19th August 2018
I am the Living Bread
Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; Gospel John 6:51-58.
The 1st reading speaks of wisdom as the word of God, given out at a meal of bread and wine.
The idea of a sacred meal is central to all religions. In traditional religions, people eat the food offered to deities or spirits. It expresses a deep desire to be possessed by the divinity, to be possessed by the sacred.
This hunger for God is programmed into all of us.
The imagery of eating the word of God in not new. “Son of man, eat this scroll, I ate it, it tasted sweet as honey.” (Ez. 2:3) In John’s Gospel it’s not a question of eating the word, written on paper, or a scroll, but eating the living Word of God, expressed in Jesus Christ. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” (John 1:14) Christ becomes the living Word of God, clothed in flesh and blood, the living Bible, the living Bread of heaven.
With this introduction on sacred meals and eating the Word, let us look at John 6 in today’s Gospel.
When we read John’s Gospel we should be aware that there are two levels of meaning, a downstairs and an upstairs, a surface or literal meaning, and a deeper spiritual meaning.
John’s Gospel is like a pot of Irish stew. The watery soup in on top. But to get the meat and vegetables you must go deeper, and put the ladle down to the bottom.
Let me give two examples – Nicodemus and the Woman at the Well:
Jesus tells Nicodemus (John 3:3-10), “You must be born again from above.” Nicodemus takes the watery soup, the surface meaning and says, “How can anyone who is old be born again, how can he go back to the womb.” (John 3:4) Christ leads him to the real meaning and tells him, he is speaking about a spiritual birth.
To the woman at the Well (John 4:6-16) Jesus says, “If only you knew what God is offering, He would give you living water.” She replies, “Sir, you have no bucket, how can you get this living water.” She too takes the surface meaning, and misinterprets his words.
With that in mind, let us go to John 6 and watch for the two levels. Christ wants to lead them from the idea of ordinary bread to heavenly bread, heavenly food.
“The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn. 6:51)
The Jews, like Nicodemus and the woman at the well, take the watery soup off the top, by taking him literally. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat.” (Jn. 6:52) If his words are taken literally they become positively shocking. “Many of his followers said, ‘this is intolerable language, no one can accept it’.” (Jn. 6:60) “Many of his disciples went away, and accompanied him no more.” (6:66)
We look back with 2,000 years of hindsight, and see in it a reference to the Eucharist.
The Jews took his word literally, misinterpreted the meaning, and missed the target completely.
On the surface, these words of Jesus are hard to stomach. Peter had no Degree in Theology. He too must have been confused, and failed to fully understand the language of Christ. Unlike the Jews, Peter looks to Christ, and to his strong personal faith in the person of Christ. He says, “Yes” to the person of Christ. He is following a person, not a theology. People are converted, touched, not by theological jargon, but by a charismatic person, a role model.
Christ asks the twelve, “do you too want to go away?” (John 6:67) It’s Peter who answers, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the message of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
We blame the Jews for taking the watery soup. Now let us dip deeper ourselves.
“I am the bread of life, anyone who comes to me will not hunger.” (6:35)
I am the living bread that comes down from heaven.” (6:51)
Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.” (6:58)
Christ wanted to lead the Jews from the idea of bodily hunger, to a much deeper hunger, the hunger of the human heart for God, hunger for God’s Word, hunger for the bread of heaven.
The pull of God on all of us is like the pull of gravity. It’s computerised or programmed into each of us.
Christ is saying, he can satisfy this hunger. “I am the bread of life.” Bread gives life, it nourishes us, we digest it, we absorb it, it becomes part of us. It passes into our bloodstream, into our chemistry, into our DNA.
The Eucharist comes to us in the form of bread, the bread of life. Contact with the bread of heaven, is contact with God, the life of God flows through us and becomes part of us, is absorbed into our system.
“May we share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
“You become what you eat,” to quote St. Augustine.
St. Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist, “the medicine of immortality.”
In the liturgy of the Word we get food for thought. We should digest it and take it to heart.
At Communion we have the bread of heaven, cosmic food, fresh from the bakery of heaven every day, every Sunday, the medicine of immortality, free for all to take.
One last thought: All this in John 6 started when a small boy brought five barley loaves and two fish.
The miracle is not worked from nothing, but from the modest sharing of what a young lad brought with him.
God too will bless the little we bring to Mass, and will multiply it.
“I am the bread of life, . . . Lord give us this bread always,” soul food for the road on that journey home to God.
- Tim Carroll SMA