Friends, we come today to the end of the extraordinary sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Before this, Jesus told his listeners, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Well, today, we have the denouement of the story.
We hear that “many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’” Notice that we are talking about Jesus’ followers. And yet they find this teaching impossible to take.
If his words were meant in a symbolic sense, they wouldn’t have had this shocking effect. If what he meant was simply, This bread is a symbol of my body, why would there be such a strong reaction? I mean, the Jewish Scriptures deal in poetic metaphor all the time. The point is that they had understood him in this context only too well.
Given every opportunity to explain himself better, Jesus does nothing of the kind. Instead, he upbraids them for their lack of faith. This is why the Catholic tradition has insisted, against all attempts to soften these words of Jesus, that he should be taken straightforwardly.