This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
“Jesus said to them ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungy’” (John 6:35a)
Today’s gospel reading is the second in a series of five which takes us on a journey through chapter six of St John’s gospel.
Last week we heard the story of the feeding of five thousand people.
Today we hear Jesus say that we should work for the spiritual food that brings eternal life He identifies himself as the living bread from heaven and says that to believe in him is to have eternal life.
This chapter represents an epic spiritual journey to faith in our living Lord who offers himself to us so that we may have eternal life. It’s about a journey that Jesus first invites his Jewish listeners to take and a journey that we ourselves can travel.
The story is set at the time of the Passover when the people of Israel remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and their great leader, Moses, who also gave them God’s commandments. Freed from Egypt, Israel spent forty years in the wilderness. When they were hungry they were fed with manna from heaven.
Especially at this time of Passover, the significance of Jesus feeding a crowd of five thousand while up in a mountain would not be missed and indeed many thought that Jesus was the new Moses come to deliver his people once again.
The manna from heaven came to symbolise the word of God and it was said that God fed them with manna “in order to make them understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”.
Again, these words would have been familiar to the people who heard Jesus say that they should not work for the bread which only satisfies their physical hunger but for the living bread of eternal life – God’s word.
We who know John’s Gospel will also make the link between John’s opening verses when he talks of the Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Now we hear Jesus saying that he is the living bread, that living word of God.
But what does this say about the way we live out our Christian faith?
We don’t know what it’s like to be in slavery in Egypt but we may well know what it is to be in different kinds of slavery. Lots of things can curtail our freedom. The circumstances of our lives, the worries and cares we carry and wounds from the past.
Moses called God’s people and led them out of slavery. Jesus calls us today to lead us out of our slavery, whatever that is, into his eternal life.
The people of Israel could have refused to listen to Moses. They might not have believed it possible to escape or they might have been frightened of venturing out into the unknown.
We too could refuse to listen to Jesus. We might not believe it’s possible to escape from the burdens weighing us down or we might be afraid of what life would be like without them.
Jesus calls us to dare to believe in him as he dares to offer himself to us as the living bread which can satisfy our spiritual hunger and free us from the past.
The Jews believed that they earned God’s favour by keeping his commandments. We may not have written rules to follow in order to please God but many of us have them written in our minds and suffer from guilt and anxiety when we fail to live up to them.
Somewhere buried deep many of us have a belief that we’re not good enough and somehow we need to earn God’s love. But the truth is God’s love is gift, pure and simple. When we respond to that love and follow Jesus we will find in him not a demanding master but a companion who walks alongside us as a friend. And if that is how God accepts us and loves us then we will, in time, learn to accept ourselves and also to accept others who are accepted and loved by God.
As we continue our journey through this chapter we can reflect on what it means for us to live a more simple faith, taking Jesus at his word, trusting fully in him as the living word of God and feeding on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.
1. Jesus feeding five thousand people reminds the Jews of the story of their ancestors, fed by manna from heaven, in the wilderness.
2. Jesus reminds them that it was God who fed them, not Moses.
3. He says also that God will give them the true bread from heaven which gives life to the world.
4. He declares himself to be that Bread of Life and says that whoever believes in him will receive the freedom of eternal life.
5. Jesus invites us, through faith, to accept God’s gift in our own lives.
Let us pray to our Father in heaven for our own needs and for the needs of the world, giving thanks for his promise to hear us and to provide for us.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your saving grace throughout the history of your people. We pray today for your church in the world and for your guidance for the road ahead. Help us to continue to bear a faithful witness to your loving kindness and mercy shown to all who turn to you.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the example of leadership given by your Son in his life on earth. We pray for the renewal of a spirit of humility and a sense of responsibility among leaders of this world that the hungry might be fed and the oppressed might be freed to live in peace.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your love and compassion for all who suffer in body, mind and spirit. We pray that your healing presence will calm their fears, ease their pain and bring light into the darkness of all in distress.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of your Son to be a saviour who walks with us on our life’s journey. We pray for all who travel with us in our family, among our friends and within this community. We pray for a deepening awareness of our need for one another and of your image in the hearts of everyone we meet.
Almighty God and Father of us all, we offer you our prayers and ourselves, that we may play our part in your response. Help us to trust in you to work always for the good of all your children as we pray in the name of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen