OT XIX [B] I Kgs 19:4-8, Eph 4:30–5:2, Jn 6:41-51
The German theologian Helmut Thielicke told of a hungry man passing a store with a sign in the window, "We Sell Bread." He entered the store, put some money on the counter, and said, "I would like to buy some bread." The woman behind the counter replied, "We don’t sell bread." "The sign in the window says that you do," the hungry man said. The woman explained, "We make signs here like the one in the window that says ‘We Sell Bread.’" But, as Thielicke concludes, a hungry man can’t eat signs.
Life sometimes fools us too. Bread isn’t always found where it seems to be. Today’s Gospel lesson picks up where we left off last week in John 6. Like the crowds looking for something else or that man looking in the wrong store, we often miss the point when God offers us enduring life in Jesus.
We are living in a world where people of all races and creeds hunger more for spiritual sustenance than for physical food. In response to the spiritual hunger of people in his own day, Jesus, proclaims himself to be “the Bread of Life that came down from heaven.” It is through Jesus, the bread of life, that we have access to the Divine life during our earthly pilgrimage to God.
Jesus makes a series of unique claims in today’s Gospel passage: 1) “I am the Living Bread that came down from Heaven.” 2)”I am the Bread of Life.” 3) “The Bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus’ Jewish listeners could hardly contain themselves when he claimed to be the “Bread of Life” (v. 35) who “came down from Heaven” (v. 38). They thought they knew his father and mother (v. 42), and saw him as just another hometown boy – a carpenter by profession without any formal training in Mosaic Laws and Jewish Scriptures. They could remember when he had moved from Nazareth to Capernaum with a band of unknown disciples, mostly fishermen.
Jesus challenged the Jews who were upset about his claim of bread of life and his explanation, to take a journey of Faith by seeing him, not as the son of Joseph, but as the one who came down from Heaven. By saying, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me …” Jesus told his listeners, that everyone who has become his follower has done so because God the Father has called him or her to Jesus. It is an act of God that has brought us to follow the way of Jesus. Faith in Christ is God's gift; no one can conjure it up on their own in a chemistry lab. When we look at the small white Host, no scientific test can prove that Jesus Christ is truly present there, body, blood, soul, and divinity. And yet, we know that he is; we have been given the gift of faith. This is why the priest says, after the consecration at each Mass: "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith."
Jesus offered the ultimate reassurance to every one of us who believes when he said: “I will raise him up on the last day” ( vv.39, 40, 44, 54). This persistent theme serves to remind us that only Jesus, the true Bread of Life, can impart the gift of eternal Life to the faithful.
Jesus himself is the "bread" of this eternal life, its source and sustenance. Without bread, without food, physical life perishes. Without Jesus, without his "flesh for the life of the world" in the Eucharist, our life of intimate communion with God will perish. It's that simple - and it's that crucial. Eleven times in this discourse Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life; he's really hoping that we'll get the message. The gift of faith gives us access to eternal life, and the Eucharist makes that life grow within us.
Jesus wants us to eat him because he IS Bread. “You are what you eat.” Jesus is Bread and he wants us to eat his Flesh. Thus, we bring him into the core of our being. The Fathers of the Church explain that, while ordinary food is assimilated into man, the very opposite takes place in Holy Communion. Here man is assimilated into the Bread of Life. He is ready to come into our lives, regardless of who we have been, or how unqualified we feel. Let us live the life of Faith … making changes so that He becomes the staple food of our spiritual life, not a side dish. Let us be people who recognize that Jesus, whom we consume, is actually God who assimilates us into His being. Then, from Sunday to Saturday we will grow into Jesus as he grows in us, our lives will be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we will become more like him. Thus, we shall share in the joyous and challenging life of being the Body of Christ for the world – Bread for a hungry world, and Drink for those who thirst for justice, peace, fullness of life, and even eternal life.