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JESUS THE LIVING BREAD (Part II)

Read­ing Time: 6 minutes

‎(Ref. Texts: Prov 9:1–6; Eph 5:15–20; John 6:51–58)

In the Lord’s dis­course on spir­itu­al nour­ish­ment, we hear Him says: “Do not labour for the food which per­ishes, but for the food which endures to ever­last­ing life” (John 6:27). He then con­tin­ued by talk­ing about the true bread from Heav­en, the bread of God, and the bread of life (John 6:32–35). Here, Jesus appeals to the soul for its nour­ish­ment and our thoughts to the spir­itu­al way so as not to occupy our minds with the body and its needs” (Pope Shen­ouda III of Alexandria).‎

Introduction

Beloved read­er, this week, we con­tin­ue our reflec­tions on ‘Jesus the liv­ing bread.’ In the first part of our reflec­tion (last Sunday), the Jews reacted neg­at­ively, when Jesus told them he was the liv­ing bread and the bread of life that des­cen­ded from heav­en. In this Sunday Gos­pel read­ing, their reac­tion is even more intense as Jesus con­tin­ues to enlight­en them on the true mean­ing of his words. Jesus as the liv­ing bread, came down from heav­en, that is, from God. And any­one who eats this bread, will live forever. Such bread in fact, is the flesh of Jesus. That is, his body. This sounds crude, isn’t it? There are series of mis­un­der­stand­ings in the Gos­pel accord­ing to John. Often, Jesus says one thing, but the Jews under­stood anoth­er thing, and they judged and related to Jesus accord­ing to their mis­un­der­stand­ing and mis­con­cep­tion of the words of Jesus. One of such mis­un­der­stand­ings is found in this Sunday Gos­pel read­ing. Jesus teaches spir­itu­al truths by refer­ring to mater­i­al things or phys­ic­al objects, and people fre­quently mis­un­der­stand him by tak­ing everything lit­er­al (cf. also John 3:4; 4:15).

Background of John 6:51–58

We hear the con­clud­ing verse of last week’s Gos­pel repeated in this Sunday Gos­pel read­ing: Jesus him­self is the bread sent by God; Jesus’ flesh is the bread that is giv­en for the life of the world. As already noted, on this 20th Sunday, we con­tin­ue with the sixth chapter of the Gos­pel accord­ing to John. This Sunday Gos­pel elab­or­ates fur­ther on the teach­ing that Jesus began in last week liturgy. In that read­ing, the crowd wondered about how Jesus’ say­ing that he had come down from heav­en. This is because they knew Jesus’ fam­ily back­ground. That is, that he is the son of Joseph. In this Sunday Gos­pel, the Jews have dif­fi­culty with Jesus’ teach­ing that he is the liv­ing bread appoin­ted and sent from God. Recall that Jesus had told them that just as God gave the Israel­ites mater­i­al bread to sus­tain them in the desert, so now God has sent spir­itu­al bread that will give etern­al life to the world. We must hearken to Jesus’ invit­a­tion to eat the bread of life. This is the voice of Wis­dom (cf. First Reading).

Amen, amen, I say to you….

Jesus said to them, truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). To Jesus’ words that he is the liv­ing bread from heav­en; that who­ever eats this bread will live forever; and that the bread he will give for the life of the world is his flesh (John 6:51), the Jews reacted and argued among them­selves. They wondered and ques­tioned, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52). This is anoth­er instance of mis­un­der­stand­ing in which, the Jews take Jesus’ words lit­er­ally (cf. also John 3:4; 4:15). Jesus makes use of phys­ic­al objects to teach spir­itu­al truths. How­ever, the mater­i­ally inclined and mere car­nal per­son can­not under­stand this.

How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” When in John 6:35 Jesus said he is the bread of life, the same Jews mur­mured (cf. John 6:41). Now, he fur­thers his dis­cus­sion and cla­ri­fies that the bread he will give is his flesh, the Jews got angry and star­ted arguing among them­selves. Their ques­tion (“how can this man give us his flesh to eat?”) must have been accom­pan­ied by anger. How can this be? Does this man (Jesus) take us to be can­ni­bals? They must have reasoned this way. For them, this is a big insult. As I said last week, because the Jews were not spir­itu­ally dis­posed, there is no way they could have under­stood Jesus. As Jesus told his dis­ciples, “It is the spir­it that gives life; the flesh is use­less. The words that I have spoken to you are spir­it and life” (John 6:63). Since the Jews lacked the spir­itu­al dis­pos­i­tion, there was no way they could have under­stood Jesus. They under­stood only that which they wanted to understand.

What are the mean­ings of eat­ing the flesh and drink­ing the blood of Jesus? After the feed­ing of the crowd with five bar­ley loaves of bread and two fishes, the crowd went in search of Jesus. When even­tu­ally they found him, Jesus made it clear to them that they were not look­ing for him because they wanted to listen to his teach­ings, but because of the bread, they had eaten. Then, he advised them to cease from work­ing for eph­em­er­al food, and to work, instead for the food that gives etern­al life. Con­sequently, the crowd inquired from Jesus what they must do to do the work of God. To save them from every mis­un­der­stand­ing, Jesus explained to them that the work of God is that they believe in him whom the Fath­er has sent (cf. John 6:22–29). Doing the work of God is not work­ing mater­i­ally. Instead, it is a spir­itu­al work. It is faith and faith­ful­ness in the anoin­ted One of God. The crowd how­ever, did not under­stand this.

Jesus the living bread

Eat­ing of the flesh of Jesus and drink­ing of his blood are theo­lo­gic­al and salvif­ic expres­sions. But undis­posed and unspir­itu­al Jews, took them lit­er­ally. As is his cus­tom, Jesus uses mater­i­al things to teach spir­itu­al real­it­ies. And only the spir­itu­ally inclined (dis­posed) can under­stand this. We must trust and believe Jesus espe­cially, as he offers his life for human­kind (eat his flesh). Again, we must also believe in his aton­ing death (drink his blood). Eat­ing of Jesus’ flesh and drink­ing his blood also have a par­al­lel theme to the Lord’s Sup­per. This is because, the receiv­ing of etern­al life through being united with him (Jesus) is rep­res­en­ted in the Lord’s Sup­per, where and dur­ing which Jesus’ fol­low­ers sym­bol­ic­ally ate/eat his flesh and drank/drink his blood (cf. 1Cor. 11:23–32).

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