The Challenge of the Bread of Life Discourse

This is the reality of the Eucharist that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper.

The promises of God made to Adam, to Moses, and to all of the prophets, are fulfilled in the Incarnation of Jesus, who is the Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only begotten Son of God, the One in whom we encounter the living love and mercy of the Father, the One through whom all things came to be, and through whom all have been saved. And the intimate love of God and his desire to remain present to us at all times, comes into a sharp focus in the discourse on the Bread of Life found in the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel.

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“I am the bread of life come down from heaven” (Jn 6:41). These are his words, not the words of the Apostles, or of a particular Church. They are from the very mouth of the one of whom is said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (Jn 1:1). We are told that many of those around him began to murmur when he said this, saying, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven” (Jn 6:42)?

Jesus responds, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me…Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. 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” (Jn 6:43-45, 47-51, 53-56).

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Jesus is not speaking in metaphors here. He is not speaking symbolically. He is not speaking in parables. He is being quite literal. His words here are not frivolous, rather they are chosen precisely for what he intends us to hear…and to believe. He is what he says he is here; not just food for our bodies, but the very food that is necessary for our spiritual, that is, our eternal lives. To bring it down to a rather pedestrian level, he is saying that, ‘You are what you eat’. Jesus is speaking as the Son of God, the Word of the Father here. He means what he says. There is no ambiguity in him.

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In the end, our response is a matter of faith. Can we pick and choose what words of Jesus we are going to accept or believe? Or are we to bend our wills, to accept and to believe that Jesus means what he says? Are we being challenged here to let go of the doubts of our finite minds? Are we being challenged to open our trembling hearts to accept this truth that is beyond our human ‘wisdom’, that can only be known by faith? The people of his time were no different than we are today. They struggled with the reality of those very words themselves. And, as the scripture tells us, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (Jn 6:66).

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And Jesus says to us today, just as he did to his disciples then, “Do you also want to leave”(v. 67)? Will we answer as Peter did, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 68-69). With these words, Jesus puts the challenge before us again today, here and now. Jesus adds the final weight to these words at the Last Supper when he takes bread and breaks it, and then lifts the cup saying, Take and eat, this is my body…‘Drink from this cup, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:26-28, Mk 14:22-24, Lk 22:19-20).

This is the reality of the Eucharist that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper. In the Eucharist we really, in truth, receive the Real body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus into our very bodies and souls. It is in this that we have the promise of eternal life. It is in this food and this drink, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that we are given the strength, the ability to live and love as Jesus commands us to do. Jesus is still asking us today, “Do you believe, or do you also want to leave?”

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