Today we continue with week 2 of 5 on the great Eucharistic chapter, John 6. You may know that there are 2 main interpretations of these such important verses of John 6. One, like many Protestants do, can interpret them as metaphoric- so that the ‘bread of life’ is symbolic for belief or faith in Jesus. In this view, Jesus means the term ‘bread of life’ to be a metaphor like how Jesus says that He is the Gate, or He is the vine, you are the branches. Or the second way to interpret these verses in John 6, is as Catholics do, can interpret them as sacramental- meaning that it is not a metaphor, but that Jesus actually and literally means what he says and that what he says is truly what it is. After reading our Gospel from today, and from my own experience and faith, I have to admit that the metaphoric interpretation is right! …
Now that I have everyone’s attention and before you start yelling- ‘blasphemy’ or ‘heretic’-at me, let me clarify. On one hand, the wording Jesus uses does mean belief or faith in Jesus. After all, Jesus does say in our Gospel, “now this is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent”. And the final verse, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst”. So clearly Jesus does want the people to believe in him, and to come to him in faith. And certainly, it takes faith in who Jesus truly is, for one to believe in what Jesus actually says. Simply put, it takes faith to believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. However, on the other hand, as we read the rest of John 6 over the next couple of weeks, it becomes extremely clear that Jesus meant what he said and that the disciples understood Jesus literally, not simply metaphorically.
But let’s say we simply read the Gospel just for today, without any idea what the rest of John 6 says, it is also clear Jesus does not simply mean that the ‘bread of life’ that He will give is only a metaphor. Again, let me explain by looking more closely at what the Gospel says and what the Manna is from our 1st reading.
If you recall from last week, the beginning of John 6, we heard how a great crowd of Israelites had gathered, over 5000 in number. And because they had not had time to eat, Jesus miraculously multiplied 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish so that every person could eat their full, and there were even 12 baskets left over. But last week’s Gospel concluded saying that Jesus went off by himself before they could make him their king. And our Gospel today begins by telling us that the people were looking for Jesus. In fact, they were looking for Jesus to see if he was the earthly messiah they were waiting for who would be a king and lead them; for they believed that when the messiah would come, he would act like a New Moses who would feed and save them. Therefore, because Jesus multiplied the loaves and gave them their fill of food they were looking for Jesus to make sure that He is the New Moses and Messiah that they were hoping. But when they found Jesus, He said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you”. What Jesus is saying is that he doesn’t want them to come to him just because they want more earthly food, or an earthly king and leader, but Jesus wants them to come to Him for the food that endures to eternal life; which Jesus says that He will give them. Not satisfied, the Israelites ask Jesus for another sign, they want Jesus to work another miracle to show and prove that He is the Messiah in order for them to believe, apparently the multiplication of the loaves wasn’t enough.
And so, they account to Jesus that in the desert their ancestors ate Manna, which was bread from heaven. And when they bring up the Manna, Jesus uses that, he uses their understanding of the Manna to believe that He is the One they have been waiting for and to help them to open their minds and hearts to want the Eucharist, the new and true bread from heaven. He says, “Amen, amen I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world”. Therefore, for us to understand and believe in the Holy Eucharist, let us look closer at what the Manna is, and isn’t, in our 1st reading.
In Exodus 15, God had just saved the Israelites from the pursuit of Pharaoh by parting the Red Sea and letting them cross on dry land while the Red Sea flowed back and swallowed Pharaoh and his army. Then only a few verses later, in their new-found freedom God had just miraculously won for them, the Israelites complain that they were hungry and even become so dramatic that they exaggerate it saying that God led them into the desert just to have them die of hunger. Can you believe that- No, ‘thank you for saving us, God’, no gratitude, just complaining and exaggerating. I am sure glad you and I aren’t ever like the Israelites, right? Instead of putting his children in their place like you and I would have probably done. Exodus 16 says that God tells Moses, “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus I will test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not. In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the Lord, am your God”. And so, Exodus 16 tells us that every Sunday through Friday, God would give them flesh in the form of quail, and in the morning they would have Manna- a new bread that would be left on the grass after the dew clears from the ground, and on Fridays, in preparation for the Sabbath on Saturday, they would be able to gather 2 daily portions. Thus, God would test them to see if they would believe in God’s providing for them each day to their satisfaction.
God was faithful and gave them miraculous flesh in the evening and bread from heaven in the morning, and they ate their fill every day. To be clear, the giving of flesh and bread was not an ordinary, natural occurrence, but it was indeed a miracle each and every day. For it is not ordinary for the food to be there every day, except Saturdays. Notice also that the Israelites themselves testify that it was not ordinary bread, because they did not know what it was. They had to be told, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat”. And so, they stayed alive through to the Promised land by eating their fill of this miraculous food each and every day. Let’s also look at the fact, that the Manna was only temporary, God gave them the miraculous food to keep them alive every day, for 40 years as they were in the desert. Then suddenly, after they reached the Promised Land, where there was already food for them, it is only then, in the Promised Land that the Manna stopped, as Joshua 4 and 5 testifies. It did not stop naturally, because it was supernaturally given from heaven.
Therefore, in summary, what are we to take away from this Gospel reading? Jesus uses the understanding of the Manna to teach that God wants to give us the Eucharist, the new Manna, the true bread from Heaven, which will give life of the world. For it is not just a coincidence that the miraculous food God regularly gave was flesh and bread. And like the Manna the Eucharist will not be ordinary bread, or bread that they would recognize, but unlike the manna it will not be temporary, only last for a time, but the Eucharist, the new bread of life, will endure to eternal life. And so, the people ask Jesus to “give them this bread always”. And Jesus answers to them, “I am the bread of life”. Jesus is declaring to all the world, “I am the bread of life”, I am the new Manna, I am the bread that will be given for the life the world. And so, my brothers and sisters, even though the Eucharist looks like ordinary bread, it is not. And although some might think Jesus only means a metaphor, it is clear that the Manna, just as the Eucharist, was not a metaphor, or a figure of speech. For the Israelites testified that the Manna was not a metaphor, but it was real food that was eaten and which sustained them for the Promised Land. For us, the Eucharist is Christ. So let us take Jesus at his word, let us believe by faith that Jesus is as he says he is, “the bread of life which will give eternal life to the world”.BACK TO LIST