Commentary on John 6:30-35
We continue the discussion of Jesus as the Bread of Life.
Again the Jews ask Jesus for a sign, a sign like the manna that their forebears enjoyed in the desert. They quote Scripture at him: “He gave them bread from the heavens to eat” (Exod 16:4-5; Numbers 11:7-9; Ps 78:24)
As a gift from God the manna was said to come from the sky (“from the heavens”). Some think it was identified with a natural substance which can still be found in small quantities on the Sinai peninsula. Here it is understood as something preternatural and Jesus sees in it a forerunner of the Eucharist. Also the manna, thought to have been hidden by Jeremiah, was expected to appear again miraculously at the Passover as a sign of the last days. “A popular Jewish expectation was that when the Messiah came he would renew the sending of manna. The crowd probably reasoned that Jesus had done little compared to Moses. He had fed 5,000; Moses had fed a nation. He did it once; Moses did it for 40 years. He gave ordinary bread; Moses gave ‘bread from heaven’” (New International Version Study Bible).
Jesus replies that the manna was not the real bread from God; it was only a sign or symbol. It fed the body but not the spirit. “God’s bread is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They ask for that real bread “which gives life to the world”. Clearly they were speaking in a materialistic sense. It reminds one of the Samaritan woman at the well who asked for the water which would prevent her ever again being thirsty and spare her having to come to the well every day.
Jesus now tells them solemnly: “I AM the bread of life.” The “I AM” strongly identifies Jesus with God and this is the first of seven “I AM…” statements that appear in John’s gospel. The phrase – in Greek ego eimi (’ ’ – recalls the name of God revealed to Moses in the burning bush (Exod 3:14ff). Both the manna and the recent feeding of the 5,000 are action-parables of God [I AM] giving himself to his people.
And Jesus goes on to clarify the meaning of his statement: “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” To “come to Jesus” is to bond oneself closely to him and all he stands for. And we have seen what “believe in” entails. It implies much, much more than just “receiving Jesus in Communion”.
To eat that bread of life we have to soak ourselves in the life of Jesus, to penetrate deeply into the Word of God that comes to us in the Gospel and the rest of the Scriptures, to assimilate his Way into our own lives. The Eucharist we celebrate is the sign of that bread of life which, in fact, is available all day long to those who are in close contact with Jesus.
Those who live in that close relationship with Jesus are the ones who are truly alive – here and now. Am I one of them? How deep is my faith? my Christianity? my knowledge of and commitment to the Gospel? my understanding of the place of the Eucharist in our Christian life?