apostles were gathering up what was left over, Jesus saw that the “polli” were about to attempt to take him by force and make him the King of Israel. Jesus left his Apostles and walked off to a mountain alone, which was his habit, in order to commune with his Father.
At the end of that day his Apostles took a boat and sailed off across the Sea of Tiberius to Capernaum without Jesus. They had rowed to the middle of the sea when a bad storm broke and their boat was being tossed about by the waves and wind. Then they saw Jesus walking on the water in their direction, which sight did not comfort them at all until he audibly identified himself and told them not to be afraid. Jesus then boarded the ship and immediately (which looks like another miracle) they arrive at Capernaum.
The next morning, the multitude he had just fed on the loaves and fishes hired boats to catch up with him and his inner circle in Capernaum. And when they found him Jesus launched into a sermon that is point-blank aimed at their motives for coming to him. They were not even motivated by the miracles which extraordinary acts would have inspired anyone to know more about the miracle worker. But they, Jesus said, were not curious about his identity, they wanted food, which is to say they wanted a Kingdom — they wanted a more permanent attachment to Jesus and the best they could come up with was to make him their King of Israel right then and there. A king needs an army and they were ready to follow him and purify Israel by shedding the blood of Romans and their own blood as well. From a few loaves and fishes Jesus could materialize sufficient food to feed five thousand people which is to say he fed a virtual army and if he could materialize food he could materialize anything an army might need.
Then Jesus began interpreting for his Apostles and disciples the meaning of the events of the previous day. He begins by reproaching whatever remains of the 5,000 who followed him to Capernaum because their horizons are entirely limited to the material world in and of itself apart from the really real of the God who is God. Just as Jesus had rebuked Nicodemus for having no grasp of how earthly things are grounded in heavenly things, so he rebukes the “polli” who intended to make him King of Israel. The problem that runs through out the Fourth Gospel: that naive materialists take matter, the material of creation, and that would include our daily bread, clothing, where we live, our country, and our Kingdoms to have a life of their own, in and of themselves — a “natural” end, a “natural” finality apart from the supernatural life of the God who is God. Flesh is good, but when naive materialists take mere flesh to be really real and really good in and of itself apart from God they cut flesh off from God who is the very source of its being, its value, its beauty, and its truth. Flesh is very good, but flesh according to Jesus will realize its finality as we, the children of God, bend, to sculpt, to fashion our flesh to the Spirit of God. We bend and fashion flesh. We do not break, dash, destroy, or dismiss our flesh nor any of the material creation. And so Jesus preaches:
“51I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. 52The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 53Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”
Up to this point Jesus has spoken of eating the Bread of Heaven which is his flesh. The Jews he had miraculously fed are utterly offended by his words. It is at this point in a confrontation that we are encouraged to seek some language that helps people see the truth we are attempting to communicate without offending and losing them entirely. That is what most of us would try to do. But Jesus completely rejects the opportunity for compromising language just as he had unequivocally rejected their attempt to make him the King of Israel. With verse 54 Jesus makes it clear beyond any doubt that the naive materialism of these many of his disciples will come to a grievous end. Up to this point he has spoken of the necessity of eating the Living Bread of Heaven and he has identified himself as that Living Bread. The word he used for eat is the Greek word “phago” which means generally to eat, as in eating a meal, and that offended the people. But beginning with verse 54 he changes the word to the Greek word “trogo” which means, not merely to eat, but to masticate, to chew, to munch his flesh. Thus Jesus uses a word that is far more offensive and even crude so that people cannot merely spiritualize or intellectualize his words. So Jesus will not allow either hyper spiritualizing to be taken for the really, real; nor will he permit the polli to substitute their naive materialism for really real of the God who is God. This is unmistakably his exposition of the Eucharist:
“54Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. 58This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”
Flesh is very good, but flesh according to Jesus’ finality is to be bent to the Spirit of God. We bend flesh, we do not destroy flesh and we have the power and virtue to fashion the material world to the Spirit of God because we have been infused with the life of Jesus by eating his true flesh and drinking his true blood after sacramental manner that is our participation in the very real life of God through the very real humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“63It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.”
The Word was made flesh so that we children of flesh may bend, shape, fashion our flesh to the Word of the Father. Without shaping our whole life of flesh, as well as the rest of the material creation, to the Word of the Father made flesh, our end will become a mournful oblivion. The multitude who had the benefit of Jesus’ miracles are those who wished to make Jesus their King here and now. These are they who either wish to make flesh everything or to make flesh absolutely nothing. Jesus said that such a way of life will end in the forfeiture of real life and happiness. At the end of that day the overwhelming majority of the people who had seen him work absolutely wonderful miracles walked away from Jesus. He then turned to his chosen band: