I am that bread, says Jesus

1 August, 2021 18th Sunday, Year B

In today’s gospel, the people ask Jesus three questions and each time his response suggests, think again.

The first question comes after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes on the other side of the sea and they’re wondering where is he? On locating him they ask, ‘When did you get here?’ Jesus’ answer is puzzling: you’ve seen the signs of God’s love he says, but haven’t understood their meaning and can only see that you’ve had plenty to eat!   He goes on to contrast working for what is here today, gone tomorrow and what sustains you forever. It’s this I’m offering you, he says, through the Father.

We’d prefer it if Jesus would stick to the script, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t answer to our expectations. Instead, he leads his listeners into what seems like unchartered territory and, like the Israelites in the first reading, we may begin to yearn for the certainties back in Egypt, when enslaved, but at least we weren’t hungry. But then, that’s what the spiritual revolution referred to in today’s second reading is all about, our secure selves being overturned by what Jesus says, our minds opening up.  

This leads to the second question: what must we do in order to do what God wants?  Again, he wrong-foots them when he responds: Believe in the one he sent. They sort of get what he’s saying and respond by thinking of him in the time-honoured way and ask, can you show us a sign like the manna given by Moses in the desert, so we might believe in you? And a third time he brings them undone. It’s not about me, or Moses, he responds, but about my Father who gives you true bread from heaven, for the world’s sake.  

When they say give us that bread always, Jesus replies, I am that bread. It’s a breathtaking statement, a new Passover, a new revelation of God. We’ve gone from loaves and fishes and manna in the desert to this pledge of God’s love, where our hunger and our eating is the way into Jesus, into God. In eating this bread ‘we receive what we are and become what we receive.’

We’re learning to receive what God gives us and learning that we can’t program it, or earn it in some way, but have only to receive it. It’s so simple we don’t quite get it and we’re back to their questions and having to re-think our lives.

It all comes down to this simple act of eating. Food and eating and bodies, now transformed, so we might be bread for others. Jesus is the sign of God’s unending love for us made real in his broken body, the Church. To experience something of this reality is to believe in him who was sent. Is he the one we have been looking for? Come and eat.                          

Damian Coleridge

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