“Jesus said to them, I am the Bread of Life!“
“Jesus, the Bread of Life”
by Fr Lukasz Nawrat SDB
The people were looking for Jesus, and they could not find him. They were looking for him because he had earlier satisfied their physical hunger. Jesus had given them in plenty, as He always did. When they finally found him, they were asking him wrong question – a curious one, enquiring how he went on the other side of the lake.
In our own lives, we can do the same thing. We look for Jesus in variety of places, … and we are unable to find him. And when we do find Him, we are asking many questions, the ‘how’ or ‘why’ questions. Questions to satisfy our knowledge and curiosity, so we might possess and have power, rather than simply to be.
But Jesus does not answer such questions, instead he invites us to look deeper into our own hearts and says “Do not work for food which cannot last, but work for food that endures into eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you”. Only after hearing these words do people in the Gospel story start to ask proper question of Jesus ‘What must we do if we are to do works which God wants?’.
Have I ever asked Jesus what He wants from me? Or rather do I keep asking Him for what I want? Food, a better life, newer and better things, a perfect relationship, better health of mind and body, a release from suffering, and so on. We could spent our entire day listing them to God, and not get any answers.
Jesus wants us to go into the depths of our hearts, to our true self, without expectations, without questions, without demands. Just to be in His presence, to listen to His voice in silence, and to receive Him in the sacraments. Jesus teaches us in this Gospel that nothing in this world… can fully satisfy our hunger or and thirst, only Him. As Jesus says: ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry. He who believes in me will never thirst.’
I invite you to find some quiet time with Jesus each day, without demands, questions, or requests… Just to be with Him. Trusting in His Love, Mercy and Power. Listening to his Word. Jesus knows you better then anyone else. Let Him into your spiritual life… and you will never be hungry or thirsty again.
God bless you!
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Exodus 16:2-4,12-15
The whole community of the sons of Israel began to complain against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, ‘Why did we not die at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we were able to sit down to pans of meat and could eat bread to our heart’s content! As it is, you have brought us to this wilderness to starve this whole company to death!’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now I will rain down bread for you from the heavens. Each day the people are to go out and gather the day’s portion; I propose to test them in this way to see whether they will follow my law or not.
‘I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel. Say this to them, “Between the two evenings you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have bread to your heart’s content. Then you will learn that I, the Lord, am your God.”’
And so it came about: quails flew up in the evening, and they covered the camp; in the morning there was a coating of dew all round the camp. When the coating of dew lifted, there on the surface of the desert was a thing delicate, powdery, as fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When they saw this, the sons of Israel said to one another, ‘What is that?’ not knowing what it was. ‘That’ said Moses to them ‘is the bread the Lord gives you to eat.’
How are we to translate an image of people starving in the desert to our experiences of hunger today? What sort of hunger? Physical? Spiritual? What about the image of a migrant people fleeing from oppression? What about the image of a caring God who sends what the people in the desert called manna? How does that fit with our personal experience of life? Even though we do not know what the manna was (the word manna means what is this?) the story reminds us that God heeds our concerns and continually holds out to us the miracle of life. Just as God quenched the people’s thirst and satisfied their hunger in the desert so, too, God reaches out to us in the deserts of justice and spirit we constantly encounter! Note the morning: the time of God’s help. And God’s help comes every day! Do we understand God’s ways? Do we trust God’s care and providence that comes with the morning? Or must we ask what is this like the people in the desert? Is manna something tiny like sprinkles of frost, or coriander seed, or like melty honey wafers? Can it be easily explained? There is a mystery here that Christians read in the light of Christ. Is he your manna? Is he the way to God? Do you sit with the mystery of his life-enhancing presence? Do you seek the spiritual help and sustenance he came to give? Is he our food in the wilderness of contemporary culture or do we seek our own way?
LORD, Adonai, manna is saving paradox, mystery, symbol of your morning care, your concern, your compassion and our enduring need. It is also a test of our trust in your providence as we make our way through the spiritual deserts all around us. Your manna graces our spirits to endure. It challenges us to live through faith in you, through loving-kindness, through gratitude and a thankful heart. It sings of compassionate fellowship with all that is! LORD, in you we are complete, whole, open to wonder! Manna is your creative power whispering through the cosmos. Manna is your promise. It is your vision unfolding in unexpected places of wisdom. It is the comfort of the Spirit pointing to your Chosen One. You give us your manna new every morning! May you be praised forever and ever! Amen.
Psalm 78 is the first of several psalms (the others are Psalms 105, 106, 135, and 136) that focus on history to make their point. It describes itself as a parable and dark sayings from of old that have as their goal to teach and recall the wonders of the LORD. The verses chosen for today focus on the story of the manna in the desert and make the link to the gospel. The question arises for us: will we declare to the generation to come the glorious deeds of the LORD and his strength and the wonders that he wrought? Will we tell the story of God’s love for all people everywhere? Will we affirm that God showers us with heavenly bread? Or will we fear the reactions of others to our faith? Will we remain silent and leave the human spirit malnourished?
LORD, Adonai, you are the source and ground of all being and meaning! The foundations of the earth are yours! You are the fountain of life, living water from the Rock, and connection with you opens windows to blessings in glorious abundance! You bless us with manna! You shower us with lavish sustenance and care! You draw us to the holy mountain! You call us into your temple of silence! Hear our songs of gratitude and praise. May we never put you to the test! May we always be faithful to you, always embrace the magnitude of your forgiveness. Now and forever. Amen.
2nd Reading – Ephesians 4:17,20-24
I want to urge you in the name of the Lord, not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live. Now that is hardly the way you have learnt from Christ, unless you failed to hear him properly when you were taught what the truth is in Jesus. You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.
Paul says, open your eyes to the reality of the true and the false self, the new and the old, the sullied self that serves self-centred illusions. There is a choice to be made every day. Which self shall I favour? Which will I listen to as I go about my daily life? Which self lives through my reactions, my conditioning, and my unhelpful habits? To choose a Christian life is to choose to be different and such a choice has real consequences. Are we ready for the consequences? Does our Christianity depend on cultural consensus or on the Church being socially acceptable? Has my faith become one-dimensional or shallow, something of selfish use in dark times but insensitive to the needs of others?
Lord Jesus, help us. Teach us how to break free of the futility of our minds and come to you each day. You hold the treasures of transforming truth. Bless us with your wisdom and love. Send angels of light to show us your sacred way. Help us to recognise the ways of the false self, the self of reaction, conditioning and destructive habits. Show us how to live the true self, the spiritual self rooted in you and formed in you, the self that knows the ways of serene service and humble joy. Help us walk in the ways of God, the ways of holy decency, justice and truth. Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – John 6:24-35
JWhen the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into 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?’
‘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.’
‘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.’
Jesus, who had gone alone to the hills and mountains, challenged the people and challenges our faith today. He tells us that the work of God is to believe in the one he has sent. He chides the crowd for not recognising what he had done as a sign. What they wanted was a free lunch not food for the soul! Like them, he invites us all to seek a way of life that feeds the deepest needs of the human heart and spirit: the true bread from heaven. Their seeking and finding was false. What about ours? Sit for a moment in silence remembering that Jesus is the glad giver of the food that endures for eternal life. More, the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The world needs what Jesus brings because there is more than manna here, more than coriander seeds or frost crystals or honey wafers. We are in the presence of the Bread of Life! I am the bread of life, Jesus said, whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. “I am,” he said, words with which the Old Testaments names the LORD! Sit with the implications and let him minister to you!
Lord Jesus, you make the hills and mountains holy, the wilderness and secluded places. You make them a temple of silence and prayer, places of encounter with Abba-God. May we follow you there and sit quietly with you! May we pray and meditate with you and like you, one with you. We believe that you are the promised holy one, the one sent to heal and make us whole, the one on whom Abba-God has set his seal. You bless us with true manna, the true Bread of oneness that transforms the deepest needs of the human heart and spirit: the true bread from heaven, the Bread that gives life to the world. You are the glorious I Am! We come to you today! You are our manna, you are our Eucharist. May we never hunger, may we never thirst for any other than you! Now and forever. Amen.
The people who were fed miraculously by Jesus must have been surprised when they came to him again. They went back to look for him and could not find him at first, but when they did find him, they got a most unexpected reception. Jesus reproached them: they were not looking for him because of the signs he had given but because of the benefit they had gained from what he had done. They were not looking for signs that would help them to believe better but for food to satisfy their hunger once more. The reaction of Jesus is unusual, almost unfair. He criticizes the people who come looking for him, and even before they declare their intentions, he dismisses them as unworthy. This Jesus who is capable of working miracles is surprising at times, and incredibly strict. The people who came in search of him had good reason, for without him they were in danger of returning to their state of hunger, and there was nobody else they could count on to satisfy their need so easily. If Jesus escaped from their lives, they would have lost an opportunity to experience further miracles. They still needed him, because they still had needs they could not meet without him.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
The discourse on the bread of life (Jn 6, 22-59) took place at Capernaum (Jn 6, 22.24). Jesus has just fed the crowd (Jn 6, 1-15) and rescued his disciples from a storm at sea (Jn 6, 16-21). Now the crowd and the disciples gather round him again.
The first part of the discourse (Jn 6, 25-34) opens with a question from the crowd, to which Jesus does not respond directly (Jn 6, 25). The people are puzzled by the sudden appearance of Jesus in Capernaum (Jn 6, 22). Their search for him was prompted and guided by the hope that he could once again satisfy their needs. Jesus reveals their unspoken motivation. They had witnessed a miracle and had benefitted from it (Jn 6, 26). But they had not grasped its deeper meaning. It is not worth their while making an effort to search for Jesus, if all they want is to be sure of receiving material bread (Jn 6, 27). The effort is worthwhile only if they seek the bread that lasts forever. The Son can give that bread, because he has the gift from God, God’s seal, his Spirit (Exod 28, 11).
That revelation of Jesus is met with incomprehension. The Jews are willing to fulfil some works, some precepts of the law. They agree to work for something which is not just daily nourishment, and they ask what works are pleasing to God. They did not understand what Jesus had told them – the one who gives eternal life is the beloved of God. The bread is not the fruit of their own work but a gift to be received. Jesus corrects their understanding by telling them that working for God consists in believing in the one he has sent. It is not about trying to do things but rather accepting someone as sent by God. This is the work that ensures the bread of life (Jn 6, 29).
They do not believe and they require proof. The sign of the multiplication of bread (Jn 6, 30) is not enough for them. They refer to Moses who gave them the law and overcame their incredulity with a sign – the manna in the desert (Jn 6, 31). The people who had been fed miraculously ask for further signs. They want Jesus to prove his legitimacy, in the same way as Moses had proved his. From working for the people, satisfying their hunger, Jesus passes to the work of God, faith in the one he sent. This now centres attention on the work of the Son.
Jesus rejects their claims, without denying them, but by overcoming them. And he does so solemnly. The bread of Moses was not true bread. It was used up, and became corrupt if it was not used. (Exod 16,15-21). It did not satisfy the people’s hunger (Num 11,4). The only bread that guarantees life is the bread that only the Father can give (Jn 6, 32). It comes from heaven and gives life to the world (Jn 6, 33). Just like the manna which was a gift from God, so also this bread comes down from heaven, but, unlike the manna, it gives life to the world, not just to Israel.
The people’s lack of understanding is now seen in their wrong interpretation of the nature of the true bread. They think it comes down from the upper regions, that it is to be eaten again and again, and that it merely preserves natural life. They are hungry for this bread. The failure of the Jews to understand calls for a further revelation from Jesus and he introduces a new development in his discourse (6, 35-51b). For the first time he uses the formula “I am” (Jn 6,41.48.51), the formula God used in the Old Testament to refer to his salvific will (cf. Exod 15,26; Ps 35,3). The essential needs of man are met in his person – I am the bread of life (6, 35.48). The same is true in the real miracle worked by Jesus. The multiplication of the bread was nothing more than a sign that he who was capable of satisfying the hunger of the crowd is himself, in person, the life that has no end.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
The multitude went in search of Jesus because he had satisfied their hunger. When their hunger returned, it led them to come to him once again. With unusual harshness, Jesus unmasks their real motives. They are looking for him for what he can give them, not for who he is. They search for him because they want bread, but they will never totally satisfy their hunger by eating bread that perishes. Their effort deserves a better end and a greater recompense. Faith in him would mean they could have him as imperishable food. They lose the greater gift because they go in search of a lesser one. If we look for God for the sake of what he gives us, we are only nourishing our needs. Seeking him for who he is eliminates the need to seek further nourishment. God does not let himself be found if he is sought only to satisfy our needs. He would show little respect for himself if he allowed himself to be transformed into merely meeting our needs, however spiritual or urgent they may be.
These good people were full of good will when they embarked on their boats and crossed the lake in search of the only one who could satisfy their hunger, and yet Jesus received them with a reproach. You are looking for me “because you ate your fill of the loaves.” And even though that was their only motive – that they sought him so that he could satisfy their hunger again – it had been reason enough for Jesus to work the first miracle a little while earlier. The people were merely looking for what Jesus had already given them. But that is not how Jesus saw it on this occasion. What harm could there be in working a miracle to provide them with the necessities of life? What is wrong with doing everything possible to guarantee life? If someone offers us bread, without any effort on our part, and is able to satisfy our most essential needs, would it not be foolish of us to let him out of our sight and not maintain our friendship with him, and have everything we need at our disposal? Who among us would not do the same?
Those people went out of their way in search of this perishable bread, and according to what Jesus said, were not concerned about the food that lasts, because they were missing something. St Augustine says we are to seek Jesus for who he is, and he has Jesus saying. “You are looking for me, but not because of who I am. Look for me, myself.” And it could be that we are missing the same thing. We spend our time, and our lives, looking for food that does no more than satisfy our hunger, and we keep on seeking nourishment from that food. Jesus does not want us to search for him and follow him just to be satisfied for the time being, with bread that meets our hunger. Jesus wants us to come to God when we are unable to find nourishment ourselves. He criticises us if we turn to God only because we have not had enough to meet our needs.
To tell the truth, we have to admit that we often turn to God when we need something, and we fail to recognize that, deep down, God is the only thing we need, He alone is necessary. We tend to forget that God is good, not because of what he gives us, but that he gives us what he wants to give us, because he loves us. Like the people who came to Jesus, we come to realize that God is greater than our needs. However vital our needs may be, they are only a sign of our need for God. Seeking God only for what he can give us lowers him to the level of our needs. And yet, is it not true that we normally turn to God only when we are in need of something?
Jesus criticized the crowd who sought him only to satisfy their needs. He found fault with them not because they were in need, but because they did not realize their need of him. They came to him because they were hungry and they remembered that he had fed them. It was not that they wanted to be with Jesus, but they wanted to be fed. Jesus wanted the poor people to realize that they had been hungry once, and he had fed them that once. But he was unhappy that the interest of the people was so trivial and unworthy – small and short-lived, like their hunger.
Indeed, what good would it be to have a God that we turn to only to satisfy our hunger and our needs? A God that we make use of only when we need something is a useless God, puny and ephemeral as our little momentary needs. A God that meets our needs might be useful at times, but will never be the true God. If we look for God only when we need something, then we can also do without God at times. A God who satisfies our needs, whenever we happen to be in need, is no more than a product of our poverty.
God can defend himself from us, as Jesus did that day, by giving us hunger that remains unsatisfied, and needs that are unmet. It is because, like Jesus, he wants us to seek him, not just for what he can give us, but for what he wants to be for us. Reducing God to one who satisfies our hunger can be to our advantage for the time being, but it means making him as ordinary and insignificant as we are ourselves. It could well be that we are losing God simply because we want him only for the sake of his gifts, for his help and the good things he gives us. We seek him, not because he is good, but for the sake of the things we want. If we turn to God to make up for our lack of resources, it is not because we love God, but because we love ourselves. Our search for God, like that of the crowd that day, is nothing more than an act of self-love. And if eventually we find him, instead of a miracle Jesus will give us a rebuke. Now, as then, Jesus does not want to be sought after for the good things he can give us, but for his own sake because he is good.
It is true that most of us today, unlike the people who went in search of Jesus then, do not know what our real need is. It is also true that when we get hungry, we are able to satisfy our need easily, without recourse to God. God is not necessary any more, either because we do not suffer hunger, or because we are able to satisfy out hunger ourselves. If we don’t want to lose God forever, we will have to rediscover our hunger, not for perishable bread but for authentic life. However much we may hide it, we all live nourishing our own needs, we live for the things we want and the people we want, for the good things we have not got and are still looking for. God has made us needy, incapable of quenching our thirst and satisfying our hunger, because he wants nothing and nobody to take his place in our hearts. If we forget our hunger, or find the remedy to satisfy it ourselves, we will have neither time nor reason to seek God. And if we never seek God, then we have lost God forever.
And yet, we have him always close at hand. In the Eucharist Jesus, our God, has become bread for our hunger and remedy for our poverty. Because he wants to be for us both food and rest, he has left us hungry and anxious. We are poor and needy so that we may always have need of him and he can be our riches. It is true, our state of dependence may not make us happy, but we should be consoled by the knowledge that God has prepared bread for our hunger and wine for our thirst. In the plan of God, Christ Jesus is the bread of heaven and nourishment for our life. We may have made the mistake, like the people who went in search of him, of hoping only for a God to satisfy our needs, but we can still come to him and say what the crowd said, “Lord, give us this bread always. Do not allow us to satisfy our own needs. Do not let us become self-sufficient, but make us understand that you alone are our good, you alone are bread for our hunger and the support of our lives.