I Am The Living Bread
Ordinary 19 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 6: 35, 41 — 51
In our previous text, Jesus finally came out with an awesome truth he had been longing to share with his listeners:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes
to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will
The people had taken his previous instruction to mean that our Lord possesses the “bread of life” and that He has the power to supply them with it whenever they want it. Jesus then had to work at correcting both of these misconceptions. He therefore made this bold statement and then followed it up with further “explanatory notes”. These explanatory comments in verses 36 to 40 contain some beautiful lines all of which focus on coming to Jesus for life ― true LIFE. They form a reading used on another occasion in the Liturgy, but it would be helpful to take a moment to read them. We now move to our present text, verses 41 ― 51.
Some Reflections On the Text
Verses 41 and 42
The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the
bread that came down from heaven,”
and they said, “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’?”
We can see that when the scholars among our Lord’s listeners heard Him speak they began to grumble. St. John uses the Greek word from the Greek Septuagint Old Testament which recorded the grumbling of the Israelites during the Exodus (Ex 16: 2, 7, 8). The word denotes more of complaint than of open hostility. (Newman and Nida)
Nevertheless, the comments made by the authorities among the crowd are unsettling to ordinary people. We need to remember St. John’s various different uses of the term, “the Jews”. See the article, “The Jews” In the Gospel of John by R. G. Bratcher.
It is tempting to be quite sympathetic when we read their assessment of the situation:
“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’?”
Their remarks suggest they understood He was claiming to be more than a prophet-come-teacher sent from God. But that stops far short of what they need to understand, and our Lord is determined to give His listeners every opportunity to behold the awesome truth He wishes to share.
Verses 43 — 44
Our Lord responded very quickly and powerfully with:
Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.
In other words: “If you would only listen to what I say without projecting your personal prejudices at me, you would have heard what I was sharing with you, and you certainly wouldn’t be complaining about it”.
Jesus followed this immediately with a core teaching. If the authorities in front of him had been prepared to let him “unpack” this, it would have helped them realise He was offering them yet another key by which to enter into a whole new sphere of spiritual understanding. They were always on the defensive but Jesus was not betraying any God given Biblical teaching: He was trying to help them see it was all coming to fulfilment before their eyes. Our Lord therefore said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day”.
This really is a pivotal verse. Our Lord did not try to resolve their doubts about his true origin by argument. Rather, he started affirming the ancient Biblical belief that if anyone is drawn to God, it happens because God always makes the first move! Jesus demonstrated that he had a sympathetic understanding for those who genuinely could not perceive what He was saying, but He was blunt towards those who were determined to resist Him at all costs. His message for them was in effect:
“You will never understand unless you listen from the heart,
and you won’t be able to do that unless you believe that I was
sent by God to teach you. And you will not believe that until
you respond to my Father Who is drawing you to me.”
Jesus used the idea of being drawn to Him to resemble the expression “to bring someone near the Law, the Holy Torah, the Books of Moses”, an expression the rabbis used to describe conversion to Judaism. Thus Jesus emphasises the truth that to draw near to Him was in fact to encounter God in the very centre and heart of their Faith. In this way He identified Himself with the Divine Word given by God in the Torah, the ancient Scriptures. And He went further, offering Himself as both Word and Bread, that is, Living Bread. This understanding of the relationship between Torah ― Words of God, and Jesus Messiah ― Word of God is one of the most crucial in all of Sacred Scripture.
Jesus continued with the explanation, “And I will raise Him up on the last day”. This was not said to outdo Moses, but to place Himself in the long line of unfolding revelation, from Genesis to the present moment. Some could well have pondered, “Why are we not feeling drawn to him?” Our Lord could read their hearts. In fact, He was quite sympathetic to their problem, as we see in the next verse.
Verses 45 ― 46
It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him
comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is
from God; he has seen the Father.
When Jesus said, “It is written in the Prophets,” He is referring to various examples in the Old Testament when the Prophets emphasised that when one listens to what God says, one learns what to do.
Our Lord’s quotation is a free rendering of at least one or two references. He is thereby appealing to their Scriptural knowledge. His intention is to help them understand that to listen and learn from Him is what God requires of them.
This does not occur in a one-off Divine communication, but in an established relationship ―
for the faithful who allow themselves to be drawn, are life-long pupils in the school of God. (MacRory). This is established Hebrew Spirituality.
Here are two quotations Jesus is referring to in verse 45: “It is written in the Prophets”, He says:
● Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.
(Isaiah 55: 3)
● All your sons shall be taught by the LORD, and great
shall be the peace of your children. (Isaiah 54: 13)
God draws by inner attraction. If you believe the truth I bring, you will receive now the everlasting life God longs to impart. But what you need to accept is that it is I who has been sent to bring you this deeper knowledge of God. That is the work (of your salvation) I have come to do in obedience to God.
It seems our Lord did not even pause for a breath. He graciously repeated some earlier teaching to give it another chance to be heard afresh.
Verse 47 to 50
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one
may eat it and not die.
Verse 47 sums up what has been affirmed so far ― he who believes on Christ’s word has (in a certain manner) Eternal Life, even now in this world.
The next verse repeats the first part of what our Lord stated earlier (in verse 35) ―
“I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Jesus then reminds them of what He said back in verse 35 ― altering it slightly:
“Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died.”
And then, to round off His Old Testament Scripture lesson Jesus makes the very bold statement:
“This is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.”
The point our Lord makes is that the material “bread” (the manna) did not save the Hebrews from physical death: but this heavenly Bread will save those who feed on it, from everlasting spiritual death. (C. Martindale, S. J.)
So far, so good. But Jesus insists on going further, with an earth shattering claim couched totally in the positive.
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.”
“Thus Jesus arrives at the full-on statement that this bread
is essential for eternal life.” (G. MacRae)
The impact of our Lord’s grand statement would have been something like:
“I am the bread that not only supports life, but actually gives
it and sustains it for eternity. This bread which I give you is
from heaven, and it is my flesh, my whole life. I am giving it,
that you (and through you, all mankind) may share in the
whole of my life.”
Jesus deliberately chose to echo Moses in the Exodus (Ex 6: 15):
It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.
Our theologians would sum it up, something like this:
He is the reality of which the manna was the type (forerunner).
All of this is “a shock to the system,” of many of His listeners then, and even to many in our day.
We should note that our Lord’s closing words talk of giving his flesh for the life of the world in the future. This is a clear reference to the time of his sacrificial death, when he would give himself for the needs of his people, the event symbolised in part by the broken bread of the Last Supper. (Newman and Nida. UBS).
Thus, there can be no doubt that our Lord’s teaching is about the communion He desperately wants His listeners to enjoy with Him and through Him, with the Father.
There is much unfortunate controversy in the explanation of this and associated passages in St. John. Our movement emphasises respect for the different perspectives held dearly by different groups. Much, we believe, can be overcome by sharing our insights and chosen cultural understandings, and listening sincerely to one another.
Stephen Ray, in his study guide and commentary on St. John’s Gospel, quotes a most esteemed Protestant scholar, and his comments can help encourage us to listen carefully to one another’s perceptions. Referring to our Lord’s word in the final verse of our reading (verse 51):
According to George Beasley-Murray, arguably the most
prestigious Baptist exegete in print, “It is not necessary to
interpret the statement exclusively in terms of the body
and blood of the Lord’s Supper. Nevertheless, it is evident
that neither the Evangelist nor the Christian readers could
have written or read the saying without conscious reference
to the Eucharist; to say the least, they would have
acknowledged it as supremely fulfilled in the worship event.”
Stephen K. Ray, Crossing the Tiber:
Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church
(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), 198, quoting Beasley-Murray, John 95.
(Phrases our emphasis).
From our perspective, Jesus, in this passage, has been instructing at multiple levels. Part of His teaching has undoubtedly been dealing with a living communion with Him through faith. We also identify clear and intended links with the precious gift of Himself as Holy Communion in the Eucharist: the bread of life and the living bread. His last sentence, “The bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world“, is very similar to his words at the Last Supper, This is my body which is given for you. This will become even clearer as we move on through this unique chapter on the New Testament.
For now, there is much on which to meditate and pray about. May you be richly blessed by God as you do so.
(For an in-depth commentary on the mystery set forth in verse 51, read the excerpt taken from the “Notes Critical and Practical” by M Sadler.)
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(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
I Am The Living Bread
Ordinary 19 Year B St. John 6: 35 and 41— 51
1. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him.”
All the commandments of God and of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, contain within them the promise of the spiritual means to accomplish them. It is basic Hebrew spirituality that we are never commanded by God to do something which is beyond our means: His grace (as we call His spiritual gift of the necessary strength) is always sufficient to accomplish His works. This truth has often been highlighted by the Apostles and writers of the New Testament Epistles.
Jesus chose to teach this very emphatically to His followers, as it is critical when it comes to passing on the Faith to others. The principle involved shapes the mindset of the evangeliser as well as that of the person with whom the Gospel is shared.
2. Jesus said “They shall be taught by God”.
3. Jesus said,
• “I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
Our Lord’s intimate sharing with the people assembled before Him is full of spiritual teaching:
• Jesus declares He will give His flesh for the life of the world, and do so in
John 6: 35 and 41 to 51
Ordinary 19 Year B
35 17 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes
41 The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the
42 and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not
43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring 18 among
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw
45 It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’
46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from
47 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
48 I am the bread of life.
49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever
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.
18  Murmuring: the word may reflect the Greek of ⇒ Exodus 16:2, ⇒ 7-8.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
“Notes Critical and Practical” John 6: 51
Notes by M Sadler
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” Before He had only said, “I am the Bread of Life,” now he says, “I am the Living Bread.” This is in contrast with the Manna. Of all the forms of human food which God had vouchsafed to man, the Manna was that which seemed to come most directly from Himself. It was the most heavenly form of food ever given to sustain human life. It was even called “angels’ food.” (Ps. 128: 25.) And yet, though coming direct from the hand of the living God, it was dead. Whereas the Lord says, “I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven,” not from some atmosphere a little above this world, but from the heaven of heavens, from the bosom of the Father.
But if the Lord calls Himself bread, as bread He must be eaten, or he would not have called Himself “bread;” for the end or purpose of bread is to be eaten, and so He proceeds, “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” This must look to the eternal life of the body as following on the spiritual life of the soul, or it would not be in contrast with what precedes. In the two previous verses He had been speaking of the Manna, and of Himself as the Living Bread as contrasted with it. They who eat of the Manna died, and if their bodies are raised again, it will not be because they eat the Manna; but he who eats Christ as the Living Bread shall live forever, because of the life-imparting nature of that which He eats.
Hitherto, all has led to the question, “how is Christ as the Bread of Life to be eaten?” At the beginning of this verse He makes the bread to be His whole Person, “I am the Living Bread.” The bread here is that which is signified by the “I am.” But the Lord Jesus has two whole and perfect natures in His One Person, and He sometimes speaks as if His Personality resided in one of those natures, and sometimes in the other. When He says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” He speaks as God only, and when He speaks of himself as about to be crucified and to die, He speaks as if he were man only. Again, His manhood is like ours, “of a reasonable soul and human flesh.”
Now seeing that He has these two natures, which of them does He use as His instrument by which to feed us, and, in feeding, to impart life to us? If we had not known this chapter, I think we should have, without doubt, said, that it is his Godhead through which He gives us his life, for His Godhead is that One of His two natures which has Life in itself; and inasmuch as it permeates all existences, He could communicate Life to us from His Godhead directly, without the use of any means whatsoever, merely by a direct act of his Divine omnipotence. Or, if not His Godhead, we should have said that lie would make His Human Soul or Spirit the means by which to make us partakers of His Life, in which case it would have been by those means of communication by which one soul acts upon another’, as by instruction, by communication of ideas and thoughts, by rational intercourse, and such things. But here He passes by His Godhead, and the higher part of His Manhood, and fixes our faith on the lower part of His human nature, that is, on His Flesh. “I am the Living Bread.” “The Bread that I will give is My Flesh, which is for the Life of the world.” On this word of Christ’s belief rests, and, if it is true belief, cannot stop short, and can go no further.
Now if we consider our nature of flesh in which sin is inherent, there seems to be a certain deep necessity why the Lord should make His Flesh the means for the communication of His Life, for the Lord Who spoke these words is the Second Man, the Lord from heaven. As the Second Man or last Adam, He answers to the first man, of whose flesh we naturally partake, and by our partaking of it receive the sin and death which was in him. We receive sin by partaking of the human nature of the first Adam, through his flesh, which we receive at our birth with its taint of corruption, and through the flesh, the lower nature, we receive of Christ’s higher nature. The link of communication between ourselves and Adam, is not spirit or soul, but flesh. So that it seems according to analogy of the two heads of the race, that we should receive in some way the Flesh of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven. It also seems that the communication of His Flesh requires means.
The communication of Life from His Divine Nature direct would seem to require no outward means-indeed, to be intolerant of such things. The communication of Life from His reasonable Soul, of itself could only be in the way in which one soul communicates its thoughts to another-that is, by means of language, books, and such things. But if there be any proper meaning in the word “flesh,” so that it is impossible to substitute for it “Godhead” or “Spirit,” then a means seems to be required by which His Flesh may reach us: and this is emphasized by the fact that He gives us His Flesh, not for the life of our souls only, but for the eternal life of our bodies, for no less than four times in this discourse in connection with Christ as the Bread of Life, have we the words, “I will raise him up at the last day:
From The Gospel According To St John by M. F. Sadler