TODAY'S GOSPEL meditation on the bread of life discourse focuses in a special way on the bread of life as food. Jesus instructs us: “You should not be working for perishable food but for food that remains unto life eternal, food which the Son of Man will give you.” At first glance, such a directive may seem illogical and extreme. It we do not labor for the food that keeps us alive, then what will sustain us so that we can work at all? Jesus the bread of life provides the answer.
In the Bible, the staple of bread is synonymous with food itself. Bread remains so essential to human subsistence that to lack bread is to lack everything. This identification between bread and our very existence hits home in the most profound way as we hear Jesus declare: “I myself am the bread of life.” To lack Jesus in our life is to lack life itself. Jesus capitalizes on our vital need for food in order to signal our crucial need for Christ. Only by consuming him do we receive the sustenance that not only preserves our life, but also fills it with meaning, insight, and goodness. We become what we eat.
The crowds remind Jesus that their ancestors had manna to eat in the desert, miraculously provided via the mediation of Moses. But Jesus corrects their perception: “It is my Father who gives you the real heavenly bread.” The bread of life does not come from a place but from a divine person. It is the blessing of a relationship with God. If we want to know where the bread of life comes from in our own lives, we must be willing personally to enter into that relationship of love. The bread of life is not merely a food to be eaten, but a life to be embodied: “God's bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jesus the bread of life satisfies our every hunger and keeps us from ever thirsting again.
Therefore, in order to partake of the bread of life, we must be willing to receive it with the humility and confidence of children. And that true childlike disposition comes to us as we remain united to Jesus, “the Son of Man,” whom the crowd first calls “Rabbi” and then later “Sir,” indicating their growth in faith. They ask Jesus to “give us this bread always.” In response to just such a request, Jesus teaches us to pray: “Our Father … give us this day our daily bread.” We are to “come to” and “believe in” Jesus in the same way that he himself approaches the Father, as a child of God.
Therefore, the work of God that we should be about is to “have faith in the one he sent.” Our daily bread is the grace to love Jesus as much as he deserves. That dynamic of lived faith nourishes us more than any earthly food because it ushers us into the very intimacy of the life shared by the Father and the Son. Our living faith serves as an imperishable food that satisfies unto life eternal.
Father Peter Cameron OP, a Register contributing editor, is a professor of homiletics at St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, N.Y.