In John’s “Bread of Life” discourse, Jesus presents a symbol that functions on multiple levels. At its root, the “bread” Jesus speaks of is the life he shares with the Father. In this bond of love, Jesus finds everything that sustains him. Jesus offers this bread to his disciples through his teaching; those who follow his commandments will encounter the same all-sustaining love from the Father. This bread is also Jesus’ body, which Jesus offered in obedience for our redemption. Furthermore, the bread of which he speaks is his continuing presence in the Eucharist, which his disciples continue to celebrate until today. Put simply, the bread of life is the Father’s love that is available to any who believe in Christ, receive him sacramentally, put his teachings into practice and offer themselves like Christ in complete obedience to the Father.
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.’ (Jn 6:51)
What “food” helps you to live as Jesus did?
How have works of mercy or forgiveness strengthened
How do such works help you know God’s love?
John wrote his Gospel last among the Evangelists. John’s Jesus is more reflective. He speaks at length to make explicit what the other Evangelists leave implicit. All four Gospels include a miracle story about a multiplication of loaves. Only John’s Gospel follows it with an explanatory discourse. Even in their accounts of the Last Supper, the other Evangelists only hint at the reality John makes plain: The sharing of bread symbolizes the mystical life that unites the Father, Jesus and the disciples.
Each of the Gospels prepares its audience for Jesus’ return. Mark expected Jesus to come soon, so the substance of his message was “Get ready!” Matthew and Luke, writing a decade or so later, nuanced Mark’s message: “Stay ready!” John, writing a generation later, transformed the message entirely: “He is here already!” John uses the “Bread of Life” discourse to show that the disciples could catch sight of Christ present among them. Christ appeared in the bread they shared ritually. Christ appeared when his disciples made their bodies his own, when their adherence to his commands and example allowed Christ to continue his ministry in their own flesh. Finally, they trusted that Christ would appear to them after whatever sort of death came as a consequence of their complete obedience to him.
The passage that appears in this Sunday’s Gospel reading emphasizes Jesus’ teaching and example as the bread of life that comes from the Father. It is easy to forget that the precepts of the Gospel are a communion with Christ comparable to the grace we receive through the sacraments. Conforming our lives to the example of Jesus makes him present. When we offer our hands and hearts and voices to Christ’s continuing mission, we simultaneously attune ourselves to the Father’s all-sustaining love. God’s love is constant, but we allow ourselves to receive it completely when we live as the Son did.
In the Father’s love, Jesus found everything he needed to sustain him for life. Just so, Jesus’ disciples today find in his teaching the “bread” that keeps them going and the “flesh” that makes their own lives a continuation of his. We consume the bread of life in order to become the flesh and blood that brings life to others.