”I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
What is this teaching? What is Jesus saying to us?
As God fed the Jews in the desert with manna, the ‘bread of angels’, to sustain them on their journey to the promise land, we too are fed by Jesus, the Bread of Life, on our journey toward the heavenly kingdom. But how are we fed? How do we ‘eat the flesh’ of Christ? How do we consume Jesus, taking Him within ourselves, so we may have life?
Of course, we have the Eucharist. We have the bread and wine consecrated in the sacrifice of the mass, established by Jesus at the Last Supper. Bread and wine transubstantiated – miraculously changed – becoming His Body and Blood – Soul and Divinity. The Bread we eat, the flesh of Christ, given for the life of the world.
There is more to our understanding though. The scholars of Israel saw the Torah, the Law given to them by God, as being bread of heaven. They consumed this “bread” through study and adherence to the Law of God. Many of the prophets described their study of God’s Law as ‘eating the scrolls’ upon which God’s Law was written. The Jewish people understood that this was the only way to God – faithful learning and practice of the Law. So, the idea of consuming God’s word – eating the bread of God - was already an established concept in the time of Jesus.
Jesus is the Word of God, the Bread come down from heaven. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We can only come to the Father through Him, who is the Truth of God that leads to eternal Life. Through Him we come to know God’s love and mercy. In the giving of his flesh on the cross we have salvation; leading to eternal life.
But how does this Bread of Life act on my life?
How am I changed when I eat the Bread of Life, the flesh of Jesus Christ?
What did the Lord mean when He told Elijah to get up and eat the cake He gave him, ‘else the journey will be too long for him’?
How do we understand the Lord when He said, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God?’
When we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus in the Eucharist, we are called to put on Christ, to surrender to the Holy Spirit and allow God to dwell within us. We are called to be changed. We are called to enter into a closer relationship with Jesus; living fully in God’s image and likeness.
To enter into this closer relationship with Jesus: to become His disciple, is to be like the prophets ‘eating the scrolls’. It is to live more fully in the Lord Jesus as His disciples. To be His disciple be His follower; bringing His Good News to the world, living as He lived, and loving as He loves. Discipleship is learning to be like Jesus – watching Him, listening to Him, sharing with Him, imitating Him: entering fully into His life. Coming into a close, personal relationship with Jesus; calling Him our Lord and Savior.
As with all relationships, we get out of them what we put into them. If they are casual and occasional relationships, they cannot be called really close and personal – they are more of a nodding acquaintanceship rather than a true relationship. But if our relationships are filled with interest in and intimate knowledge of the other: marked by daily encounters and intimacy, they become intense and personal: loving, caring and enduring - very much like the relationship Jesus desires to have with each one of us.
We grow our relationship with Jesus through a lifetime of prayer, reading scripture (to know scripture is to know Christ) and Eucharist, which brings us ever closer to Him. Our relationship becomes a comfortable friendship, like the relationship God had with Adam and Eve in the Garden before the fall. As we speak with Jesus, listen to Jesus and be present with Him, we move into this ever closer personal relationship with Him.
In this way we receive Jesus in the fullest – feasting on the Bread of Life – the food that fills us and satisfies our hunger for the holy. He is the One who provides for us and the whole world, so we may have enough to eat, “else the journey will be too long” for us as we move toward eternal life. ~Amen