18th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Glenstal, 01.08.2021, 10 a.m.
Ex 16:2-4, 12-15, 31a 2 Ephesians 4:17, 20-24 John 6:24-3
In the New Testament the Greek word zoë, which means ‘life’, usually refers to the imperishable life that can be found in God alone, and Jesus uses the term precisely in this sense, when he says: I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6). And also: I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live, even if he dies (Jn 11:25). The main point of these two statements is that through faith in Jesus Christ – upon whom God the Father has set the seal of the Spirit (cf. Jn 6:27) – we come to share in the very life of God and his only begotten Son, or – to use the language of later Theology – we become partakers of the life of the Trinity
In today’s gospel Jesus uses the term zoë again to make yet another extraordinary statement: I am the bread of life – he says –; whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (Jn 6:35). The implication here is that there are two kinds of bread – one that is perishable like the earthly life it nourishes, and another that endures for eternal life (cf. Jn 6:27). To the first category belonged both the manna that Moses gave to the people of God in the wilderness (cf. Jn 6:31, 49) and the two loaves that Jesus multiplied and distributed to the five thousand by the Sea of Galilee (cf. Jn 6:26). But the other kind of bread is entirely unique – it is a person, it is Jesus himself, who said: I am the living bread which has come down from heaven; anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world (Jn 6:51).
By describing himself as the bread of life (cf. Jn 6:35) and the living bread (cf. Jn 6:51) Jesus is saying that he is the only one who has the life of God in himself to bestow upon the world as a gift. And this is so, because he has come down from heaven (cf. 6:51) – that is to say, he is both the Word that became flesh (cf. Jn 1:14) and the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died, to yield a rich harvest (cf. Jn 12:24) for God the Father.
While he is explaining all this to the crowds, Jesus insists on the need to eat the true bread from heaven that his Father gives (cf. Jn 6:32). If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood – he says – you have no life in you. (Jn 6:53) But how are we to understand this urgent invitation to eat and to drink?
In his Confessions, Saint Augustine refers to a personal experience that helps us to find an answer to this question. He reports that once he felt as if Jesus was telling him: “I am the food of the mature: grow then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food, but you will be changed into me” (Confessions VII, 10, 18). This means that to eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood is essentially to believe in him, it is to allow ourselves to be transformed into him by a faith that embraces a new kind life – a life no longer centred on our own self, but on Jesus Christ and his body, the Church, of which we are the members.
We are therefore urged to put away our old self, corrupted and deluded by its lusts (cf. Ep 4:22), and to clothe ourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God (cf. Ep 4:24). And this appeal to be innerly renewed and live for God alone becomes all the more pressing every time we celebrate the Eucharist, and literally eat the body of Christ and drink his blood under the species of bread and wine; for if Jesus Christ so gives himself to us as our daily food and drink, we can only repay his gift by offering our own lives to God in union with him.