The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Kings 19:4-8 + Ephesians 4:30-5:2 + John 6:41-51
August 8, 2021
“… the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
At the start of John 6, as we heard two Sundays ago, “the people … were going to come and carry [Jesus] off to make Him king” because of the miraculous signs that He worked. By contrast, today’s Gospel Reading is where John 6 turns south. This is where the crowds begin their murmuring against Jesus. They begin raising objections to His claims. This is the murmuring and objecting that will lead to most of the crowd abandoning Jesus by the chapter’s end, as we will hear two Sundays from now.
At the very beginning of today’s Gospel Reading, “The Jews murmured against Jesus because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from Heaven’”. Their reason for murmuring is not so much that Jesus is simply claiming to be some sort of “bread”. They seem to accept that claim of Jesus as an innocent sort of metaphor: someone who is bread offers nourishment, somewhat like a parent in our own day being called a “breadwinner”. Jesus calling Himself bread seems just a metaphor, so that’s not what bothers the Jews.
Instead, when Jesus declares “I am the bread that came down from Heaven”, what really bothers the Jews is that Jesus is claiming to come down from Heaven. They murmur: How can this be when we know his father and mother? He’s one of them, not someone sent down from Heaven. But Jesus does not bother long responding to this concern.
Jesus moves forward by doubling down on His real claim, which has at this point passed right over the crowd’s heads. More important than the fact that He’s come down from Heaven is the question of who He is. Towards the end of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus gives us three answers to the question of who He is.
Jesus first 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.” Third, Jesus calls Himself “the living bread”. In all three answers, Jesus explains that He is not just nourishment. He hasn’t just come down from Heaven in order to fill stomachs. It’s not bread for the stomach, but bread for the soul. Jesus is a bread that offers a life that’s stronger than death.
Then Jesus reveals the awesome Mystery of His identity further. In the very last phrase of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus stakes the claim that makes or breaks His disciples. He claims not just that He is bread, and not just that as bread He gives a life stronger than death.
Jesus declares: “the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus is not just “bread”. He is not just “food for the hungry”. Jesus is not just bread that offers life. Jesus is not just bread that strengthens you to survive death. Jesus is the divine Word made Flesh, and His Flesh is the bread that He “will give for the life of the world.” This is the heart of John 6.
His Flesh is bread. Jesus’ sermon on the Bread of Life makes clear just how radical the Holy Eucharist is. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is not just a symbol or sign. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, the divine Word made Flesh.
Those who murmured when Jesus said that He had come down from Heaven are going to murmur even worse against this claim of Jesus: that the bread that He will give is His Flesh. Of course, you can read the rest of the story by taking your Bible and reading the whole of John 6. This would be especially helpful this year, because next Sunday the passage from John 6 that we would usually hear will be displaced by the August 15th celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption.
Jesus gives us His flesh in order to give us life in this fallen world. This is the life that is divine, which is to say that it’s self-sacrificial. Jesus offers us this life in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus asks us to live in daily life with the depth of self-sacrifice that He offered on the Cross. The strength to live such a life of self-sacrifice comes from this very Bread of Life.