For the past two Sundays, we have been reading from Chapter 6 of John, that opens with the account on the multiplication of bread. This miracle prompts the crowd to pursue Jesus up to Capernaum. Jesus exhorts the people not to seek bread that perishes but the bread that lasts to eternal life, which he can give. They then ask Jesus to give them this bread always. After some discussion, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
The Jews have always believed that the true bread of life is the Law, the Word of God, that nourishes his people. Given to Moses on Mount Sinai, the Torah/Law manifests God’s will and teaches Israel the right way of living. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus presents himself as the bread of life. In doing so, he claims that he is the Word of God who comes down from heaven and manifests the will of God, which guides and sustains man in life’s journey.
The crowd does not accept Jesus’ revelation and begins to murmur, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother?” Unable to see beyond the human origins of Jesus, they fail to read the sign/miracle of the bread and refuse to believe in him.
In the first reading, we find Elijah running away from Jezebel’s army and about to give up. In his frustration, he lays under a broom tree and prays to God to take his life. Twice the Lord sends his angel to wake him up and give him bread and water so he can continue on his journey to Horeb (another name for Sinai). The bread and water that sustain Elijah in his forty-day journey to the mountain of God are merely signs of the bread of life. The true bread of life which fully revives Elijah’s drooping spirit and restores his enthusiasm for his new mission is the Word of God he hears in the gentle breeze at the cave of Mt. Horeb.
Jesus is the bread of life. He does not only sustain us in life’s journey, but gives life itself. Peter would recognize this at the end of the chapter when he declares, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
Today, the world is inundated with limitless words. Unfortunately, not all of them are life-giving. In fact, much of them are not only trash, but even toxic and deadly. How many lives are lost because of fake news and conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and the vaccine. How many bad governments are kept in perpetuity because of minions and trolls who persecute and demonize every legitimate opposition and protest. If society is ailing today, it is because it feeds and nourishes on lies and deception. How much it needs Jesus, the true Bread of Life!
Jesus invites us to come to him and believe in him, for “whoever believes has eternal life.” Believing starts with listening. Do we listen to Jesus? Surveys show that today a person spends an average of 2.4 hours on internet daily (58 minutes on Facebook, 40 minutes on YouTube…) How much time do we give to prayer, to reading and pondering on God’s word…? No wonder, we find ourselves spiritually and morally undernourished. Even with so much knowledge from information overload, we are often superficial in judgment and lacking in wisdom.
In one of my earlier homilies, I shared with you my prayer to Jesus, as I knelt in front of the icon of the Talking Christ in the Assisi, to speak to me as he did with St. Francis. After a long wait, I did hear a voice, not from the crucifix, but from my heart saying, “I am speaking to you.” I then realized how many times the word of God comes to me each day at Mass, in my prayers, in the Divine Office, even in my encounter and conversation with people. But, unfortunately, his voice often gets muted in the cacophony of countless competing voices.
Our gospel reading ends with a sudden twist when Jesus pushes further his claim about being the bread of life to a point that will totally horrify his listeners. “I am the living bread… and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
This unexpected turn sets the stage for the theme of the Eucharist, that will be developed in the Sundays ahead.*