“… In the same way we call Christ our bread, because he is the food of those who are members of his body.” – St. Cyprian
John 6:16-35: That evening the disciples went down to the shore of the lake and got into a boat to make for Capernaum on the other side of the lake. It was getting dark by now and Jesus had still not rejoined them. The wind was strong, and the sea was getting rough. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming towards the boat. This frightened them, but he said, ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’ They were for taking him into the boat, but in no time it reached the shore at the place they were making for.
Next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side saw that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves. Other boats, however, had put in from Tiberias, near the place where the bread had been eaten. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered: ‘I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat. Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you, for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’ So they said, ‘What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus answered: ‘I tell you most solemnly, it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven, the true bread; for the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’. ‘Sir,’ they said ‘give us that bread always.’ Jesus answered: ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.’
Christ the Lord Jesus is not flattered by the adulation of the crowds. He is acutely aware that his mission is not to bring people a paradise on earth (which is what they want – “You are… looking for me… because you had all the bread you wanted to eat”), but to bring them “bread from heaven,” the truth and freedom of living in communion with God. He will not accept their allegiance unless they accept his message; he will not compromise his undertaking to enjoy an ego trip. Christ is a Leader entirely focused on his mission, not on himself. If we are to be faithful to him, we need to follow in those footsteps.
Christ the Teacher The Jewish rabbis had long predicted that the Prophet who would come to carry on Moses’ work of salvation would prove himself through a miracle similar to that of the manna, the bread which God miraculously sent his people each morning during their forty years of wandering through the desert – bread “from heaven” as they called it, meaning from the sky. Such a sign is what the people are asking for here. Christ responds by explaining that the miraculous bread they are talking about – the promised Messianic sign – is much more than an abundance of bread that will feed the body; it is bread that actually comes from heaven (not just from the sky) and imbues the world with divine life. The people’s eager response, “Give us that bread always,” shows that they have understood the elevated nature of this new manna, and they desire it.
Through that conversation, and through the miracle of the multiplication of loaves that took place the previous day, Jesus has prepared them for this crucial moment, the first announcement of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the living sacrifice of and communion with Christ’s own body and blood which will inundate the world with his very life. He had been looking forward to telling them. Now the time had come. We can imagine the moment in which he speaks the next phrase, how he paused to search their faces, looking into their eyes, hoping that they would respond with faith and trust, but knowing that many of them would not. Finally, as they gaze on him with keen anticipation, he speaks: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.” He spoke those tremendous, mysterious words and then stood looking intently into their faces, eagerly hoping for a trusting response of childlike faith. What went through their minds? What goes through our minds?
Christ the Friend Jesus knows the deepest yearnings of our hearts; he knows what we hunger for, what we thirst for: happiness, meaning, and fulfillment. He knows it, because he made us to desire lasting joy and satisfaction. When we achieve that, we are achieving the purpose for which he created us. But he also knows that we cannot do it alone. Ever since original sin separated us from friendship with God, our most fundamental desire has been frustrated. That’s why he came to earth; that’s why he established his Church; that’s why he constantly embraces us through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. In Christ, the human heart feasts on the abundance of life for which it was made; without Christ, it slowly starves.
Jesus: Your heart is restless, I know. That’s good. You want more out of your life; I do too. I am what you’re looking for. Know me better; listen to me; trust me more. Why do you keep trying to be a saint on your own? Your efforts can do nothing alone. I am not asking you to go off and become perfect and then come back to me so I can let you into my Kingdom. My Kingdom is not something you get into by submitting a résumé, as if you were applying for a job. My Kingdom is my family. You don’t have to earn my love; I love you already. You only have to trust me, lean on me, and follow me. Why else would I give my own life to be your food? Be at peace. I am with you.
Christ in My Life Thank you for caring more about my salvation than your reputation, Lord. Thank you for staying faithful to your mission. Thank you for refusing to flatter the crowds and insisting on teaching the truth. O Lord, you have made me your ambassador, so give me that same burning desire to build your Kingdom. Cleanse my desires, purify my heart, and teach me to seek your will above all things…
I believe that you are truly present in the Eucharist. I believe that you want to give me your own life, to enable me to share in your divine nature, to bring me into your family. I want to eat this bread, Lord. I want to eat it worthily, to receive you with faith, hope, and love, not just out of routine, not just because everyone else does it. O Lord, stir up in my mind a deep awareness of your gift in the Eucharist…
Okay, Lord, I admit it once again: I cannot follow you by relying only on my own strength. I need your grace. You want it that way. You created me to need you, so that I would be drawn by my own inner yearnings to live in a communion of knowledge and love with you. Be my strength, Lord; be my light, my food, my joy, my all…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art for this post on John 6:16-35: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Gathering of the Manna, James Tissot, ca 1896-1902, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Brotvermehrungskirche in Tabgha, Altar und Mosaik: vier Brote und zwei Fische. Auf diesem Felsen soll Jesus die fünf Brote und zwei Fische während der Brotvermehrung abgelegt haben (“Rock of the Multiplication”, in the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, on which Jesus is said to have multiplied the five loaves and two fishes represented on the mosaic), Berthold Werner, 21 November 2008, own work, PD-Worldwide; Detail from Canonization ceremony of Brazilian Friar Frei Galvão celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at the Campo de Marte, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Fabio Pozzebom/ABr, 11 May 2007, CCA 3.0 Brazil; all Wikipedia Commons.