Meditation of the week

Bread of life

John 6, 24-35.

After the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, the disciples crossed the Lake westwards to Capernaum, in the dark. During the crossing they experienced a storm, during which Jesus comes to them walking on the water. He boards their boat, which, immediately makes for the shore to which they were going. Walking on the water, has a paschal resonance with the crossing of the Red Sea, at the time of the Exodus, when the waters parted, and they walked dry shod through the sea.

Finding that Jesus and his disciples had left, the people get into boats and follow them.  As they question Jesus as to when to when he came to Capernaum, he replies that they are not looking for him on account of the signs he has worked, but because they have had plenty of bread to eat. They had not looked on the feeding as a sign from God, but simply as the satisfaction of their physical hunger. He tells them not to work for food which perishes, but instead to work for food which endures to eternal life, which only he can give. He is talking not about food which lasts in itself but rather in its effects. The food which the Son of Man, on whom the Father has set his seal, is offering, gives eternal life. The title, Son of Man, refers to Jesus’ self-offering on the cross.  Jesus is already preparing his hearers for the truth that it is by his death and resurrection that they will attain eternal life.

Their question, about what “doing the work of God” means, leads Jesus to affirm their need for faith in him. They immediately ask for a sign to convince them to believe in him, and then, conveniently, seek one comparable to the manna in desert.  This gives Jesus the opening, to compare the bread  which he gives, with the manna which Moses gave to the people of Israel in the desert.  Jesus changes the subject, the verb tense, and the object of the phrase; “He (Moses) gave them bread from heaven to eat.” (Ex 16,4). He tells them that it is his Father who gives them, (in the present, in him), bread from heaven, the true bread, which gives life to the world. Like the misunderstanding Samaritan woman who asked for some of the water that “wells up to eternal life” (4,15), they too, in their misunderstanding, ask to be always given that bread which “gives life to the world.”  Jesus identifies himself with this bread.  Whoever comes to Jesus, the bread of life, will never hunger, and whoever believes in him will never thirst.  Jesus “ the true bread…. which comes from heaven” is bread for the coming age, (the end times, in heaven), available in the present for those who believe in him.

Jesus highlights the threefold dimension of the Eucharist; prefigured in the past (manna), actualised in the present, in his life, and especially in his death and resurrection, and anticipating the bread of the heavenly banquet. It is important to keep all three dimensions in mind for a full understanding of the Eucharist.  In the Eucharist we remember what Jesus did during the first Holy Week, we re-present it in the present (in Mass, the Eucharist), and we anticipate the future it pledges. The memorial acclamation after the Consecration: “ When we eat this bread and drink this we cup we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again,” says it all, succinctly, for us.

Father Geoff O’Grady