“HE WHO EATS THIS BREAD WILL LIVE FOREVER” (John 6:58)
Deut 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20 (R.v.12a); 1Cor 10:16-17; John 6:51-58
“He Who Eats This Bread Will Live Forever” (John 6:58)
The celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, in a very special way, invites us to reflect on the rich deposit of our faith which informs our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Beyond that however, it affords us of the opportunity to reflect well on what we believe in so as to ensure that we are not dancing outside the beat.
The Gospel reading contains the central message that we are required to get today. That is the fact that Jesus is the food that leads to eternal life. Every living thing needs food to live. All that we are labouring for in life is to have food and security. But nobody would even start talking about security without first getting food.
So Jesus presents himself to the Jews as the real food that all of them need (cf. John 6:55) and anyone who does not eat of him would not have life (cf. John 6:53). Maybe, the Jews should not be blamed so much for their lack of understanding since this teaching came up in response to their reference of the manna which their ancestors ate in the desert (cf. John 6:31). Hence, their understanding might have been historically oriented. But we thank God for the probable input of a redactor in that passage to now also contain an understanding of the institution of the Holy Eucharist. This is suspected to be the reason why the theme of the institution of the Eucharist is missing in the Johannine account of the Last Supper.
What kind of food is Jesus exactly talking about? Given the Johannine character of dual meaning, we cannot claim that Jesus was only talking about spiritual food. He must be referring to material food too, and that would mean, his material flesh. Remember that he earlier fed them with bread and fish in the wilderness (John 6:10-12) and that was around the Passover of the Jews (cf. John 6:4). If you link that up with the celebration of the Last Supper where he gave his disciples bread as his body, we will arrive at a better understanding of having his material flesh as food and that is what we do at the Holy Eucharist when we receive the Holy Communion.
Through the Eucharist, the risen Jesus becomes an eternal food for us and that is where the spiritual food comes out. Holy Eucharist, as a sacrament, points to a deeper spiritual meaning, which is eternal food.
Jesus was repeatedly saying that this bread he is giving came down from heaven. That reminds us of the feeding of the Israelites with manna from heaven in the desert (cf. Exod 16:14-35). But Jesus warned that this bread is different from the manna eaten by their ancestors; whoever eats of this would have eternal life (cf. John 6:58). That is where we see the connection between the Gospel and the First Reading. Both seem to team up and sing that wonderful song for us, Look beyond the bread you eat, see your saviour and your God.
In the First Reading, Moses reminded the Israelites that Man does not live by bread alone but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord (Deut 8:3). Jesus is that Lord; the Shepherd who speaks and the sheep recognizes his voice and follow (John 10:4). They follow him, and others as well, so that there would be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16).
Holy Communion, as the Second Reading points out, ought to serve this purpose of unity of members. It then means that if we receive this communion but are not living in love and unity with one another, we are living a contradictory life.
May God give us the grace to live out, every day of lives, the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus that we celebrate. May he also grant the Holy Spirit to those who are yet to understand their need of this sacrament so as to come and be united with Jesus, their Lord and saviour (see John 6:55). Amen
Peace be with you!