In John 6, at the time of the Passover (more on that in another post), Jesus has a chat with the “multitude” after feeding them. They want to make him their king because he worked miracles but then he starts talking about eating his body: Non-Catholics like to think Jesus was being symbolic and poetic. They say Jesus was speaking only as a metaphor and that we don’t really have to eat anything; just believe. Let’s see for ourselves.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will
live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" (Jn 6:51-52)
Here we have a “multitude” that is so enamored with Jesus that they want to make him be their king. Then Jesus goes and tells them they must eat his flesh. Do they say “ah, what rhetoric. Clearly this is a symbol!” No, they quarrel amongst themselves about how this can be. Do they take him literally at this point? Yes.
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the
Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my
flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last
day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my
flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father
sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live
forever." These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. (Jn
Does Jesus say “oh come on, I’m being figurative!” No. He says not only do you have to eat my flesh but also drink my blood! He gets more literal, not less. In all he says we must eat his body five times (verses 51, 53, 54, 56, 57).
Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who
can accept it?" … As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their
former way of life and no longer accompanied him. (Jn 6:60, 66)
The crowds want nothing to do with this teaching, and nothing to do with Jesus after this. They had wanted to make him king! What happened? Did the crowds take him figuratively or literally? I’d say it’s obvious the crowd is still taking Jesus words literally as Catholics do.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered
him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have
come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." (Jn
In every other story when the multitude misses the point Jesus explains it to the twelve. The story of the scattered seeds for example he had to explain in detail because they “didn’t get it”. Does he explain to his closest friends that he was being symbolic? No, he simply asks if they’re going to leave, too. He’s willing to lose everyone because of this literal teaching.
Do the twelve say, as some suggest, “well we know your speaking figuratively so we’ll stay.” No, they make it clear the only reason they’re staying is that they have nowhere else to go!
In all cases the people around Jesus react as though Jesus were speaking literally about eating his body. Jesus never corrects them.
Historians believe this took place at Passover two years before the Last Supper (also at Passover). As Jesus intended, we’ll keep John 6 in mind when we talk about the Last Supper when we continue discussing the Eucharist.