In my post on last Sunday's gospel reading, I discussed how Jesus preserves us from hunger and from thirst. In today's gospel reading (Jn 6:41-51), we see that He even preserves us from death. But how?
First, we must identify this bread from heaven. What is it? Or, better yet, who is it? Jesus said earlier in Jn 6, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (vs. 33). Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life” (vs. 35). Jesus Himself is this bread. He is the one who has come down from heaven to give life to the world. And this is nothing new. Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus already told us this:
“No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:13-15)
The newness comes in Jesus’ command that we must eat this bread in order to receive the eternal life that it provides. But, what does it mean to eat this bread? As I understand it, this notion of eating the bread from heaven develops as one progresses through chapter 6.
Jesus began by connecting eating with believing. In vs. 40, He said, “Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.” And again in vs. 47, “Whoever believes has eternal life.” Yet, in vs. 50 and 51, He said, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” So, to “eat” is to believe in Him, since both lead to eternal life.
However, after vs. 51, we see that Jesus took the message one radical step further. Not only must you believe in Him, but you must actually eat His flesh and drink His blood. We will hear these “hard sayings” in next Sunday’s gospel. My point here is only to say that to “eat the bread from heaven” means both to believe in Him and to consume the Eucharist.
Now that we know what this means, we can finally answer the initial question. Eating the bread from heaven gives us eternal life in that:
- He who believes in Christ, not just intellectually but wholeheartedly, follows Him and strives for the life of grace that leads to eternity in heaven; and
- When we receive the Eucharist, we receive the grace that we need to live that life of grace and holiness.