A Bread of Life *Analogy* is Downright Unreasonable
The first time I was introduced to apologetics was in high school when my youth minister began introducing it during one of the many weekly youth programs. Having begun to unmethodically read the Bible on my own a couple of years before, I was interested in the new approach to studying scripture. The structure was similar to other apologetics methods I’ve seen in the years since: If non-Catholic says xyz, then quote such and such verse and then they’ll say, “blah blah blah” and that’s when you say, “doopy doopy doo…” I lost interest pretty quickly as the process seemed less about studying the truth and more about being right. Perhaps such programs are a bit of both, but it seemed to me that if a person were thorough in their study of a given theological topic, they would be able to defend the Catholic faith without the pretext of conflict. Of course, in my studies since, I’ve learned opposing theologies and worked to ensure my understanding of Catholic teaching is enough to address any questions or objections non-Catholics might present. It might not seem like there’s any daylight between those two approaches, but there is – perhaps only in attitude.
Years after these high school lessons, I found myself discussing the Eucharist with a dear friend who was raised as a non-Catholic and was being pressured by his newly-converted Catholic parents to follow their lead and enter RCIA. My friend, having married a non-Catholic, didn’t feel that he could convert without his wife and so began picking my brain on Catholic theology on behalf of both of them.
Though we discussed many Catholic teachings, which I explained not to merely convince him, but to aid his understanding, the inevitable questions about the Eucharist began.
My friend: “But it’s just a symbol.”
Me: “Ah, but do you see the connection between the last supper and John 6?”
Friend Again: “It’s a symbol.”
Me: “Wouldn’t Jesus have clarified his analogy to prevent all of his followers (except the apostles) from leaving him in John 6:66 if it was an analogy?”
Friend: “Maybe Jesus wanted them to figure out it was symbolic on their own.”
Me: “What about the Greek words Jesus used in John’s bread of life discourse progressing from ‘eat’ to ‘gnaw/munch,’ which is less symbolic?”
Friend: “It’s that intense of an analogy!”
Fine. Whatever. He was so determined to see anything relating to the Eucharist as a symbol, there was no verse to which I could point to show him otherwise. I sat, exasperated and out of answers as he continued along the discussion of analogy. Finally, I told him, “If all this stuff Jesus said about the bread of life and eating his flesh and drinking his blood and the last supper is one huge analogy, you tell me what Jesus would have said to establish what Catholics believe to be the Eucharist – the true presence of Christ in the form of bread and wine.”
I’ve posed this suggestion to several non-Catholics as well as to a couple doubting Catholics – what would Jesus have said to establish Himself as the Eucharist in the form of bread and wine if not exactly what he said in John 6? – and have always come up empty with an adequate response, only emphasizing Christ’s thorough and obvious Institution of the Eucharist as the Catholic Church holds it.
- Increasingly literal and graphic language? Check! John 6:32-58 (read here for an explanation of the Greek terms for “eat,” “chew on” and “gnaw on”)
- Repetition of the statement on multiple occasions? Check! John 6; Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; 1 Cor. 10:16, 11:23-29
- Repercussions for such a difficult teaching (unlike the vine/branches analogy)? Check! John 6:66 (read more about this point in the link above in #1)
- Seemingly endless references to Old Testament types regarding the unblemished lamb and manna which were both eaten? Check! The best explanation of this comes from Dr. Brant Pitre – a video can be found here.
- Born in a city named ‘the house of bread’ and notably laid in a food trough (Google: french to eat)? Check! Luke 2
What more could Jesus have said besides, “This is not an analogy”? Certainly, it is not a scriptural argument, but a question that beckons one to ask if it is reasonable to believe in the literal interpretation of Jesus’s statement that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink.
What may take some folks, Catholic or not, completely off-guard is the fact that disbelief in the Eucharist is pretty unreasonable. In a society where one of the primary cultural “sacraments” is being nice, it’s almost reflexive to think that such viewpoints are reasonable, yet misguided or some such thing. The movie 12 Angry Men sets up a similarly comprehensive case against a young man who is charged with murdering his father. The jurors argue and sway, slowly knocking down the seven major pieces of evidence, one after another, until [spoiler alert] they unanimously conclude that what is said about the boy must be false. While anyone watching the film might agree with the not-guilty verdict, did the screenwriter get it wrong?
Clearly, Reginald Rose, who wrote the original teleplay as well as the film script, intended the unnamed defendant—we’ll just call him The Kid, as the jurors generally do—to be innocent… But in attempting to make the scenario as dramatic as possible, Rose inadvertently and unwittingly made it almost impossible for The Kid not to have killed his old man.
[...]because determining whether a defendant should be convicted or acquitted isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—a matter of examining each piece of evidence in a vacuum… What ensures The Kid’s guilt for practical purposes…is the sheer improbability that all the evidence is erroneous. You’d have to be the jurisprudential inverse of a national lottery winner to face so many apparently damning coincidences and misidentifications.
Similar to the method of arguing in 12 Angry Men, disbelief in the Eucharist and scriptural evidence for it is often addressed and discounted in a vacuum. When each Biblical passage is taken on its own, it’s an attempt to say, “If there’s a little doubt attached to all of them, it must add up to reasonable doubt.” That’s absolutely not how law or the Bible work. Here’s what has to be true for the Eucharist to be nothing more than a symbol, analogy or metaphor:
- Jesus’s entire discourse that he is the bread of life – whoever does not eat his flesh and drink his blood has no life, the bread that he gives is his flesh for the life of the world – would have been the most lengthy metaphor for the phrase “be as close to me as though you had consumed me.”
- Jesus, without comment or correction, allowed all of his non-Apostle followers to leave after they mistook his bread of life analogy for literal truth.
- The gospel writers and St. Paul’s resonance of Christ’s actions at the last supper, not to mention Christ’s own words – this is my body, this is my blood – would only serve to remind people during the passover meal (of all places) that Christians need to be that analogously close to Jesus.
- The passover lamb, which was notably sacrificed for the sake of atonement and eaten, is an image continually given to Jesus throughout the writings of John only to illustrate one of the two roles the lamb played – the second of which, eating, is commanded to all of God’s people in Exodus 12:47
- The things throughout Jesus’s life – such as being born in Bethlehem (“house of bread”), placed in a manger, multiplication of loaves and reservation of the leftover pieces, “give us this day our daily bread” (more accurate translation: “give us this day our super-substantial bread”) – were unrelated to anything.
Again, it’s one thing to find doubt in each of these items – and the things I’ve listed here only scratch the surface – but something else entirely to write off as a whole all the evidence illustrating otherwise.