Body and Blood of Christ (A)
Jesus is the Bread of Life
1. Opening prayer
a) A key to the reading:
On the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ we meditate on the last part of the long discourse on the Bread of Life. During this discourse, the Gospel of John helps us to understand the deep meaning of the multiplication of the bread and of the Eucharist. During the reading, we will try to be attentive to the words of Jesus which help people to understand the sign of the Bread of Life.
b) A division of the Text to help in the reading:
John 6,51: The initial affirmation which summarizes everything
c) The Text:
51 I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.' 52 Then the Jews started arguing among themselves, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' 53 Jesus replied to them: In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. 57 As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me. 58 This is the bread which has come down from heaven; it is not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Which part of the text struck me the most? Why?
5. For those who desire to go deeper into the discourse of the Bread of Life.
a) Context in which our text is situated in the discourse of the Bread of Life:
The discourse on the Bread of Life (Jn 6,22-71) is a sequence of seven brief dialogues between Jesus and the persons who were with him after the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus tries to open the eyes of people, making them understand that it is not sufficient to struggle to get the material bread. The daily struggle for material bread does not touch the roots if it is not accompanied by mysticism. The human being does not only live by bread! (Dt 8,3) the seven brief dialogues are a very beautiful catechesis which explains to people the profound significance of the multiplication of the loaves and of the Eucharist. Throughout the dialogue appear the exigencies which the living out of faith in Jesus traces for our life. People react. They remain surprised by the words of Jesus. But Jesus does not cede, he does not change his requirements. And because of this, many abandon him. Even now the same thing happens: when the Gospel begins to demand a commitment, many people abandon it. In so far as the discourse of Jesus advances, less people remain around him. At the end, only the twelve remain and Jesus cannot even trust in them!
Here is the sequence of the seven dialogues which compose the long
discourse on the Bread of Life:
b) Comment on the seven dialogues which make up the discourse of the Bread of Life:
The year 2005 is the Year of the Eucharist. This is the reason why, instead of commenting only on the eight verses of the Gospel of this Sunday (John 6, 51-58), we have thought of giving a general key to understand the seven brief dialogues which make up the whole discourse. A global vision of the whole will help to understand better the meaning and the importance of the eight verses of the liturgical text of this day of Corpus Christi.
1st Dialogue - John 6, 22-27: The people look
for Jesus because they want more bread
The people see the miracle, but they do not understand that it is a question of a sign of something greater and more profound. They stop only on the superficial aspect of the fact, in the distribution of the food. They look for the bread of life, but only for the body. According to the people, Jesus does something which Moses had already done in the past: to feed everyone. And the people wanted the past to be repeated. But Jesus asks the people to take one more step. Do not work for food that goes bad, but work for food that endures for eternal life.
2nd Dialogue – John 6, 28-33: Jesus asks
the people to work for the true bread
The people ask: What must we do if we are to carry out God’s work? And Jesus answers: Believe in the One God has sent! That is, believe in Jesus. And the people react: Give us a sign to understand that you are truly the one sent by God. Our fathers ate the manna that Moses gave them! According to the people, Moses is and continues to be the great leader, in whom to believe. If Jesus wants the people to believe in him, he has to give them a greater sign than that given by Moses. Jesus answers that the bread given by Moses was not the true bread, because it did not guarantee the life of anyone. All died in the desert. The true bread of God is the one which overcomes death and gives life! Jesus tries to help people to liberate themselves from the schema of the past. For Jesus, fidelity to the past does not mean to close up oneself in the things of the past and to refuse or reject renewal. Fidelity to the past means to accept that which is new which is the fruit of the seed planted in the past.
3rd Dialogue - John 6, 34-40: The true bread
is to do the will of God.
The people ask: Lord, give us that bread always! They thought that Jesus was speaking of a special bread. Then, Jesus answers clearly: “I am the bread of life!” To eat the bread of heaven is the same as believing in Jesus and accepting the path that he has shown us, that is: “My food is to do the will of the Father who is in heaven!” (Jn 4, 34). This is the true food which nourishes the person, which always gives us a new life. It is a seed that guarantees resurrection!
4th Dialogue – John 6, 41-51: He who opens
himself to God accepts Jesus and his proposal
The discourse becomes more demanding. Now it is the Jews, that is, the leaders of the people, who murmur: “Is he not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he say that he has come down from heaven?” They considered themselves capable of knowing and of recognizing the things that come from God. But they are mistaken. If they were truly open to the things of God, they would feel the impulse of God in themselves which attracts them toward Jesus and would recognize that Jesus comes from God (Jn 6, 45). In the celebration of the Passover, the Jews remembered the bread of the desert. Jesus helps them to take a step forward. The one who celebrates the Passover remembering only the bread which the fathers ate in the desert, will die like all of them died! The true sense of the Passover is not that of recalling the manna which in the past fell from heaven, but to accept Jesus, the Bread of Life who came down from Heaven and to follow the path that he has traced. It does not mean to eat the flesh of the paschal lamb, but the flesh of Jesus, who came down from heaven to give life to the world!
5th Dialogue - John 6, 52-58: Flesh and Blood:
the expression of life and of the total gift.
The Jews react: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They did not understand these words of Jesus, because the profound respect for life demanded that from the time of the Old Testament it was forbidden to eat blood, because the blood was the sign of life (Dt 12, 16.23; At 15, 29). Besides, it was close to the Passover and in a few days everyone would have eaten the meat and the blood of the Paschal Lamb in the celebration of the night of the Passover. They took literally the words of Jesus, this is why they did not understand. To eat the flesh of Jesus meant to accept Jesus as the new Paschal Lamb, his blood will free them from slavery. To drink the blood of Jesus meant to assimilate his same way of life which characterized the life of Jesus. What gives life is not to celebrate the manna of the past, but rather to eat this new bread which is Jesus, his flesh and his blood. Participating in the Eucharistic Supper, we assimilate his life, his gift of self, his dedication.
6th Dialogue – John 6, 59-66: Without the
light of the Spirit these words cannot be understood,
Here ends the discourse of Jesus in the Synagogue of Capernaum. Many of his disciples thought: Jesus is exaggerating too much! He is putting an end to the celebration of the Passover! He is taking the central place of our religion! For this reason many people abandoned the community and no longer followed Jesus. Jesus reacts by saying: “It is the spirit who gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life”. We should not take literally what he says. It is only with the help of the light of the Holy Spirit that it is possible to understand the full sense of everything that Jesus says (Jn 14, 25-26; 16, 12-13).
7th Dialogue - Jn 6, 67-71: Confession of Peter.
a) To deepen more: Eucharist and New Exodus
In describing the multiplication of the loaves, the Gospel of John suggests a parallel with Exodus: Jesus who walks on the water and the discourse of the Bread of Life. This parallel shows that through the Eucharist a new Exodus takes place. The Eucharist helps us to live in a permanent state of Exodus:
i) The multiplication of the loaves (Jn 6, 1-15):
Jesus has before him a hungry crowd and the challenge to guarantee bread for all. Even though Moses had to face this challenge during the time of itinerancy of the people in the desert (Ex 16, 1-35; Num 11, 18-23). After having eaten, the people fed and satisfied recognize in Jesus the new Moses, the “Prophet who has to come to the world” (Jn 6,14), according to what has been announced in the Law of the Covenant (Dt 18, 15-22).
ii) Jesus walks on the water (Jn 6, 16-21):
In Exodus, the people is itinerant in order to obtain freedom and face and overcome the sea (Ex 14, 22). Jesus also, like Moses, dominates and overcomes the sea, preventing that the boat of his disciples be swallowed up by the waves, and does in such a way that they get safely to the other shore.
iii) The discourse on the bread of life (Jn 6, 22-58):
The discourse evokes Chapter 16 of the book of Exodus which describes the story of the manna. when Jesus speaks of “a food which does not perish” (Jn 6, 27), he is recalling the manna which perishes and is spoiled (Ex 16, 20). The Jews “murmuring” or complaining against Jesus (Jn 6, 41), do the same thing that the Israelites in the desert, who doubted of the presence of God in their long journey (Ex 16, 2; 17, 3; Num 11, 1). The Jews doubted of the presence of God in Jesus of Nazareth (Jn 6, 42). Jesus is the true manna who gives us eternal life.
6. Psalm 85 (84)
Justice and Peace embrace one another
Yahweh, you are gracious to your land,
Bring us back, God our Saviour,
I am listening. What is God's message?
Yahweh will himself give prosperity,
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen
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