I Am the Bread of Life
Ordinary 18 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 6: 24 — 35
In the early party of Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel we reflected on the moving account of Jesus feeding the 5000 “men”, a crowd in fact of eight to twenty thousand. The account captures a glimpse of the Lord as He really is in eternity: always providing an abundance of food for everyone to eat. This is something we need to remember. It was an amazing incident, the details of which are easy to pass over. Jesus did not perform a spectacular miracle, with everyone gasping as tons of food suddenly appeared. He simply kept breaking bread, (the same five barley loaves) and sun-dried fish in an act of creation until there was not only just enough, but also a small amount left over. He is God the Son, who continues to sustain us and care for us. A great Biblical scholar quotes St. Augustine (AD 354 — 430) on the importance of this miracle:
St. Augustine writes thus about the miracle of the loaves and fishes:
“Jesus multiplied the bread in His Hands by virtue of the same power
wherewith God multiplies a few grains of corn into a waving cornfield.
The five loaves were like unto those grains of corn which, when sown,
do not lie unfruitful in the ground, but to which increase is
immediately given by Him who is the creator of the world.” Thus the
miraculous multiplication of the loaves showed forth the creative
Omnipotence of our Lord, proving Him to be the Almighty God who
every year multiplies the grains of corn which are sown in the earth.
(From “A Practical Commentary on the Bible” by F. J. Knecht)
The true depth of this great incident is enhanced by the fact that it shows Jesus as He always is, God the Son, supplying the very ordinary but necessary things for life at every moment of our lives. Thus this deeper insight is far more than just a proof that He must be God to perform such a deed. It is, in fact, the very key which will unlock the inner meaning of what follows in the rest of this chapter.
Our text for reflection on this occasion moves our attention from the natural food to the supernatural.
Some Reflections on the Text
In the Gospel according to St John, the feeding of the 5000 men is followed by the incident of Jesus walking on the lake. Chapter 6: 16 — 21). The day following that event on the lake, the people were looking out for Jesus.
Verses 24 and 25
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples
were there, they themselves got into boats and came to
Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
“Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Eventually the local people realised that our Lord was nowhere in the vicinity. Knowing His habits, a number climbed into boats and went across the Lake to Capernaum. When they found Him, they asked, as it is recorded by St. John, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” — implying firmly that He shouldn’t go disappearing without trace! We might have expected them to ask Jesus how He got there when no one saw Him take a boat ahead of them.
Verses 26 and 27
Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to
you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that
endures for eternal life, 15 which the Son of Man will give
you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
As we can see, Jesus did not answer their question but rather the state of their heart, which is His custom. He began His response with the old “Verily, verily I say unto you” formula, which always introduced serious matter. His words went something like:
“Please listen carefully to what I have to say to you. You have been
looking for me not because you saw anything spiritually significant
in what I did, but because you had a very nice meal, and would
quite like another! What I want you to understand is that you
should direct your hearts and thoughts towards receiving food which
gives eternal life. The Son of Man will feed you with this because God
the Father has placed His seal of approval on Him. And He will keep
you fully nourished on that food for your entire life.”
Jesus was leading His listeners to make the link between the ancient teaching of the rabbis, and what He is really saying here. It may help to mention that He is referring to rabbinic teaching: (recorded in: “Eccles. Rabba, 1: 9, 28.”)
“As the First Saviour (i.e. Moses) caused the manna to descend, as it
is written ‘Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you’ (Exod 16: 4),
so also the Last Saviour will cause the manna to descend, as it is
written ‘There shall be bread of wheat upon the earth’ (Ps 72: 16)”.
It is worth noting here that the rabbinic reference, and our Lord’s own words in verse 27 speak of a food which was still to be given in the future. This emphasises the understanding that Jesus is preparing His followers for, not just believing in Him and His teaching, but also becoming united with Him and in Him through partaking of His Body. (MacRory).
Verses 28 and 29
So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the
works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of
God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
The question put to Jesus is a genuine one. They were saying, “All right. We will take you at your word and work for food that does not perish. But in addition to following the Torah — God’s own Commandments, the Way He has laid down for us, what else should we be doing to please Him?” Jesus is quick to respond. His reply does not dismiss the importance of observing the Torah, but signifies that to believe in Him is “part and parcel” of accomplishing the works of God; in other words to believe in Him, it is part of observing the Torah, the Commandments and Teaching of God: the Way He has provided for us.
Stephen Ray has a helpful comment:
Too often, in some circles, “faith alone” is espoused as the beginning
and end of salvation, with no co-operation required from the
individual. However, faith is believing, and believing is “work” —
in the same sense that it is something we “do” — it is a verb.
In verse 29, Jesus uses the word “believe” in the present tense,
which means the act of currently and presently “believing”.
“The present tense here denotes the continuing attitude, not the
once-for-all-decision.” (Leon Morris — NIV Commentary).
St. Paul reminds us, as he opens and closes his epistle to the
Romans, that to believe inherently includes obedience.
(Romans 1:5 and 16: 26)
These two verses are so very important in understanding our Lord’s purpose in being sent by the Father, into the world. We offer an Appendix 1 — The Work of God: John 6: 28 — 29 to expand this thought and unpack its importance.
This is rather solid material to study, but it reflects the situation Jesus had to confront and demonstrates how He approached it. It also indicates the Biblical and basic theological knowledge Jesus expects His disciples to acquire and understand. We are people of the Divine Word, and we are called to live and act accordingly.
Verses 30 and 31
So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may
see and believe in you? What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’.”
It seems our Lord’s listeners understood the point He was making, that they were to surrender themselves to His guidance as completely as their fathers did to Moses. It also seems they were not going to be an easy catch. Quickly came their counter-demand:
“If you are claiming to be greater than Moses, then you must
demonstrate it by performing some sign of power greater than
the signs Moses did! If we have to labour for this spiritual food,
you will have to work harder to show that it is you giving it!
Are you going to rain down manna as Moses did for 40 years?”
Reith points out they were saying in effect:
“Continue to give us bread, as you did yesterday; follow up
yesterday’s miracle with another, and we shall believe in you
as implicitly as our fathers did in Moses”.
They looked on that as a “fair deal”.
Verses 32 — 34
So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was
not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father
gives you the true bread from heaven.
So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
The time had now arrived for Jesus to be quite blunt with His stubborn listeners. Although His listeners had not really stated that it was Moses who supplied the manna, Jesus adopts a formal rabbinic method of dismissing the possibility so as to emphasise the true source, God the Father.
The effect of His words, might sound like this to us:
“Get this very clear in your understanding: you have not even
understood what Moses did, let alone what I have done. It is not
Moses who has given you bread from heaven. It is my Father
who gives you the true bread from heaven.”
Our Lord used the present tense as a rabbinic device to place his listeners in the same stream of events as Moses’ listeners. There is also a deliberate echo of the Our Father prayer He composed from Sacred Scripture for His disciples.
Stretching His listeners a little more He added, “The bread that God gives is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world; causes people to really live!”
Without hesitation the people reply:
“Ah, Lord, give us this bread all of our days!”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever
comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes
in me will never thirst.
In this way finally Jesus declares what He had been waiting to share with His listeners and it must have hit them like a rocket!
“I am the bread of life.”
It doesn’t come much plainer than that! His audience, if they had been a little slow catching on to where this dialogue was heading, now saw clearly what He was claiming. Sadly, they did not see it as a treasured and privileged divine intimation: a sharing of eternal truth. They saw only an outrageous claim. Let us not be too quick to judge: people today do exactly the same — if, that is, they even bother to listen to anything our Lord says.
To readers seeking a more detailed analysis of this passage we offer an Appendix 2: God’s Last and Greatest Blessing.
The words of Jesus on which we have been reflecting are very familiar to most Christians, at least in that some of what He said is often quoted. Christians, however, are just as prone as our ancient Hebrew forebears, towards seeking proof of God’s love in the spectacular, the overwhelming, almost magical. It is such an easy trap which any of us could fall into. Much modern religion is all about “miracle sessions”, yet it fails to provide an adequate buttress against the atheistic materialism which has reduced the Christian Faith in the world today to have to have a “psychological prop” to cope with the stresses of modern life.
An important part of correcting this situation is to meditate on these short passages and be open to understanding the fullness of the teaching they contain. Ultimately, this teaching always focusses on the true nature and full meaning of everything we learn about our Lord Jesus Christ: God’s Anointed One. This particular short passage from St. John is a challenge for us today just as it was for our Lord’s listeners in the past. But then, our religion is not just some soft fairy tale: it is the unfolding fulfilment of a revelation which began in the early chapters of Genesis.
We hope our notes have a positive role in helping to open the treasures of Sacred Scripture to reveal their wonderful message. For now, it is enough for us to pause and hold in our hearts and minds the blessed words of Jesus: “I am the Bread of Life”.
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“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
I Am The Bread of Life
Ordinary 18 Year B St. John 6: 24 — 35
1. “You are looking for me not because you saw signs
Our Lord is not saying the people didn’t see signs that His words and works heralded the coming of the long promised Messiah. He says that they are, in fact, looking for food for which they do not need to work. They may well have observed in Him signs of the Anointed One — the Messiah; and some of them surely did. Jesus is simply pointing out to them that they have put aside any religious connection, and are out to get material advantage: a free lunch. Therefore, they have chosen, according to their own convenience — the wrong priority!
The Spirit of the Lord draws near to us at times and imparts precious spiritual knowledge. If we do not honour it, take to heart and act on it, we may find it departs with no certainty of returning.
2. “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
This is a rather interesting question coming from people who have just been on a bit of a “flight of fancy” and have been stopped in their tracks by Jesus, “Sit down, sit up and listen!”
As God is the author of our Salvation, we are saved, in the first instance, by “the works of God” — the principal one being the sending of His only Son to be our Redeemer.
For us to “accomplish the works of God,” i.e. to do what He wants us to do, we are to respond to God by laying down our own will and desires, and to commit ourselves to carrying out His Divine Will. This, as we repeat almost unceasingly, is the required response to the great declaration of our Judeo-Christian Faith:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all
To respond with our whole heart to God requires a generous spirit and great faith which is the work of love. This is available to us in abundant supply when we courageously take the step to place our whole lives in His hands and wait upon His Most Holy Will to become manifest — whenever and however that may turn out to be.
3. “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven;
Jesus makes it very clear to the people:
“It was not Moses! ― It was God.”
He then goes on to proclaim one of the most earth-shattering declarations He ever made —
“My Father gives you the true bread from heaven!”
Have you ever heard anything like it?
Earthly bread is made from all the edible fruit, grains and seeds which the earth yields for us to eat. We can go without animal fat and flesh, but we cannot survive without the fruit, grains and seeds of the earth. They are our staple diet and the heathiest among us are those who give priority to consuming these basic and simple gifts from heaven.
With that knowledge before us, we can appreciate the image Jesus gives us when He says He is:
“the true bread from heaven”.
True bread is full of vitality and life. Jesus implies, we cannot have “true” life — fullness of heavenly life (for which after all, we were created) — unless we consume the “true bread”.
“True Bread” gives us “True Life”.
Food is meant to be consumed every day. God never provided food from the earth that would last forever. He provided daily food for us to enjoy and thrive on. This applies to earthly food as well as the spiritual —
“For the bread of God is that which comes
The poor and spiritually deprived people of our Lord’s day finally yielded and begged,
“Sir (Rabbi), give us this food for the rest of our lives.”
We need to ask: do we ourselves, in our day, really seek to have such food?
Jesus invites us to come to Him and receive it, and in so doing, as we shall find — receive Him.
John 6: 24 — 35
Ordinary 18 Year B
24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples
25 And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
26 Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to
27 Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that
28 So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the
29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of
30 So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may
31 16 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
32 So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was
33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from
34 So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 17 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever
15  The food that endures for eternal life: cf ⇒ John 4:14, on water “springing up to eternal life.”
16  Bread from heaven: cf ⇒ Exodus 16:4, ⇒ 15, ⇒ 32-34 and the notes there; ⇒ Psalm 78:24. The manna, thought to have been hidden by Jeremiah (⇒ 2 Macc 2:5-8), was expected to reappear miraculously at Passover, in the last days.
17 [35-59] Up to ⇒ John 6:50 “bread of life” is a figure for God’s revelation in Jesus; in ⇒ John 6:51-58, the eucharistic theme comes to the fore. There may thus be a break between ⇒ John 6:50-51.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
The Work of God: John 6: 28 and 29
Much that is written about St. John’s Gospel presents very detailed analysis of his text and advanced theological propositions arising from the account provided.
We offer here an approach to understanding what John was highlighting seen from a Hebrew perspective.
1. These two verses record one of the most important high points in all of Sacred Scripture.
The people ask Jesus, literally,
“What works must we work to do the works of God?”
Our translation carefully presents this as:
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Another reputable text has this as:
“What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?”
2. For these people, “the works of God”, or, the things “God wants”, are expressed in the “words of God”, otherwise translated as the Torah, which we generally refer to as the Books of Moses: the first five books of the Bible. To the Jew, the Torah means: the teaching of the truth about God, the way God has laid down in which His people should walk, and the fullness of life He wishes to give them as pure gift — not something they have earned — but sheer gift on God’s part. The “works of God” were understood to be the means of living in a way which corresponded with what God wanted.
3. Commentators who state that the common people had no sense of the life promised as being a pure gift from God, but obtained only by their good works, (mitzvoth) miss the point seriously. Our Lord was aware of what they knew despite the failure some of their rabbis to teach this adequately. That is why He was able to go straight to the core of the matter.
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the One He has sent.”
4. St. John draws attention to the double emphasis in our Lord’s reply: “He answered and said to them”.
He then highlights one work above all others they must “do“: His words convey that message:
• This parallels what God proclaimed through His beloved
“The Lord our God is the Lord alone, You shall love
• Jesus is implying that just as you are commanded to love
• To believe or have faith in the One sent is a work of love —
• Thus the people must co-operate with God and place
• Actually, the word Jesus used in this context for the
giving oneself up to Him.
Thus, in this Gospel, it is not just belief in Jesus, but a total
It is a conviction of heart, full of joyful trust that Jesus is the Messiah — even more: He is the divinely appointed means of eternal salvation in the Kingdom of God. He therefore deserves our obedience, as the Anointed one — He is the One promised long ago before Adam and Eve left Eden. (Genesis 3: 16)
Our Lord’s declaration is one of many occasions when He will emphasise to the people that He and the Father are one. What follows about the Bread of Life will describe even more fully the restored union we may have with God through Jesus His Son.
Blessed be God.
God’s Last and Greatest Blessing
These Galileans were coming to Him with their expectations, roused by His miracles and otherwise, that He would be the minister of some great and enduring good, like Moses of old time, perhaps the Messiah Himself. They were prepared to give Him their allegiance if He proved Himself invested with powers to bring heaven’s mercies on them. And Jesus now tells them that He is Himself God’s last and greatest blessing to them, the substance and the antitype# of all the blessings that were temporary in their past; that not what He can give so much as what He is personally, they have to think of. Beyond Himself there is no good. To have Him is to have the eternal life of God. He satisfies the hunger and thirst of every one that comes to Him and believes in Him. The claim is great, but not greater than is proved in the experience of those who do come and believe in Christ, 7: 37. Only they must come to Him and believe in Him. To come to Christ and to believe in Him are the same act, 5: 40, etc. Faith is a coming to Him, because it is the close personal dealing, the embrace of Christ in the arms of the soul, and after a return as if from the far country.
# antitype — the fulfilment of the ‘type’, e.g. the type which was a pre-figuring of ‘bread’, by the manna in the desert. So, Jesus is “the substance and the antitype”, a theological way of saying that He is both all that was prophesied and all that is now fulfilled before their eyes.