I Am The Living Bread

Ordinary 19B

John 6: 35, 41 51

Introduction

In our previous text, Jesus finally came out with a grand truth he had been longing to share with his listeners:

I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

The people had taken his previous instruction to mean that our Lord possesses the "bread of life" and that he has the power to supply them with it whenever they want it. Jesus then had to work at correcting both of these misconceptions. He therefore made this bold statement and then followed it up with further "explanatory notes". The explanatory comments in verses 36 to 40 contain some beautiful lines all of which focus on coming to Jesus for life.

Some Notes On the Text

Verses 41 and 42

When the scholars among our Lord's listeners heard him say,

I am the bread that came down from heaven,

they began to grumble. St. John uses the Greek word from the Greek Septuagint Old Testament which recorded the grumbling of the Israelites during the Exodus (Ex 16: 2, 7 — 8). The word denotes more of complaint than of open hostility.

We may be tempted to be quite sympathetic when we read their assessment of the situation:

Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I came down from heaven?'

Their remarks suggest they understood he was claiming to be more than a prophet-come-teacher sent from God.

Verses 43 46

Our Lord responded very quickly and powerfully with:

Stop grumbling among yourselves".

In other words: "If you would only listen to what I say without projecting your personal prejudices at me, you would have heard what I was really saying, and you wouldn't be complaining".

Jesus followed this immediately with a core teaching which, if the authorities in front of him had been prepared to let him "unpack", would have helped them realise he was offering them yet another key by which to enter into a whole new sphere of spiritual understanding. Jesus said,

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.

This is indeed a pivotal verse. Our Lord did not try to resolve their doubts about his true origin by argument. Rather, he started affirming the ancient Biblical belief that if anyone is drawn to God, it happens because God makes the first move! Jesus demonstrated that he had a sympathetic understanding for those who genuinely could not perceive what he was saying, but he was blunt towards those who were determined to resist him at all costs. His message for them was in effect:

"You will never understand unless you listen from the heart, and you won't be able to do that unless you believe that I was sent by God to teach you. And you will not believe that until you respond to my Father's drawing you to me."

Jesus used the idea of being drawn to him to resemble the expression "to bring someone near the Law, the Holy Torah, the Books of Moses", an expression the rabbis used to describe conversion to Judaism. Thus Jesus emphasises the truth that to draw near to him was in fact to encounter God in the very centre and heart of their Faith. In this way he identified himself with the Divine Word given by God in the Torah, the ancient Scriptures. And he went further, offering himself as both Word and Bread, that is, Living Bread.

All this he reinforced with the exclamation, "And I will raise him to life on the last day". This was not said to outdo Moses, but to place himself in the long line of unfolding revelation.

Well may some have pondered, "Why are we not feeling drawn to him?" Jesus continued to appeal to their Scriptural knowledge:

"As the prophet Isaiah has taught you,

'Hearken diligently to me and eat what is good……….incline your ear, and come to me, hear that your soul may live' (Isaiah 55: 3)

God draws by inner attraction. If you believe the truth I bring, you will receive now the everlasting life God longs to impart. But what you need to accept is that it is I who has been sent to bring you this deeper knowledge of God."

Verses 47 50

Our Lord did not even seem to pause for a breath. He generously repeated some earlier teaching to give it another chance to be heard afresh.

Verse 51

To sum up the discourse so far, Jesus then made another powerful re-statement of his teaching:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The impact of this grand statement would have been something like:

"I am the bread that not only supports life, but actually gives it and sustains it for eternity. This bread which I give you is from heaven, and it is my flesh, my whole life, that you may have whole life."

Jesus deliberately echoed Moses in the Exodus (Ex 6: 15):

It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.

He is the reality of which the manna was the type (forerunner).

We should note that our Lord's closing words talk of giving his flesh for the life of the world in the future. This is a clear reference to the time of his sacrificial death, when he would give himself for the needs of his people, the event symbolised in part by the broken bread of the Last Supper. (Newman and Nida. UBS).

Conclusion

Although part of our Lord's instruction has been dealing with a living communion with him through faith, there are clear and intended links with the precious gift of himself in the Eucharist: the bread of life and the living bread. His last sentence, This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world, is very similar to his words at the Last Supper, This is my body which is given for you. This will become even clearer as we move on through this unique chapter on the New Testament.

For an in-depth commentary on the mystery set forth in verse 51, read the excerpt taken from the "Notes Critical and Practical" by M Sadler.

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