This is the Bread that Came Down from Heaven

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“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58). With these words, Jesus has deepened the intimacy of the Incarnation and taken us to a new level of understanding. Much of what Jesus said was troubling to his hearers, but nothing he said caused more consternation than these words, both then and now.

In this passage from John’s gospel, Jesus is revealing who he is to us. “I am the bread of life” (verse 48). Then he reminds his fellow Jewish listeners of the scriptures speaking about the time when they were wandering in the desert after God had freed them from the Egyptians. They were hungry and complaining to Moses saying, “[In Egypt] we sat around the pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3) And God, once again, comes to the aid of Moses and the people and provided them with heavenly bread every morning in the form of manna, and meat each evening in the form of quail. Moses said of the manna, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat” (verse 15). But though they were given this bread, this honey-sweet manna by the Lord, they still died.

Then Jesus tells them that he is the bread of life that comes down from heaven and that, “…whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (verse 51). This, as we see, caused quarrels among the Jews. Many could not accept such an idea. They did not understand who Jesus really was. Jesus challenges them even further when he says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (verses 53-56).Jesus reiterated this divine truth at the Last Supper, when he blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. And likewise he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” (Luke 22:19-20, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24).

What Jesus says, Jesus means. This is no symbol. When Jesus uses the ontological predicate, that is, the verb to be, saying, “I Am the bread of life,” he is talking about reality, a reality far beyond our human sense of it. This can be understood only in the light of faith. He is telling us who he is, was, and always will be. Then, when we see Jesus at Last Supper, we see him reinforcing this idea that he is the Bread of Life. He is telling us the truth. To believe in Jesus is to believe in every word that comes from his mouth. Every word that comes from his mouth is from the Father. It is the Holy Spirit that reveals this to us in faith. And when we do this, when we take and eat this Bread of Life, believing that it is Jesus we are receiving, he promises us that we “will remain in him and he in us.” He will raise us up to eternal life. What an inexpressible gift! This is a gift of love beyond the telling of it.

Lord, We believe that you are the Bread of Life that gives eternal life. You came among us and gave your life for our salvation and you continue to give yourself to us when we take and eat, when we take and drink, doing this “in memory of you.” Help us to desire this union with you more and more. Make us strong in faith. We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.