I am continuing to read John’s Gospel in Greek, translating it with commentary.
John 6: 41-59
Now the Judaeans were muttering about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “This is Jesus, Joseph’s son, isn’t it, whose father and mother we know. How can he now say, “I’ve come down from heaven?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “Don’t mutter amongst yourselves. No one can come to me unless the father who sent me attracts him. And I will lift him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And all of them will be taught by God;’ all who have listened to the father, and learned from him, come to me – not that anyone has seen the father except the one who is from God; he has seen the father. Amen, amen I tell you whoever trusts has the life of the Age to Come. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert and died. But this is the bread which comes down from heaven so that you should eat it, and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eat this bread he will live into the Age to Come. And the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
At this the Judaeans argued pointedly among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them,” Amen, amen, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Humane Ruler and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has the life of the Age to Come, and I will lift her up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in her.”
“As the living father sent me and I live through the father, the one who eats me will also live through me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not such as the forefathers ate and died. Whoever eats this bread will live in the Age to Come.”
Many translation soften the offensiveness of this passage by using “feed on” instead of “eat”, but I have chosen eat because the verb indicates the act of eating rather than that of self-nourishment.
- No doubt this teaching of Jesus is heavily influenced by the communal meal of the author’s faith community in which bread and wine, viewed as heavenly food was shared by all believers and viewed as a guarantee of resurrection life in the Age to Come.
- This teaching is not very different from the tradition of Paul or the other gospel writers, in which Jesus identified himself, and especially his death, with the bread and the wine of Passover.
- The almost cannibalistic emphasis however, on eating flesh and drinking blood is absent from the other gospels.
- As with all of this author’s thinking about Jesus, an emphasis on the source of what Jesus gives is forcefully present: the father who has life in himself, sends Jesus who does only as the father wills, to be the food that will give people life in themselves if they put their trust in Jesus.
- On the one hand, Jesus gives his flesh; on the other, believers eat it. This is to say that Jesus’ giving up of his bodily life, in his life and death, is mysteriously turned into food for his followers, as if the life he gave up is also the life they receive. Evil people take away Jesus’ life, but they do not receive it. It is received by those who trust in him.
- The bluntness of the language mirrors the enormity of the concept that God’s life in Jesus is brutally assaulted by evil people who find that they can only have power over his flesh, which Jesus willingly surrenders so that God’s life, his Spirit, may be transmitted to his followers.
- They are never to imagine that this is simply a gift from spirit to spirit. No, it requires the terrible surrender of Jesus’ flesh and blood, and must therefore be called eating and drinking.
- The author reminds his readers that in his self-offering Jesus remains royal: he is the Humane Ruler, who rather than demanding that his people make sacrifices for him, offers himself as a sacrifice for their nourishment.