The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven, ” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
~ John 6:41-51
This Gospel passage opens up with a lot of murmuring. The people just heard Jesus say he is the bread of life and they grasp to understand the meaning of such words. At the use of the description murmuring, one could think of the constant chattering of worldly opinions, philosophies that put man in the place of God and pleasure in place of conscience. This is set against the background of false religions, those which embrace a multitude of gods, many superstitions or a distorted image of Jesus Christ. Cold, hard atheism clangs against abstract spiritism, a loud cacophony, seeking to distract and lure one away from the source of life.
It is easy to think of Jesus as God “come down from heaven” or man “Is this not the son of Joseph?” but not both God and man. For some reason, humanity is sharply conscious of the great chasm between man and divinity. Guilt plagues his conscience. He finds it difficult to grasp that God has come to bridge that gap. All the greatest heresies either went to one extreme or the other. Docetism claimed that Jesus was Divine but only appeared human. The Ebionites regarded Jesus as the human Messiah but not Divine. Gnosticism was a powerful heresy in the Early Church which held all material things to be corrupt. They denied the Incarnation. The human mind throughout history failed again and again to grasp a Jesus who was True God and True man and small break-off sects still deny this today. Atheism, the wildly popular philosophy of modern times, denies that divinity exists at all. The professing Christian is assaulted by confusion from every side!
Jesus puts a halt to it: “Stop murmuring among yourselves!” His voice offers clarity and invites us to instead listen to his words: “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” Thus listening leads to something more. First the wicked voices are silenced, ignored then the heart opens. Listening is the pathway to right belief. What are Jesus’s words but an affirmation he has truly come from the Father? What he offers is a miraculous gift compared to the manna- but surpassing in greatness. After eating manna, the Israelites tasted death but what Jesus has grants eternal life. He says not just bread, but “living bread” He, the living and effectual Word of God, gives his very self. Did Jesus not say “I am the resurrection and the life?” (John 11:25). He reaffirms that he is life itself and those who believe in him shall be called the living.
“The bread I give is my flesh for the life of the world” Jesus’s words point directly forward to the cross. He knows the sacrifice he will be called to make and immediately ties his “Bread of Life discourse” with it. This is a poignant statement for those who wish to disconnect the events of the Last Supper from the cross. They simply cannot be disconnected. Taking bread he said “This is my body, given up for you.” (Matt 26:26). On the cross he showed it forth in plain sight. All who stood beneath the gruesome cross saw the flesh given for the life of the world. In every Mass, the graces from that one-time sacrifice are renewed. Like the Passover of Old, the Holy Mass is a memorial sacrifice, making present our exodus from sin and death. The bread of the altar removes all hunger and thirst. The bread of life removes all death. Rightly did St. Ignatius of Antioch call the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality.”
The Catholic Church, in her wisdom, obliges all faithful Catholics to attend Mass, and receive communion at least once a year. It is not a duty but rather medicine to give us strength. Imagine what would happen if we only ate once a year! No, we must be fed. In the Old Testament reading for today, we see this aspect clearly played out with the prophet Elijah. Giving him bread in the desert wasteland, an angel says “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” (1 Kings 19:4-8) And we read in another place that the manna rained down until the Israelites “Came to a habitable place” (Exodus 16:35). Certainly, it is the same with the manna Jesus gives us? Our earthly life is a desert journey with storms and perils at every turn. We eat the bread of life until we come to the Promised Land: heaven. Then we shall behold Jesus, who will no longer come under the appearance of bread but as he is, face to face.