John 6.51-59 and the first reading: Deuteronomy 8.2-3, 14-16
This Sunday is the SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST. Jesus helps us to understand who he is and what he does. In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus begins with something that every one of the people who gather about him recognize:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Every person gathered knows about the bread that came down from heaven. They all know so well the account of the Exodus—they have heard it since they were very little—about how their ancestors were delivered from slavery in Egypt, sojourned in the desert for forty years, and finally reached the land that had been promised to them. They know that when their ancestors were hungry and despairing in the wilderness, God sent bread from heaven. They called it manna. Every morning the people would go out to gather the manna, the powdery substance that appeared with the dew, and would make it into their bread for the day. They did this each day until they made their home in the land of Israel and the manna no longer appeared. They lived. They survived. God fed the people with bread until they reached the promised land.
Jesus reminds the people that what God did then, God does now. God feeds people with bread until they reach the promised land. The manna that gives life, Jesus says, is him.
That is too much for the people. What on earth can Jesus mean?
He gives them a simple equation,
the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
Bread = flesh = life for the world.
Nope, not so simple. They do not understand. They ask,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
They have not yet witnessed him feed his people with bread. They have not yet seen him take the Passover bread, bless it, break it, and give it to them. They have not yet heard him say,
“Take; this is my body.” (Mark 14:22)
They have not yet seen his body—the body that he has already given—die on a cross, the very next day. They have not yet witnessed that body live once more, with Life that cannot be conquered by death. Living bread.
So when Jesus says 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
they do not understand.
They do not understand that the gift of his body given at the Last Supper will be repeated over and over each day, every day, all around the world, and once again God will feed the people with Living Bread until they reach the promised land.
They do not understand because they think eating flesh means swallowing meat. But what is Jesus' flesh? What is his body, what is his blood? It is his gift of his life that he freely gives, that he allows to be sacrificed. He says,
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day
Those who eat his flesh—who take the sacrifice of his life into themselves—who make the mission of who he is part of themselves—they will have eternal life. Here is both an invitation and a promise. "You are what you eat," after all. Be one with me, and we will be together forever.
God feeds God's people with bread until they reach the promised land.
For this we are truly grateful. But we worry about our friends, we worry about members of our family, who do not receive the Living Bread at Mass. Does God care about them? Does God not feed them?
In the first reading, we hear Moses explain the manna to the people in the desert. He explains what God does:
"He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna...in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD."
God lets people hunger so that God can feed them. God wants them to understand that they need God. They need the Word of God to live.
Have we been fed by the Word of God? Have we found in the Word a source of life, giving us strength, uplifting our spirits, turning our hearts and minds towards God and the promised land?
So which is it? The Word of God feeds us or the Living Bread at Mass feeds us?
Or is it both?
I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
The manna that gives life, Jesus says, is him. Jesus is the Word of God that feeds our hunger until we reach the promised land.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory
Unless we eat the flesh...
unless we consume the Word...
When we eat the Living Bread at Mass, we take it into us and become more and more one with him.
When we listen to the Word and allow it to change us, we become more and more one with him.
Our loved ones who are not Catholic, who do not attend Mass and do not receive the Living Bread, can they not be fed by the Word of God?
And if we become more and more one with him, do we not become Living Bread ourselves? And if so, can we feed our loved ones? Our loved ones who are hungry for God, perhaps without even knowing it—are they fed somehow by us?
God feeds God's people until...
Feed us, Lord, that we may feed others, so that all may come to understand that we cannot live by bread alone but by every word that comes from your mouth.