This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications and is included here with their permission
John 6.35, 41-51
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6.51a)
Gandalf the Wizard, Elizabeth Bennet and Inspector Morse are all fictional characters who have been brought to life by actors on the stage, in films or television and radio productions. When we’re reading we often build up mental pictures of the people in the story. When we watch a dramatization of the book we may be surprised, disappointed or pleased by the way characters are depicted. The dramatization may open up to us new ways of thinking about the whole story and shed a different light for us on relationships and interactions.
To a certain extent, of course, one person’s interpretation of a fictional character is as valid as another’s and it can be exciting to see or hear different productions of books like The Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice and the Inspector Morse novels.
The representation and interpretation of the life of a real person may not be quite so straight forward. If that person is, for example, Mozart, Oliver Cromwell or Florence Nightingale we have to rely on contemporary descriptions, letters and other documents that build up a picture of that person’s life, personality and relationships. And we usually have no way of knowing how close the dramatic portrayal of some historical figure is to the real person.
From their scriptures the people of Israel have built up in their collective minds a picture of the one they call God’s Anointed One, Messiah, who will come to set them free from tyranny and establish his kingdom of justice and peace and they look out for signs that he may be coming soon.
When Jesus feeds a crowd of five thousand from an offering of five loaves and two fish the people get very excited and think that Jesus is indeed “the prophet” and want to declare him their king then and there.
But there are a number of people who reject this picture of Jesus as “the prophet” or the Anointed One of God. He cannot have come down from heaven, they say, because he’s Joseph’s son and they know all his family. He’s just an ordinary human being like them.
This critical and disbelieving group have, without knowing it, stumbled upon the great mystery at the heart of John’s Gospel: that the Word which was with God in the beginning and through whom all things came into being has become flesh and lived among us.
John tells us that when the Word became flesh, whoever believed in him would be given power to become children of God. And in today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus saying “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever.”
Both the crowds of people following Jesus and those who are hostile towards him have mind pictures of God’s Anointed One which are getting in the way of them seeing the truth.
They cannot see the reality of a God who comes alongside us as a human being and feeds our spiritual hunger with the revelation of his grace and truth, his mercy and compassion and his all embracing love.
We probably all have our own mind pictures of what Jesus was like. If we are looking for a portrayal in art or drama that resonates with our mental image there are thousands upon thousands of representations of Jesus and the events of his life from his birth to his crucifixion to choose from.
However we picture Jesus today’s Gospel reading offers us a powerful insight into the “unseen” – the relationship between Jesus and his Father in heaven. Just as “the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1.1b) so Jesus says that he has seen the Father, that he was sent by him and that he and his Father work together to draw people into fellowship with them.
The message is that, in spite of the staggering cost he had to pay, God came to live among us and to walk alongside us so that we can know that he understands our experiences, our thoughts and emotions and so that we can learn from him whatever is necessary for our spiritual and eternal lives.
Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven to find us and to bring us and keep us in eternal life – we can only accept that gift with wonder and thanksgiving.
- Jesus identifies himself as the bread of life sent by God from heaven.
- Those who are hostile towards Jesus refuse to believe he is sent from heaven because they know who he is and they know his family.
- Jesus is sent from heaven as the Word of God made flesh so that he can live as one of us within a human family but also so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life as a child of God.
- Whatever mental images of Jesus we have we need to hear him offering himself as the bread of life which will bring us, today, into closer fellowship with him in the eternal life of God.
Let us pray to God our Father believing that Jesus prays alongside us, sharing our concerns and knowing our needs and the needs of the world.
We pray for God’s church throughout the world and for all who follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We pray that we may put away all falsehood and division between us so that united in Christ we may offer the Bread of Life to a world hungry for love and compassion.
We pray for all national leaders especially those in authority in areas of conflict and where there is great need of food and clean water, medical supplies and the possibility of living life in safety and peace.
We pray for our communities, for the people we encounter in the places where we live and work and worship. We pray that as Christ loves us so may we love our neighbours who are also our brothers and sisters.
We pray for those in any kind of distress or anxiety that they will know the presence of Christ alongside them in their darkness keeping them safe and leading them always into deeper fellowship with him.
God our Father we offer these prayers and the unspoken prayers of our hearts to you now and ask that you will take them and use them and us to further the work of your kingdom. We pray in the name of your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lived, died and rose again for us that we may share in your eternal life. Amen.