On the Bread of Life
(Ex.16:2-4, 12-15; Eph.4:17, 20-24; Jn.6:24-35)
For most people today, bread is cheap and plentiful, but it wasn’t so in biblical times.
In those days, ordinary families had to make their own bread. They had to plough and sow, seed and hoe, reap and thresh, winnow and sift, grind and sift again, knead and moisten, light the fire and then bake before they had any bread to eat. In fact, the typical housewife spent three hours each day just making enough flour to feed a family of five. [i]
So, it’s not surprising that Jesus included bread in the Lord’s Prayer. When the first Christians prayed ‘give us this day our daily bread’ (Mt.6:11), they weren’t just hoping for good harvests and sufficient flour. They also prayed for the strength to keep making their own bread each day.
In today’s Gospel, the crowds that Jesus had fed earlier are looking for him. They want more of his bread, and we can understand why: it’s easy, it’s free and it’s nourishing.
But Jesus thinks it’s time to offer them something more fulfilling. He says, ‘Don’t work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you’. What does he mean by that?
Jesus is basically saying that these people are following him for the wrong reason. They’re only thinking of their stomachs, just like the ancient Israelites who only followed God as long as there was plenty of food (Ex.16:1-36).
But now it’s time, Jesus says, to focus on something more profound, for we cannot live on bread alone. God created us, he wants us to join him in heaven, and Jesus will show us how to get there.
In other words, if we believe in Jesus and accept his spiritual nourishment, then eternal life will be ours.
But the crowd doesn’t understand. They ask Jesus for a sign, and he tells them that the God who fed Moses and the Israelites in the desert all those years ago is the same God who just fed the 5,000 there in Galilee.
Then he says: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst’.
Today, many people have everything they need, but they still feel empty inside. They hunger for something more, but just don’t know what it is. So, they keep searching for the latest ‘thing’.
But they’ll never be satisfied because they’re ignoring their souls. As St Augustine said, ‘You made us for yourself O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’
In 2014, Pope Francis said, ‘As well as physical hunger, man also suffers from a hunger that cannot be sated with ordinary food. It’s a hunger for life, a hunger for love, a hunger for eternity. Manna is the sign … that prefigured the food that satisfies this profound hunger present in man.
‘Jesus gives us this nourishment – or rather, he himself is the living bread that gives life to the world. His body is the true food in the form of bread; his blood is the true sustenance in the form of wine. It’s not a simple form of nourishment to sate our bodies, like manna; the Body of Christ is the bread of the last times, able to give life, eternal life, because the substance of this bread is Love.’ [ii]
Jesus cares about physical hunger, but he cares even more about spiritual emptiness. That’s why he’s offering himself to us as the Bread of Life.
The fullness of life we seek is only available from Jesus, and the way to receive our fill is through the Church, through his Word and most especially through the Holy Eucharist.
At the end of World War II, while Europe was being freed from Nazi occupation, there was terrible hunger.
The allied forces grouped many starving orphans together in camps where they were fed and looked after. The children were lovingly cared for, but hardly slept at night. So, psychologists were asked to investigate. They found that the children were anxious because they feared that they’d wake up again to no food.
After that, every child was given some bread to sleep with at night. They were told to hold it and not eat it.
The results were amazing. All the children slept well. Knowing that they would wake up to food calmed their fears and made them trust they were now in good hands. [iii]
That’s what the Bread of Life does for us.
Just hold him close to your heart.
[i] Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, Food at the Time of the Bible. Palphot Ltd, Herzlia. Undated:26-27.
[ii] Pope Francis, Homily given at Holy Mass in the Square of St. John Lateran, June 20, 2014.