John’s Gospel shows Jesus being constantly misunderstood by those who listen to him, because he is speaking from what we might call a spiritual paradigm, and most of his hearers have what we might call an earthly paradigm.
(“Spiritual” doesn’t mean “disembodied”, but rather having to do with the unseen realities of God’s Spirit interacting and overlapping with the visible realities of our earthly existence.)
We should be able to empathize. Jesus often seems to contradict himself in John’s Gospel, and answers questions with non-sequiturs. Right after saying that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:53), he says the flesh counts for nothing (John 6:63).
Ironically, his words about being bread that has come down from heaven, about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, are indeed words of Spirit and life. It’s confusing.
But here’s the crux of the issue: those who follow Jesus can trust Jesus without fully understanding Jesus. “This is a hard teaching,” the disciples complain, but “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to trust and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
I sense this duality every time I receive Holy Communion. “This bread is my body,” Jesus says, “and this cup my blood.” How does that work? What’s really going on here? It’s a hard teaching. But I don’t really need to understand how it “works.”
I only need to trust that Jesus’ body is real food, and his blood real drink, and that by participating in this meal, I share in the life Jesus shares with his Father, and will be raised up on the last day.