“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58 – NRSV)
There is a clear contrast between the “manna” that sustained the people in the wilderness – in the Exodus – and the “bread” that will sustain us now – in the New Exodus. “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness” (6:49) contrasts with “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51). Jesus represents both continuity and discontinuity.
“The difference between Moses and Jesus is their respective origins. Jesus’ origins pros ton theon (1:1) gave him a unique authority to make God known (1:18). Because this is the case the one who believes in the revelation of Jesus, the true bread who has come down from heaven, has eternal life. The comparison continues between the manna of the Law and Jesus, the true bread from heaven. It is no longer the Law that produces life. Jesus, the true bread from heaven, came to make the Father known and, in doing so, surpasses the former gift of a bread from heaven (cf. vv. 32–33). He is the bread of life (v. 48).” (Francis J Moloney SDB, The Gospel of John, (Vol. 4, p. 218). Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998. 218.)
“The Johannine celebration of the Eucharist lies behind the use of key expressions: ho artos (bread), sarx (flesh), egō dōsō (I will give), hyper (for the sake of). See, for example, Jeremias, Eucharistic Words 106–108. These explicit eucharistic links are seen by most commentators as the introduction to vv. 51c–58, a discrete section within John 6 that deals with the Eucharist. It may be true that the “backbone of vss. 51–58 is made up of material from the Johannine narrative of the institution of the Eucharist” (Brown, Gospel 1:287), but behind the eucharistic language the interpretation given here insists that the fundamental issue is Jesus’ self-gift for the life of the world. His body (“flesh”) will be given over in crucifixion for the life of the world.” (Francis J Moloney SDB, op cit, 220.)
The Jews then disputed among themselves: This echoes Exodus 16:2: “The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.”
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood: “The Hebrew idiom “flesh and blood” means the whole man.” (Raymond E Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII): Introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 29), Yale University Press, 2008, 282.) In other words, the reference is to the whole Christ.
Those who eat: A verb meaning “to eat” is used six times in this brief passage (verses 53-58) in which Jesus responds to the “Jews” who challenge him. The Greek verb esthiō is used in v.53 and again in verse 58. The other four times the Greek verb is trōgō, which is normally used of animals and has a rather crude connotation. It may be translated as “feed”: “In secular Greek this verb trōgein was originally used of animals; but, at least from the time of Herodotus, it was used of human eating as well. It had a crude connotation (see Matt 24:38) reflected in translations like ‘gnaw, munch’. Some scholars deny this, maintaining that John simply uses it for the present tense system of esthiein, the normal verb “to eat.” However, it seems more likely that the use of trōgein is part of John’s attempt to emphasize the realism of the eucharistic flesh and blood. The only other times it appears in John outside of this section is in 13:18 where in the context of the Last Supper it is deliberately introduced into an OT citation, probably as a eucharistic remembrance” (Raymond E Brown, op cit, 283.).
abide in me: A favourite theme for John. The Greek verb menō can be translated as “remain”, “stay”, “make your home”, “abide” etc. It is used repeatedly in John’s Gospel, especially in chapter 15 where we have the parable of the true vine. It expresses the mystical heart of the Christian faith. Raymond Brown suggests the vine is “probably a eucharistic symbol too” (Op cit, 283).
When reading the Hebrew Scriptures, remember that everything there is written after and in the light of the Exodus Event. When reading the Christian Scriptures, remember that everything there is written after and in the light of the New Exodus Event. Jesus is the new Moses, Calvary the new wilderness where the New Covenant is forged. This is epitomized in the proclamation in todays’ Gospel: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever …. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
The Eucharist is at the heart of the Church. Just as Judaism celebrates the Exodus Event in the Feast of Passover, so we celebrate the New Exodus in the Feast of the New Passover: “Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s daily remembrance of, and deeper sharing in, the event of his Passover (cf. Lk 22:19)” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #13). The Church grows through its celebration of the Eucharist and expresses its very essence there. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a nice summary statement by citing two key texts from the Second Vatican Council: “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’ (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #11). ‘The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch’ (The Ministry and Life of Priests, #5).”
Explicating the same teaching embodied in the Second Vatican Council’s rich statement that Eucharist is “source and summit” of the Church’s life, St Thomas Aquinas says: “No other sacrament has greater healing power; through it sins are purged away, virtues are increased and the soul is enriched with an abundance of every spiritual gift.” (Cited in R Sargent, Walking in Newness of Life: The Sacraments of Initiation, Paulist Press, 2007, 44.)
And Pope Francis writes: “The Eucharist …. is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (Evangelii Gaudium, #47). Pope Francis quotes St Ambrose in this context: “I must receive it always, so that it may always forgive my sins”. Pope Francis goes on to say: “These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”
At Communion, we say together with conviction, “Lord I am not worthy …..” When the Eucharistic Minister offers us the Bread of Life, can we bring the same conviction to the “Amen!” that we say there?