John 6:56-69, 70-71
56"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." 59Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
67So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?' 68Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
70Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil." 71He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray Jesus.
Locating the original setting in time and place (and purpose, to the extent we can figure it out) of a passage always is our first concern when we read scripture.
Accounts of Jesus' words and actions first made rounds in the oral tradition. After a while they got written down here and there. The community gathered around beloved disciple John assembled their gospel account from those manuscripts; they carefully edited and arranged them to reflect their theology of Jesus. As we observed about the Sermon on the Mount, like any teacher, preacher, or parent, Jesus repeated himself a lot and probably had stock sermons. In conversation with his disciples and with towns people he would have said identical or very similar words enough times people would remember and eventually write them down.
Especially over the past year, we've become aware we need to read the present through the past (presentism) and not interpret the past through events we now know about and attitudes that have changed (historicism). When Jesus announced he was the Bread of Life, his hearers would not have heard those words in terms of the Last Supper/Lord's Supper or related to a post-resurrection Eucharist/Holy Communion with the risen Christ. However, the contemporary church usually does. This points to the fact we often do theology backwards, but theology is a different endeavor from history. Though we can't erase the Sacrament of Bread and Cup from our awareness, it's still important to remember feeding 5,000+ people and Jesus' Bread of Life declarations happened before the week we call Holy that includes Maundy Thursday, before Resurrection Sunday.
Bread of Life, Week 5
It's been called a marathon—five weeks of a single chapter of John's gospel. You probably can research and confirm this, but I believe today's account of feeding at least five thousand people with very little food is the only story found in all four gospels:
• Mark 6:32-44
• Luke 9:10-17
• Matthew 14:13-21
• John 6:5-11
Words in the Greek
Every translation of any text in any language always is also an interpretation.
In 6:60 "When many of his disciples heard it, they said, 'This teaching [logos] is difficult; who can accept it?'" The word translated "teaching" is logos in Greek. You probably remember John's gospel brings us a new creation and opens with, "In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word [logos] was with God, and the Word [logos} was God." John 1:1 "And the Word [logos] became flesh and tabernacled among us." John 1:14a
Most contemporary scholars believe teaching/logos in this context refers to the entirety of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
"Difficult" is the root of our word sclerosis for physical hardening of body parts and organs, so it would be a hard to wrap heads around concept, and not necessarily something intellectually or academically tough.
John 6:68 "Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words [declaration, statement] of eternal life.'" I find it surprising this "word of eternal life" isn't logos again—but it isn't. You may have sung this as the gospel acclamation in some settings of the liturgy.
Question for post-COVID
In John's gospel, Jesus feeds 5,000+ with five loaves of bread made from barley—the poor person's grain. Barley was one of the seven agricultural gifts of the promised land, and a crop ready to harvest before the affluent people's wheat! This question is post-COVID because when we've celebrated Holy Communion in person or at home during COVID, everyone has been incredibly careful to use bread and cup elements that won't easily be contaminated and spread the virus.
For us as for Jesus, it's ideally a meal of common, ordinary, everyday already-on-hand grain and drink essentials. We sometimes use pre-baked thin wafers because they keep well and can be easily stored and transported, but they never feel filling or nourishing. What's my preference? Freshly baked sourdough always looks, feels, and tastes most real and most sustaining. One of the pastors in my Previous City LOVED Kings' Hawaiian Bread and often served it for Holy Communion. I enjoyed it with our Thursday evening community dinners, but for me it was too sweet and too soft, not tough enough for a Eucharistic Feast, though many besides Pastor Jon thought it was just right.
During more normal times we hope will soon return, what's your favorite Communion bread?