Last week’s post discussed the conflict between the prodigal son and his elder brother. Today and in the coming weeks, the focus will be on disputes regarding Jesus’ teachings or actions. Today’s post focuses on the dispute among the Jews regarding Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist.
This dispute about the Eucharist is only recorded in the gospel of John and in the context of feeding the five thousand (John 6:22-71). After Jesus fed the crowd with five loaves and two fish, the people returned for another meal. In the ensuing discourse, Jesus made key statements about himself as the bread from heaven, such as: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35); “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).
At this point, the Jews began complaining among themselves about how the son of Joseph and Mary, whom they knew, said he came down from heaven. Jesus responded to this and continued teaching. He further said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). Then the Jews began disputing among themselves at this point, saying: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52).
The response of Jesus
When the Jews murmured among themselves, Jesus said: “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise the person on the last day” (John 6:43-44). When the dispute ensued, Jesus, among other things, said: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:54-56).
When many of those following Jesus heard these, they complained that the teaching was difficult to accept. However, Jesus was firm in his teaching and said to them: “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (John 6:62). Jesus also said that he knew that there were some who did not believe. When many of those following him left him, Jesus asked the twelve disciples if they also wished to go away. In response, Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
Hence, in response to the dispute among the Jews on the teachings about the Eucharist, one categorises Jesus’ response into two. The first category is clarification because it was a new teaching, and probably all were ignorant. Therefore, Jesus’ response clarified various areas of confusion on his person and teachings on the Eucharist. At this point, clarification was necessary because one should not always expect those hearing a strange teaching for the first time to accept it wholly and entirely. By clarifying, Jesus attempted to resolve the complaint and dispute among the people.
The second category is firmness in his teaching. As the Truth, Jesus knew that his teachings on the Eucharist were necessary for salvation. Hence, he doubled down on that after having clarified the position. He already “knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe” (John 6:64). Even when many people began withdrawing, Jesus remained unwavering and was ready to part ways with his disciples.
Lessons from Jesus
(a) Ignorance and rejection of true knowledge can be dangerous:
Ignorance is a major cause of conflict because the lack of knowledge leads to wrong assumptions of something that never existed or of something that existed but we never knew about. Hence, the scriptures remind us that we can be destroyed for lack and rejection of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).
The teaching on the Eucharist is an example of how ignorance leads to conflict. The people complained and disputed among themselves because they did not understand that Jesus was not just simply the son of Joseph and Mary. Consequently, those who understood and believed clashed with those who did not understand and could not believe or with those who understood but refused to believe. By clarifying his teachings, Jesus shows us that more information is often necessary to prevent or manage conflicts.
(b) Resoluteness in the most important things:
Every functional relationship involves compromise as each party refuses to react to certain things or actively submits to the other party’s interest. No doubt, there are some non-negotiable areas for compromise. Nevertheless, while being resolute is good, focusing more on matters of great importance is opportune. The reason is that life is very complex, and being resolute in all our stands makes it impossible to be in a functional relationship. Here, relationships are between friends, colleagues, and between leaders and followers.
Jesus tolerated so many things and carefully chose his words and actions. He cleansed the temple and blasted the Pharisees (Matt 23), but these were towards the end of his life—a brinksmanship strategy. Apart from when he called Herod a fox, the only other time (not towards the end of his life) he was direct and resolute was in the teaching on the Eucharist. The reason was that the Eucharist was to be the source and summit of the Christian faith he was introducing, and therefore, non-negotiable regarding his salvific mission.
(c) Seek long-term value in relationships:
It is interesting to note that short-term benefits can be a source of conflict in a relationship. This is because the party seeking short-term benefits is often interested in getting those benefits and getting away from the relationship. This often leads to mistakes and frustration if the short-term benefits are not realised. It also creates a feeling of exploitation on the other party’s part. The danger is that one loses out on a relationship that can provide short and long-term as well as wide-range benefits.
The dispute about the Eucharist is an example. The people came to Jesus for another meal because he had already fed them. The meal was a short-term benefit. However, Jesus used the opportunity to tell them about the long-term value of coming to him and eating his body, namely, the salvation of the body and soul. Those who cared for long-term value believed, while those only interested in the meal or other material benefit withdrew. Hence, the question: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
May God continue to help us🙏🏾
I am a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Okigwe, Nigeria, and an advocate of the indispensable role of religion in contemporary society. My academic background includes degrees in philosophy, theology, education, peace and conflict resolution, religion, and canon law. These studies give me a broad perspective that helps in an existential analysis of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.