The Word of God and the Bread of Life

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau

Jn 6:51-58


This passage is the concluding part of the discourse on the Bread of Life taught by Jesus in the synagogue of Capernaum after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The people saw the sign; they decided to take Him by force to make Him king (cf. Jn 6:14-15).

Why do these amazed and admiring crowds seek Jesus? They are moved by an immature faith. They are interested in Jesus just because they think He is able to satisfy through miracles their material needs. Mature faith is something else. It is that of those who understand that Jesus does not perform miracles to impress but to introduce a deeper reality.

In Capernaum, the crowd does not understand. Jesus attempts to explain the mystery. He starts presenting Himself as the Bread of Life which comes from heaven (cf. Jn 6:33-35). He declares that whoever listens to Him assimilates His message, His gospel, nourishes himself on the words of life. His statement is not heeded.

For the Jews, the bread that came down from heaven is the manna (cf. Ps 78:24) and the food that nourishes is the Word of God (cf. Is 55:1-3). How can “the son of Joseph claim such right?”—they ask indignantly. Instead of mitigating His claim, Jesus makes an even more surprising statement. The bread to eat is not only His doctrine but His own flesh. “The bread I shall give is my flesh, and I will give it for the life of the world.” These are the opening words of today’s passage (v. 51).

Eating this God-made-flesh means recognizing that the revelation of God comes into the world through “the carpenter’s son” and to welcome this wisdom coming from heaven.

Even after this clarification, however, the scandalous aspect of the proposal of Jesus remains. How can one “eat his person”? The shocked reaction of the listeners is understandable and justified: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52). They understand that he is not only referring to the spiritual assimilation of God’s revelation but also to a real “eating.” What does he mean? The discourse on the Eucharist must be recalled here.

Jesus gives the meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is the “fount and summit of all Christian life.” We know that for lack of priests, on Sunday, many Christian communities do not gather around the table of the bread of the Eucharist, but around the Word of God. We are confident that they receive an abundance of life from this unique food available to them.

Eucharist, it must be emphasized, is a sacrament—that really makes the Risen Christ present. It does not substitute the faith in the Word of Christ. Before receiving the Eucharistic bread, it is necessary to listen to and meditate on a Gospel passage. The reading of the Word of God is the essential premise.

Abridged from Fr. Fernando Armellini SCJ