When we just don't get it...
Have you ever sat in a class or listened to a conversation and wondered what on earth the person was talking about? Maybe the discussion started out making sense but somewhere along the way you realized that you were not even on the same page. You were reading a romance script and your friend was quoting a sci-fi thriller. You were listening to Mozart when suddenly you were seated at a rock concert. I wonder if the Jews felt that way about Jesus.
On a hill in Galilee, Jesus fed 5000 men (not counting women and children) with a few loaves and fishes. When they had eaten their fill, they realized the miracle that had taken place, and in realizing this, they decided that Jesus must be "The Prophet who was to come into the world." They wanted to take him by force and make him king.
But Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he slipped away to the mountain alone. Later he walked on water to join his disciples in a boat to go across to Capernaum. Not to be dissuaded, the crowd followed him. They wanted more signs and wonders, more bread. So Jesus started to teach them about how he was the Bread of Life and how anyone who believed in him would never hunger or thirst and have eternal life. He spoke about difficult things, like eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and at some point the Jews started grumbling and disputing among themselves.
They just didn't get it.
In reading the passage, I had to admit that the things Jesus said were not easy to understand. If I had been a Jew living in that day, I might have scratched my head in confusion. Eat his flesh? Drink his blood? Later on, the early church was accused of cannibalism by those who did not understand, who thought the flesh and blood were from a literal physical body they were eating each time they met to celebrate communion.
But here, the Jews were talking about the pita-style flat bread they had been eating for generations. The kind of bread Jesus had multiplied to feed them. They wanted an endless supply of food, so perhaps they would not have to labor so hard as they did for daily bread.
Jesus knew their thoughts were focused on the physical, so he subtly turned a corner in the conversation to the spiritual. He didn't want the people to look at him for merely earthly food. While he did a lot of miracles and healed the physical needs of many, his mission was a spiritual one. He said, ""I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe."
They saw his miracles. They ate the bread. He spoke words that had the power to give them eternal life, but they were hearing a different recipe for flat bread. Even the disciples grumbled at his words, not understanding that Jesus had taken the conversation to a different level.
He asked them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?" Then he told them plainly why they didn't get it - "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."
Spiritual words of God are impossible to understand on a human level. The most intellectual among us cannot grasp them apart from God's spirit explaining their meaning to us. And understanding starts with believing Jesus' words, that he is who he said he is. And then it is seeing that God's ways are not our ways and sometimes we don't get it because he is speaking to us on a different level.
We should never settle for bread that doesn't last. He came so that we could taste and see that he is good, he is the bread that is life. Life that lasts forever.