Last week’s gospel reading ended with these words: Jesus said to them: I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
This is such an important message that today’s gospel reading opens with exactly the same words.
After hearing about Jesus’ feeding of the 5000, and then hearing of how important it is to remember that Jesus himself is the bread of life, Jesus then reveals himself as being the living bread.
What is more, Jesus tells us that we must actually eat that living bread if we are to attain eternal life.
In these days, there is much concern about what we eat. A healthy diet and concern over obesity has turned into big business. We often hear that we are what we eat.
Perhaps this isn’t such a modern idea! The notion of being what we eat is not far from the principles that lie behind the dietary restrictions enshrined in ancient Jewish law. In Leviticus, the consumption of blood, or meat containing blood, is expressly forbidden.
The 13th-century French rabbi and physician, Ramban, explained that the life (the very soul) of a creature is encapsulated within its blood. Based on this argument, Ramban concluded that the blood of a slaughtered animal should only be spilled as a sacrifice to God. A human being who consumes the blood of another animal consumes the very essence (the soul) of that animal.
This snippet of historical and cultural pseudo-science is actually very important … it puts Jesus’ command to eat the bread of life, that is, his flesh, into a very different light. Jesus’ command to all who would follow him was in direct contravention of Jewish law!
When Jesus says: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh … he is making a very big statement indeed.
In telling his followers to eat his flesh, Jesus is telling them that, in doing so,
- they will begin to resemble him …
- they will take on his attributes …
- they will enjoy the eternal life which he shares with his Father in heaven.
In this modern world, we may prepare food which looks heavenly and tastes divine; we may reserve certain foods for moments of special observance and celebration; we may even reward ourselves with those edible treats that give us feelings of great satisfaction (and sometimes guilt!). BUT the reality remains that, basically, such food is for replenishing our bodies so that we may continue to go on from day to day.
If we eat well we should live a longer and healthier life … BUT there is no earthly diet that has ever succeeded in rewarding its adherents with eternal life.
The desire for eternal life has, throughout the history of the human race, sent people in search of secret knowledge and arcane spiritual practices.
Today, people are obsessed with self-help books and bizarre quasi-religious systems. It is through such life-choices that people are tempted into a world of self-obsession … a world that takes us further and further away from God.
Chapter by chapter the New Testament (and especially John’s gospel) challenges our habits, our customs, our traditions, and our self-imposed restrictions by presenting us with Jesus’ vision of a new world.
Jesus calls us to alter our reality … He calls us to hunger and to thirst for something new … something different … something holy … something truly wonderful.
Jesus tells us what we are to eat if we are to achieve his goal for us … we are to eat the living bread … the living bread which is his flesh.
It doesn’t matter what the customs and practices of the society in which we live have to say about that.
Jesus tells us that, if we are to achieve the eternal life that God is offering, we must be in complete communion with him.
Jesus is offering the sacrifice of himself as the spiritual food for our journey towards God.
And, of course, we are all on that journey … that pilgrimage towards God.
The metaphor of hunger and thirst represents the growing capacity within ourselves to respond to the message of Jesus Christ.
We are never too young or too old … too ignorant or too sophisticated … too insignificant or too important to experience hunger and thirst.
We are never so good at fending for ourselves that we can afford to turn our backs on
- the kinship of all people …
- the gifts of grace and truth …
- the unimaginable oneness with God that we are offered through the living bread, which is Jesus Christ.
Remember: blessed are those who follow the command of Jesus Christ to lead a life which is sustained with the living bread.
Such nourishment is given
- to invigorate and excite …
- to strengthen and sustain …
- to fortify and to inspire …
- to bring us into the eternal presence of our heavenly Father.
It is through our acceptance of the living bread as our staple diet that we will come to live a life worthy of our calling into true discipleship.
It is through our acceptance of the living bread that we will journey in this world Christ-like in our capacity to love and serve.