Through faith, we recognize Jesus as the Bread of Life

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(See the readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 12)

The “Bread of Life” discourse from The Gospel According to John continues this week in the Gospel passage for the liturgy. The call to faith in Jesus, as being sent from the Father to lead us to life, is reaffirmed.

Last week, Jesus said that he was the Bread of Life who “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Now we find some of those hearing these words begin to question and doubt. They say, “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 tells them to “stop murmuring” and invites them again to believe.

Jesus is inviting us to journey with him in our minds and hearts. Indeed, he is offering us new life, one that comes from the Father as a gift. As Jesus speaks, he is leading us deeper and deeper into the mystery of this life. The first stage is that of faith — faith in Jesus as the One sent from the Father to bestow life. It is clear that faith in Jesus is essential before moving onto the next stage.

We see in Jesus’ encounters both in last week’s reading and this week’s passage that not everyone will be ready to move forward. In the Gospel passage last Sunday, we saw an example of inadequate faith in those who came to see Jesus “not because they saw signs” but “because they had their fill of the loaves.” In this week’s passage, we see doubts emerge when Jesus says that he has come from heaven. Faith in Jesus is essential.

Jesus now invites us to go with him further on this journey. He begins to reveal to us what it means that he is the Bread of Life. We have already encountered him as one who the Father sends to teach us. He shares his word and that nourishes us.

Now, and for the first time, Jesus associates the Bread of Life with his flesh. His body will be given “for the life of the world.”

This clearly refers to his death on the cross. Jesus is willing to freely give up his own life that we might live in love. He invites us to share in this life by partaking of the Bread of Life: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life … 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.”

The first reading for today’s liturgy comes from the First Book of Kings. Elijah is so worn out by his troubles and responsibilities that he prays for death saying: “This is enough, O Lord!”

Yet the Lord still has work for him to do. The next morning an angel appears and tells Elijah to get up and eat. God does not take away the mission to relieve Elijah; rather, he feeds and nourishes him so he will be strong for the mission. The strengthening is so effective that Elijah can walk “forty days and nights” to the mountain of God.

The point is that God can give us strength even when we feel week or tired or distraught or exhausted. Jesus is the Father’s gift. He is the food on which we are nourished. He is the Word that leads us, encourages us, and moves us on. He is the food from heaven on which we are nourished for the mission of life.

The second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians reminds us that part of that mission is being the person God calls us to be — to be fully human and alive in the love of God.  The nourishment which comes from Jesus helps us to remove all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling and malice while replacing them with kindness, compassion, mercy and love.

Jesus speaks to us as the Bread of Life. He offers himself to us in the call to faith – for it is a faith in him, and he will offer himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice.

The Bread of Life discourse will continue for the next two weeks. As we once again encounter the Word, we have the opportunity to be drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of life and love.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

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