The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Kgs 19:4-8 + Eph 4:30—5:2 + Jn 6:41-51
August 12, 2018
“…the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The past two Sundays’ Gospel passages came from John 6. In both passages “signs” are mentioned. There were the signs that Jesus performed in miraculously healing the sick, and the sign of the Multiplication of the Loaves. But there was a problem with Jesus’ miraculous signs: no one understood what these signs were meant to signify. It’s true, the crowds literally saw the signs themselves. But they did not see their purpose. They saw the “what”, but not the “why”.
Because they misunderstood why Jesus had multiplied the loaves, “the people… were going to come and carry Him off to make Him king.” However, Jesus understood that these people wanted to do the right thing for the wrong reason, and so “He withdrew again to the mountain alone.”
However, these people were stubborn. They went “looking for Jesus”, and “when they found Him”, “Jesus answered… ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.’” Jesus wanted to be their king. But Jesus was thinking “Christ the King”, while the crowds were thinking “Burger King”. Jesus was thinking about souls. The crowds were thinking about stomachs.
The crowds did see that this man could make their lives on earth more comfortable. But they did not see that He worked these signs in order to show them who He truly was. The signs weren’t about them. They were about Him and His identity.
This Sunday the Church proclaims Jesus’ own answer to the question of who He is. His answer will unfold further in the next two Sundays’ Gospel passages.
Within today’s passage, in the span of just four verses, Jesus gives us three answers, each a variation on the other. In each, Jesus describes himself in terms of bread and life. Jesus declares, “I am the Bread of Life.” Then He describes Himself as “the bread that comes down from Heaven so that one may eat it and not die.” Then Jesus calls Himself “the living bread”. In all three of these answers, Jesus tells us that He is a bread that gives life.
“Life” is what Jesus is as God, in His divine nature. “Bread” is what Jesus is for us, in His human nature. It’s through Jesus’ human nature that He shows us His divine love for us, and allows us to share in His divine nature.
In all this, Jesus has been preparing the crowds for His final words in this passage: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” With these words Jesus elevates His use of signs. He goes beyond metaphorical talk about bread and life to discuss the historical offering—on Good Friday—and the sacramental offering—at Holy Mass—of His Flesh as life-giving bread.
Jesus speaks here today, and the next two Sundays, of a sign that will be a sacrament. A sacrament not only signifies, but also manifests and make truly present what it signifies. Christ is speaking to us about the Holy Eucharist when He proclaims: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”