“After concluding the Sermon on the Mount Jesus left the mountainside and returned to Capharnaum. Now there was at Capharnaum a centurion, an officer in the Roman army, who had been very kind to the Jews. At his own expense he had built a synagogue for the Jews of the town. At the moment one of his servants was dying. Having heard of the wonderful cures worked by Jesus, he sent some of the elders of the Jews to ask Jesus to cure his servant.
Jesus was moved by their plea and started toward the home of the centurion. But the centurion was too humble to expect Jesus, the great wonderworker, to enter his house, and so he said to Him: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, and have soldiers subject to me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’
Jesus was moved to admiration at the great faith of this man, who was not a Jew. And so He said: ‘Amen I say to you, I have not found such great faith in Israel. And I tell you that many will come from the east and from the west, and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be put forth into the darkness outside; there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.’ Then He said to the centurion, ‘Go thy way; as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee’ (Matthew 8:5-13).
And the servant of the centurion was cured in that hour.
A HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT INCIDENT
This incident in the ministry of Jesus is highly significant. Like the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman it shows us Jesus dealing with a non-Jew. Thus it foreshadows the acceptance of the Gentile or non-Jewish world into the kingdom of heaven to be established by Jesus. But here Jesus states clearly that He and His kingdom will be rejected for the most part by the Jews, His own people, but will be accepted by many from the world of the Gentiles. Jesus knew from the beginning that He would not be accepted by the majority of His own people, but that His person and His message would find a response in the minds and hearts of the other nations of the world. In this present instance, the faith of the pagan centurion and the gracious response of Christ to this faith show that the kingdom of heaven will be universal in its inner nature and scope; salvation will now be extended to the whole world.
THE WIDOW’S DEAD SON AT NAIM
Soon after this there occurred the first great resurrection miracle worked by Jesus. At the village of Naim a widow was burying her only son. Jesus came upon the funeral cortege. His gentle heart took compassion on the grief and the real loss of the widowed mother and he stopped the procession. Then he spoke to the dead man, saying, ‘Young man, I say to thee, arise.’ And immediately the young man returned to life, sat up and began to speak (Luke 7:11-15).
By giving life back to this dead man Jesus showed that He had power over life and death.
‘ART THOU HE WHO IS TO COME, OR SHALL WE LOOK FOR ANOTHER?’ (Mt 11:3)
The news of these wonderful deeds of Jesus spread abroad through the country. Word of them was brought to John the Baptist in prison at Machaerus. Thereupon John sent two of his own disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Art thou he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ (Matthew 11:3).
WHY DID JOHN THE BAPTIST ASK THIS?
Since John himself had already recognised Jesus as the Christ, the Messias, it is not easy to fathom the meaning of this action. Had he been expecting Jesus to proceed more rapidly with the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth? Was his question a mild complaint at the apparent slowness with which Jesus was accomplishing His mission? Or might it not be that John, sensing that his own mission was nearly at an end, wished his disciples to find out at first hand that Jesus was the long awaited Messias? With this in mind might he not have sent some of them to Jesus to ask this very question, ‘Art thou He Who is to come?’ that is, ‘Art thou the Messias?’
‘THE BLIND SEE, THE LAME WALK, THE LEPERS ARE CLEANSED…’ (Mt 11:4-5)
The answer of Jesus is clear. ‘Go,’ He says to John’s disciples, ‘and report to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them’ (Matthew 11:4-5).
In these words Jesus applied to Himself the prophecy of Isaias [Isaiah]. According to Isaias these wonderful happenings would take place in the time of the Messias. In effect then Jesus was saying to the disciples of John that He was the Messias, accomplishing the work of the Messias.
JOHN THE BAPTIST, THE ELIAS WHOM GOD HAD SENT
When the messengers of John had departed Jesus addressed Himself to the crowd which had witnessed the episode. He told them that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet sent by God to His Chosen People. John was, as it were, the Elias whom God had sent to announce the coming of the Messias and the imminent establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.
‘YOU WILL REJECT ME FOR SEEKING TO SAVE PUBLICANS AND SINNERS’
Those in the crowd who had listened to John’s urgings to repentance and had accepted baptism from John rejoiced at this news. But the Pharisees and the Scribes who had rejected John rejected even Christ’s commendation of him. This led Jesus to speak sadly of His own rejection by His own people. To what shall I liken this generation of men, He complains sadly. You have rejected John and you will reject me, the Son of Man. In your pride, in your complacency, in your own fancied purity, you will reject me for seeking to save publicans and sinners.
‘THY SINS ARE FORGIVEN’ (Lk 7:48)
Soon after this, Jesus accepted an invitation to dine at the house of one of the Pharisees. While there His feet were washed with tears and ointment by a known sinful woman. The Pharisee was scandalised that Jesus should thus allow a sinful woman to approach and touch Him. Jesus took the occasion to repeat again that love was the secret law and foundation of His kingdom. The generous action of the sinful woman was the outward manifestation of her great love for Jesus and for God. Love of God is the means to forgiveness of sin. Hence Jesus said to the woman, ‘Thy sins are forgiven… Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace’ (Luke 7:48, 50)
LOVE IS THE SECRET LAW AND FOUNDATION OF HIS KINGDOM
The Pharisee and his guests missed the lesson of love and its great power. Instead they chose to concentrate upon the enormity of Christ’s claim to forgive sins. ‘Who is this man,’ they exclaimed incredulously, ‘who even forgives sins?'(Luke 7:49).”
‘THE KINGDOM IS LIKE A MUSTARD SEED’
After this, Jesus continued His work of journeying through the towns and villages of Galilee, preaching the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God. During this preaching journey Jesus spoke in parables of the nature of the kingdom He was establishing. He compared the establishment of the kingdom to a man who sowed seed, the growth of the kingdom to the growth of the seed, the extent of the kingdom to the full growth of a mustard seed or the work of leaven in flour. He compared the desirability of the kingdom to hidden treasure or a pearl of great price. He compared the members of the kingdom here on earth to the wheat and the weeds which grow in the farmer’s field until the harvest and to the good and the bad fish which are brought out of the sea in the fisherman’s net.
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWING OF SEED
In these parables Jesus did not give a full description of the nature of the kingdom of heaven. But He did make clear certain aspects of His kingdom. In the parable of the sowing of seed, some seed fell on the wayside where it was devoured by birds; some on rocky ground where it could not establish itself strongly; some among thorns which choked it as it tried to grow; and only some on good ground which flourished and grew to maturity – in this parable, as Jesus points out, becoming a member of His kingdom does not automatically mean that a man will achieve the ultimate salvation which is the goal of the kingdom. Many men will listen to the word of God which Jesus preaches and will believe it. But some of them will be weak and they will lose their faith through the deceits of the devil or through their own weakness and sinful love for the pleasures of this world. This not only shows us that faith, once it is given by God, must be preserved freely and with strong effort; it also intimates that at any moment of time the kingdom of heaven on earth will include among its members those of strong and those of weak faith.
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
In the parable of the seed which grows secretly during the night and surprises the farmer on the next day by the extent of its growth, Jesus seems to be emphasising the spirituality of the Kingdom of God. As the growth of the seed hidden in the earth is for some time unnoticed by the farmer, so also will be the growth of the Kingdom of God on earth. Because it is chiefly a spiritual kingdom, establishing its reign in the hidden souls of men, its growth will not be noticeable fully to the world. But when it is fully grown, at harvest time, that is, at the end of the world, God will manifest its full growth to the world. In this parable then Christ is both teaching positively the spiritual nature of His kingdom and teaching negatively that the Jewish expectation of the establishment of a mighty earthly and temporal Kingdom of God is not involved in the divine plan.
THE PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN
The parable of the leaven also pictures the Kingdom of God as a hidden force, working within the souls of men to bring about the redemption of mankind. Leaven, working unseen within the flour, causes the bread to rise. The doctrine of the Kingdom of God and the graces working within that kingdom through an inner conviction of its truth will raise up a people dedicated to God for all eternity.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH IS VISIBLE
Yet, while the Kingdom of God is spiritual, and its growth invisible and due to invisible forces, still it is also visible. The parables of the mustard seed, of the field in which both good and bad seed are sown, and of the net which catches both good and bad fish, make it clear that the kingdom will be visible in this world.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS UNIVERSAL IN ITS MEMBERSHIP
The parable of the mustard seed shows also that the Kingdom of God will be universal in its membership. Just as the mature mustard tree houses birds of all kinds, so also the Kingdom of God will be the home of all the races of men. Beginning like a small mustard seed the kingdom will grow into a large tree in which all men may take shelter.
THE KINGDOM OFFERS SHELTER TO ALL MEN
The parables of the field in which good and bad seed are sown and of the net which draws up both good and bad fish make the interesting point that the Kingdom of God in this present world will embrace both good and bad men. Visibly then the kingdom will seem to be composed of good and evil men. But at the end of the world God will separate the good from the evil and send the evil into everlasting fire, while the good will rejoice with God in the eternal kingdom of heaven. Perhaps Jesus is saying here that men should not be scandalised at the appearance of evil in the visible kingdom here on earth. Men should imitate the patience of God, Who at the end will render justice according to men’s work on earth.
JESUS THUS DESCRIBES HIS CHURCH, THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH
The kingdom which Jesus preaches is not the kingdom which the people generally were expecting. It will not be a great and powerful earthly kingdom, established suddenly and terribly by the manifest power of God, a kingdom in which all nations are subjected to the temporal dominion of the Jews. It will be a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom growing through the invisible power of God, a kingdom founded on the doctrine preached by Jesus and accepted in faith by men of all races, a kingdom which will grow slowly but widely in the world of men. In this present world both good and evil will be found among its members. But at the end Jesus Himself, the Son of Man, will separate the good from the evil. The evil will be punished, but the good will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of God their Father.
MAN MUST BE PREPARED TO SACRIFICE EVERYTHING – THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
After giving this brief description of some of the characteristics of His kingdom, Jesus, in a few short sentences, describes how desirable this kingdom is. ‘The kingdom of heaven,’ He says, ‘is like a treasure hidden in a field; a man who finds it hides it, and in his joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he finds a single pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it’ (Matthew 13:44-46).
So desirable is this kingdom that a man must be prepared to sacrifice everything for membership in it.
JESUS STILLS THE TEMPEST
After describing the nature of His kingdom in these parables Jesus continued his work of founding the kingdom. He preached again at Capharnaum. Then He set sail across the Lake of Genesareth. During the night, while He slept, a tempest arose and threatened to swamp the boat. His disciples awakened Him and called upon Him to save them. At the command of Jesus the tempest was stilled.
MORE MIRACLES AND HEALINGS
On the other side of the lake Jesus was met by a poor man who was possessed by unclean spirits. At the command of Jesus the spirits left the man and he was restored to himself. In this case it would seem that Jesus had once again a miracle for a Gentile, thus showing that the power of His kingdom was to be available to the non-Jewish world. This miracle is also interesting because Jesus is addressed by the evil spirits as Jesus, ‘Son of the most high God.’
On returning to Capharnaum Jesus cured a woman of a haemorrhage of blood which had afflicted her for twelve years. It is worth noting that this woman had been treated for this ailment by doctors, but to no avail.
Following this, Jesus restored to life the daughter of Jairus. This was the second of the resurrection miracles performed by Him. On leaving Capharnaum Jesus was met by two blind men to whom He restored their sight simply by touching their eyes. On the same occasion He also expelled a devil from another possessed man.
RETURN TO NAZARETH
After these miracles Jesus probably returned to Nazareth, His own town. This time He was received poorly. There is evidence that His fellow-townsmen may have resented the fact that He had worked miracles in and around Capharnaum, but had not done so at Nazareth, His own home town. At any rate they refused to believe in Him, which led Jesus to remark,
‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house’ (Matthew 13:57).
JESUS SENT HIS APOSTLES
Leaving Nazareth He travelled through the towns and villages of Galilee, preaching and curing every kind of disease and infirmity. Seeing that the people were sorely in need of help, like sheep without a shepherd, He took compassion on them and determined to send His Apostles to help them.
‘The harvest indeed is abundant,’ He said, ‘but the labourers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into the harvest’ (Luke 10:2).
JESUS SAID THAT HIS APOSTLES WILL BE MET WITH OPPOSITION
Then He gave His Apostles power over unclean spirits, and power to cure diseases and infirmities, and sent them forth two by two to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. They were to go forth on their missionary journey as poor men, trusting in the providence of God. In His instructions to the Apostles Jesus sounds once again the warning that His doctrine will be rejected by many. His Apostles, He says, will meet with opposition; they will be persecuted for His sake. But this is only what men do to Jesus Himself. They are not, therefore, to be afraid of men. God, Who watches over the sparrows of the air, will watch over them. Everyone who receives the word of the Apostles and acknowledges Jesus before men will be acknowledged by Jesus before God. Those who reject Him will be disowned by Him before God the Father. Finally, Jesus gives to the Apostles a share in His own authority to preach the Kingdom of God.
‘He who receives you,’ He says, ‘receives me; and he who receives me, receives him who sent me’ (Matthew 10:40-42).
The Apostles thereupon set forth to preach the gospel of repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. Using the power given them by Christ, they expelled demons from the possessed and cured the afflicted of their diseases.
JOHN THE BAPTIST’S MARTYRDOM
While Jesus and His Apostles were preaching in Galilee, at Machaerus the mission of John the Baptist, the Precursor of the Messias, was drawing to a close. John had reproached Herod Antipas for His incestuous union with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Because of these reproaches Herod had imprisoned John in the fortress of Machaerus and, except for his superstitious veneration of the holy man, would have put him to death. But the anger of his wife Herodias against John was not appeased by his imprisonment.
On the occasion of a great feast given by Herod to celebrate his birthday, Herodias found her opportunity to wreak vengeance upon John. During the course of the feast Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced for Herod and his guests. The king was so pleased with her dancing – and, perhaps, so befuddled with the wine consumed during the banquet – that he rashly promised the girl,
‘Ask of me what thou wilt, and I will give it to thee’ (Mark 6:22).
Salome consulted with Herodias. Herodias, surmising that Herod would not dare to break his word pledged before his guests, counselled Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Salome returned to the king and said,
‘I want thee right away to give me on a dish the head of John the Baptist’ (Mark 6:25).
Herod reacted as Herodias had surmised he would. Though his superstitious veneration of John made him hesitate, though he was grieved at the request, nevertheless he was too much given to human respect for the opinion of others to go back on his word. He had John beheaded and gave his head on a dish to Salome. Thus John, the Precursor of the Messias, perished, a Martyr to the gospel of repentance for sin.
JESUS ONCE AGAIN TOOK PITY ON THE PEOPLE
Some time after this the Apostles returned to Jesus after their preaching tour through Galilee. Jesus, no doubt perceiving their fatigue, suggested that they should leave the crowds that besieged Him and them and go to a quiet place to rest. Thereupon they entered a boat and crossed to the other side of the sea of Galilee.
But their efforts to find a quiet place to refresh themselves were in vain. Crowds of people followed them on foot around the lake and were on hand to meet them when they arrived on the opposite shore. Jesus once again took pity on the people and preached to them and cured some who were sick.
THE MULTIPLICATION OF BREAD AND FISH
When evening approached, the Apostles asked Jesus to send the people away so that they might find food at the neighbouring villages and farms. But Jesus suggested that the Apostles themselves should feed the multitude. The Apostles felt that this was impossible. A quick canvass of their resources revealed that they possessed only five loaves of bread and two fishes. But the crowd numbered about five thousand men and an undisclosed number of women and children. It seemed obvious that the Apostles could not feed so great a multitude with their meagre supply of bread and fish.
But Jesus went ahead confidently. ‘Make the people recline,’ He said (John 6:10). When the people had reclined on the grass, Jesus blessed the bread and the fishes and gave them to His disciples to distribute. Then, to the amazement of both the disciples and the people, the bread and the fish proved inexhaustible. From hand to hand they were passed, never lessening, until all those present had received enough. And when the meal was over, twelve baskets of fragments of bread were gathered up.
The people, on seeing this marvellous multiplication of bread and fish, said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world’ (John 6:14). This manifestation of power impressed them so much that they determined to make Jesus King of the Jews.
JESUS’ TEACHING ON THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAD NOT YET BEEN UNDERSTOOD
It is apparent that the people on this occasion were ready to accept Jesus as a Messias Who would be a worldly ruler, a King Who would lead them to freedom from the Roman domination. The great miracle of multiplying the bread and the fishes showed them that Jesus had great power over nature. They would use this power to free themselves, to take vengeance on their enemies and, who knows, to dominate the world. The previous teaching of Jesus on the essentially spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God had not been understood or accepted by them. They were still imbued with the desire for worldly power and glory.
JESUS WITHDREW TO PRAY
Seeing their mood and anxious to preserve His own disciples from this faulty contagion of worldliness, Jesus made His disciples enter their boat and set out across the lake to Bethsaida. Had He Himself gone with them, the crowd would no doubt have followed Him immediately. But Jesus had no intention of further inflaming their erroneous ambitions. Hence He remained on the same side of the lake, but withdrew from the crowd and went up the mountainside to pray alone. The people settled themselves for the night as best they could.
JESUS WALKS ON WATER
Meanwhile, out on the lake a sudden storm arose. The disciples of Jesus could row only with great difficulty. By the fourth watch of the night they had gone only a little way across the lake. At that time, aware of their difficulty, set out on foot across the lake. Wishing to test the faith of the Apostles, He made as if to pass them by.
The Apostles, not believing their eyes, cried out, ‘It is a ghost’ (Matthew 14:26). Jesus then spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid’ (Matthew 14:27). For the moment, Peter’s faith and courage revived and he said, ‘Lord, if it is thou, bid me come to thee over the water’ (Matthew 14:28). When Jesus bade him to come, Peter bravely stepped out on the water. But the force of the wind and the waves affrighted him and his faith failed. He began to sink and called upon Jesus to save him. Jesus reached out and took hold of him and brought him safely to the boat, saying to him, ‘O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?’ (Matthew 14:31). When they had entered the boat, the wind fell and they reached the other shore in safety.
By thus walking on the waters Jesus gave His Apostles still another manifestation of His power over nature. The Apostles were moved to admiration and they worshipped Him, saying, ‘Truly thou art the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:33).
‘SEEK THE BREAD WHICH ENDURES’
After they landed, Jesus was recognised by the people of Genesareth, and they began to bring Him their sick relatives and friends. Touched by their need, Jesus worked many cures. Then He went back to Capharnaum.
On the following day the crowd which He had left on the other side of the lake pursued Him to Capharnaum. Doubtless they were still intent upon making Him their king. But Jesus would not countenance their ambitions. Patiently He sought to enlighten them again on the true nature of His kingdom. You have sought Me, He said, because I fed you with ordinary bread. Seek not the ordinary bread which perishes; but seek the bread which endures unto life everlasting, the bread which I, the Son of Man, will give you.
The crowd did not understand Him. They ask Him, ‘What are we to do in order that we may perform the works of God?’ (John 6:28). Jesus replies, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’ (John 6:29). What Jesus asks of them, then, is not the external works which men perform in this world, but an internal act, an act of faith, an act of belief in Himself as one sent to them by God.
PEOPLE MIGHT BE UNWILLING TO GIVE UP WORLDLY HOPES IN ORDER TO RISE TO THE SPIRITUAL HEIGHTS REQUIRED BY JESUS’ DEMAND
Now the people understood very well that Jesus was asking them to do something extraordinary. They had heard His preaching, His teaching on the Kingdom of God; they had seen His mastery over nature; they knew of His claim to be able to forgive sins; they were aware that He claimed to be a Lawgiver in His own right. They had surmised that He might be the Messias. But they looked only for a Messias who would make them prosperous and powerful in this world. But it was now clear to them that Jesus was demanding to be accepted as something else, something immeasurably higher, someone superior to Moses, their great prophet and lawgiver, someone more excellent than their great and impassioned prophets. Yet He did not wish to accede to their expectations for the establishment of a great worldly kingdom of the Jews. Unable to rise to the spiritual heights required by His demand, and unwilling to give up their hopes for worldly power and domination and revenge upon their enemies, they objected to His demand. Moses, they argued, gave our forefathers manna in the desert, truly bread from heaven. You, they said, have given us only ordinary bread from the earth. Give us some other sign, some sign than that given us by Moses, so that we may believe in you.
‘GIVE US SOME GREATER SIGN, SO THAT WE MAY BELIEVE IN YOU’
Jesus replies that the true bread from heaven is that which comes down from heaven to give life to the world. When they ask Him to give them always this bread, He says to them,
‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I have told you that you have seen me and you do not believe… For this is the will of my Father who sent me, that whoever beholds the Son and believes in him shall have everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6:35-36, 40).
THE TRUE BREAD OF LIFE FOR THE WHOLE WORLD
Jesus Himself is, then, the true bread of life for the whole world. Men who lay hold on Him in faith shall have everlasting life, and He will raise them up on the last day. The entrance to the true Kingdom of God is Jesus Himself. To accept His Person in faith is to enter the Kingdom of God and to find life everlasting.
The people were unwilling to accept Jesus as their life. We know this man, they said; He is the son of Joseph and Mary, whom we know. How can He say that He came down from heaven.
‘HE IS THE SON OF JOSEPH AND MARY; HOW CAN HE SAY THAT HE CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN?’
Jesus is aware of their murmurings against Him and He says to them that no one can come to Him unless God, His Father, draws him. But He makes still another appeal to them. He tries to substantiate His demand by telling them that He has seen God, His Father, Who has sent Him. Because He has seen the Father His words are true, and those who believe in Him will find life everlasting. Then, in the face of their disbelief, He insists:
‘I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert, and have died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that if anyone eat of it he will not die. I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world’ (John 6:48-52).
JESUS TEACHES AN EVEN GREATER AND MORE SPIRITUAL MYSTERY
In the face of the lack of belief of the Jews Jesus enunciates an even greater and more spiritual mystery. Not only is Jesus the bread of life in the sense that man may, by faith in Him, lay hold on eternal life, but He is the bread of life in this wise that men, by eating His flesh, which is bread from heaven, may live forever.
‘HOW CAN THIS MAN GIVE US HIS FLESH TO EAT?’ (Jn 6:53)
There can be no mistake about His meaning. The Jews understood Him literally. He meant that they were to eat of His flesh, if they would gain life eternal. They objected: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ (John 6:53). Jesus refused to retract His words. On the contrary He insisted on them:
‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats of my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and as I live because of the Father, so he who eats me, he also shall live because of me. This is the bread that has come down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna and died. He who eats this bread shall live forever’ (John 6:54-59).
Many of those who had followed Him then left, for, as they said, ‘This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?’ (John 6:61).
JESUS DID NOT TAKE ANYTHING BACK OF WHAT HE SAID
Seeing that the Jews understood Him literally, and realising that they would leave Him because they could not bring themselves to accept so mysterious a doctrine, Jesus would surely have corrected their misunderstanding if they had misunderstood Him. In a matter so important to His mission as the means of attaining eternal life in the Kingdom of God, Jesus would not have spoken so obscurely as to mislead the very people He had come to save. If He did not mean to be taken literally, He could have said, for example, I do not mean that you are truly to eat My flesh and drink My blood. I mean that you must accept the divine revelation I bring you from heaven.
‘DO YOU ALSO WISH TO GO AWAY?’
But Jesus did not do this. He stood by His words, as the Jews understood them, and He allowed them to depart from Him. Then, emphasising the literal truth of His words, He turned even to His chosen Apostles and disciples and said to them: ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered Him simply: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of everlasting life, and we have come to believe and to know that thou art the Christ, the Son of God’ (John 6:68-70).
MANY PEOPLE LEFT JESUS BECAUSE OF THIS DOCTRINE OF HIS
The majority of the Jews present on this occasion took the words of Christ in a grossly materialistic sense. Jesus tried to enlighten them, saying, ‘Does this scandalise you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; and the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe’ (John 6:62-65). In these words Jesus tried to show them that they were to eat of His flesh spiritually, not carnally. He would become, by His very real presence under the sign of bread, the spiritual food of their souls. In this sense His words are spirit and life. But still they refused to accept His words and many left Him forever.
THIS FAILURE DID NOT MEAN THE END OF JESUS’ MISSION
This incident, in the course of which Jesus promises to give His own flesh as the bread of life, is the last incident which the evangelists record of the first ministry of Jesus in Galilee. As the incident shows, this ministry ended in failure. Jesus had come preaching repentance and the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. He had claimed power to forgive sins. He had acted, in the Sermon on the Mount, as a Lawgiver in His own right. He had explained the essentially spiritual nature of His kingdom and its indispensable basis, charity, love of God and love of men. He had claimed to be the Messias, the Anointed One of God. He claimed to have seen the Father face to face. His Apostles had accepted Him as the Son of God. He had demonstrated His claims by the mastery over nature which He displayed. While these manifestations of His power had gained Him the allegiance of the Apostles and a few disciples, it had not gained Him the allegiance of the multitudes. They sought Him out so that they might benefit by His power; they would have accepted Him as a political ruler, a military saviour. But they would not acknowledge Him as their spiritual leader, the saviour of their souls. After His refusal to lead them as their king and after His insistence that He Himself was the bread of eternal life for their souls and bodies, they deserted Him for ever.
JESUS HAD ALREADY FORETOLD HIS REJECTION
But this failure did not mean the end of Jesus’ mission. He Himself had already foretold His ultimate rejection by His own people. But in God’s plan the mission of Jesus was not yet fulfilled. Jesus would go on, preaching the kingdom to His own people and preparing His Apostles for the establishment of the kingdom throughout the world.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959
(Headings in capital letters added afterwards)