Have you ever had a concept repeatedly presented to you in school that just left you staring, open mouthed, completely lacking in understanding? Then, sometimes, months or years later, you finally “got it” and wondered why you were so obtuse while your long suffering, patient teachers tried to open your mind?
For me, it was diagramming sentences. Literally, for years, I would stare at the board while instructors vigorously filled their lungs with chalk dust making stick diagrams depicting the parts of speech and how, joined together, they made human communication possible and transferable. I sat dumbfounded as if I were staring at stick figures created by some demented people playing a game of hangman while on LSD. I even took three years of German still not having any idea about predicates, articles, or direct objects and only squeaked by because of being blessed with a good memory and some German friends who helped me limp along.
Finally, in high school, I took Latin. Honestly, being lazy, I took it because there was no after school language lab, since no one really knows how to speak it as Caesar and his pals did. The teacher, an aged, kind, fierce, old fashioned matron, Mrs. Betty Farr, made the scales fall from my eyes. At last, I saw how language was like a puzzle and, when fitted together, sculpted the beauty of speech and literature. Plus, magically, if one knew these concepts, you could learn just about any new language by just figuring out the rules for that puzzle: Italian, French, whatever!
I thought, “So, THAT’S what they’ve been trying to tell me all those boring, frustrating hours!”.
Well, I think that Jesus must have felt the same frustration as my teachers when he was trying to explain to the people who he really was in his “I am” statements as recounted by John in his gospel.
Jesus was no fool. He knew that many of his listeners were uneducated peasants living from hand to mouth, so he cleverly used metaphors that they could understand…if only they would try!
In John 6:22-61 he uses bread. Rich or poor, we all have to eat, a point well understood by people who often suffered famine and want, to whom seeing undernourished countrymen would be commonplace.
Around Passover, the ancient Hebrew festival intimately involving special bread and meals, Jesus fed 5,000 curious followers with five loaves and two fishes in a desolate area beside the Sea of Galilee. While I’m sure many of them were there for spiritual enlightenment, I also suspect it was pretty hard to think about salvation of one’s soul if you hadn’t eaten for two or three days! That night, the disciples depart via ship, Jesus walks on water, joining them, and they proceed to Capernaum
Well, the crowd, having enjoyed full bellies, was probably a bit put out when they awoke without their miracle worker, so they found him and asked why he had left them in John 6:25.
Jesus, like my teachers, realized immediately that they weren’t getting it and were still concerned only with their next Earthly meal, and he tells them so: “Ye seek me…because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.”.
He chides them a bit, trying to get his point across, telling them not to labor for transient, Earthly nourishment, but to expect everlasting fullness from God, via the Son of Man. Feeling peckish, and, probably, a bit peeved that Jesus isn’t magically producing breakfast, the crowd reminds him that their ancestors enjoyed manna from Heaven. They’re still stuck at the back of the class staring at the chalkboard!
Jesus finally decides that with this bunch he is going to have to be a bit more blunt to get the point across that HE is sent from Heaven to fill their souls forever, not just satisfy their daily appetites, reminding them that Moses didn’t provide any manna, God did. And, in 6:49, their ancestors still died! Even more directly, in 6:35, he finally says, “I am the Bread of Life” and that believers will never hunger or thirst. He bluntly tells them that HE has been sent by The Father to raise them up and provide everlasting life.
I imagine Jesus must have rolled his eyes when those dullards first questioned his authority saying, “is this not Jesus, whose father and mother we know?”
Then, he gives them their final exam, using the metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Most of the crowd fails abjectly, thinking that this is some kind of crazy man, even though in 6:63 he clarifies, “It is the SPIRIT that quickened; the flesh profit eth nothing..”.
Many walk away and “walked no more with him”. Sadly, they flunked out in spite of having a teacher sent by God. Hopefully, they found breakfast somewhere.
The twelve, lead by Simon Peter, realize “Thou hast the words of life”. They “got it” and, using these revelations, were able to put Jesus’ ideas to use to piece together the puzzle of our relationship with God through Jesus while here on Earth.
John probably wrote his gospel late in life, trying to define and claify who Jesus was before the apostle’s death. He was trying to help us become star students, understanding the divinity of this man Jesus.
John didn’t want us to keep thinking of our rumbling stomachs, as we often do on Sundays when the pastor goes on too long. He wanted us to always hunger after satiated souls, completely filled with the knowledge that Jesus was sent by God to “raise us up”. When we are physically hungered, we should pray and remember Jesus’ metaphor of Bread of Life, being thankful not just for our “manna”, but for His sacrifice that will feed our souls forever.