by HG Yuhanon Mor Meletius, Thrissur
There are two things to be considered initially before we enter in to any talk about the passage. First, the text is given by the Church for reading on a Sunday after Pentecost. Second, Jesus was talking to a crowd which received enough food He gave them from five loaves of bread and two fish (6:1-14). This act is presented by John as a sign and not as a miracle (6:14). Miracle is a one time act of wonder. Sign is an act that points to some thing greater and of universal significance (it should be noted that John does not talk about miracle any where in his Gospel, only about sign).
Taking the second point first for our meditation, we should say that there were two kinds of people before Jesus, those who ate and hence followed Him and two, those Jews who always followed to criticize Him. Jesus addressed both of them effectively. He addressed the first group first (6:26). What Jesus saw in the nature of that group can be considered as that of innocent poor common folks in any country side. They are primarily concerned of their own food, welfare and safety. Many Christian denominations in the past (some even today) increased the number of membership all over the world exploiting this attitude. Of course it is good to provide people with what they need for life in this world. But unless it leads to a greater goal, it could turn out to be an enslaving evil practice. Feeding the poor, even if not for conversion, is good, but should lead them to help find own food and also simultaneously work for a world where no one has to receive food or anything else from other people free.
But we now live in a world where feeding is either a continuous activity or which is a means to collect funds and to take felicitation of the public in favor of the provider. Christians are always praised in public for their 'charity' works which has become an institution in itself. Many a time it is not out of caring love we do this. Mahatma Gandhi said, 'God has provided enough for every one in this world, but not for the greed of any.' When there is greed everyone, but a few, suffers, and when everyone suffers these few can, in the name of charity, keep providing and can keep the majority receivers. We need to be reminded that Jesus did not feed the people to keep them lazy and at the receiving end eternally. Rather He did it out of his caring love and that itself was a one time act (the difference in the number of fish and bread and the people involved in this act. Cf. Matt. 14: 17, 21; 15:14, 18; 16:9 ff. Mk. 6:38 ff.; 8:6-28; Luke 9:13 ff.) may suggest more than one event).
Jesus was a bit annoyed when he found the crowd following him. But he used that situation to further educate them. So he talked about Himself, the bread that came down from heaven. The whole chapter is about food, its limitation and the need to go beyond. The signs that people see around them should lead to the ultimate goal that is Christ Himself. It is here the Jews had problem with Jesus. They were a proud people who claimed their ancestry from Abraham (forgetting, Adam and his fall), and the exodus with the consequent life in the wilderness. Jesus was hitting on the core of their pride when He said that the food they ate in the wilderness was not given by Moses and was not sufficient for their eternal life. Moses was only a mediator. Of course he mediated effectively, but he was not the source.
In market economy one who distributes or the middle person becomes more important than the producer. Price of commodities is not set by the farmer or producer but by who auction them. People say demand decides price, but every one knows that demand can be manipulated and thus market becomes god. Provider is misunderstood as maker. In restaurants no one knows in what physical condition food is prepared in the kitchen or what all chemicals are added to make it tasty. We will be satisfied if it is served by well dressed bearer in good style. This is our world!
Jesus says, leaving aside the felicitators and what is provide by them every one should reach the cause of things and events which is of course God Himself ("As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God." Ps. 42:1) lest they perish. It is with God alone human could find true nourishment that leads to eternity. This God is the one who provides us with our physical needs, but much more than that who gives Himself away for true nourishment. So Jesus said, "I am the bread of life". This was a blow to the pride of Jews.
We who claim to be those converted by St. Thomas from among Brahmins today need to get a blow straight on forehead of our pride. Of course it was St. Thomas who brought Christianity to India. But he was only a messenger. The message was Christ and we can not ever forget that. Even the sense of duty- bound of St. Thomas has not become a model for us. Again the a-historical claim of Brahmin origin has nothing to do with we being Christians. Still we proudly present that claim before others many a time to stratify and degrade them. Today the H. Spirit, just as Jesus at that time, is giving us a blow upon the core of our pride of being descendants of Brahmins. Do we take this blow positive is the crucial question at the moment. What is the size of the gap between our claim and our life as Christians, life with in-fight, rivalry, greed and craze for material gains and processions?
When Jesus said that He was the bread of life, He put that claim in concrete action. What disturbed Jesus was that the Jews understood it in common man's language only though their claim was that they l knew all the secrets of the scripture. They thought Jesus was advocating cannibalism. On the contrary He was bringing in a profound social philosophy and theology.
The scene changed verse 52 onwards. It has moved to the Synagogue in Capernaum. The Jews took up the old issue that was discussed at the sea shore. It shows how much they were disturbed by what Jesus said about eating His body and drinking His blood. Of course Jesus did not further explain what He said about the food for eternity. But later at the last supper table 'He took bread, blessed and gave it to His disciples and said, take eat of it, this is my body. Then He took the cup blessed and gave to His disciples and said, drink of it, this is my blood' (Matt. 26:27-27).
Bread and wine make basic food items for the people of the region and are from the fruit of the hard toil of humans without causing pain to anyone. We know that the blessed bread and wine make the body and blood of Christ distributed in our midst and shared among. This was the same style of distribution and sharing in Jn. 6:11 ("He then took the bread and blessed and distributed) among the multitude. This is why Biblical interpreters call the event 'pre-taste of the Messianic Banquet' (Matt. 8:11-13. Cf. Ps. 107:2, 3; Isa. 43:5). What happened beyond the Tiberius lake (6:1) was a sign that points to the final sharing of table with the Lord or in the language of the Church fathers 'becoming one like God'. This is the noble goal set by God for human.
Bread and wine are the fruit of the toil of humans upon the earth (or in the garden according to the book of Genesis terminology). They are converted to become flesh and blood of Jesus 'the Son of Man'/ Son of God. Making bread and wine is not the work of a single alienated individual. There is a corporate effort involved in making bread and wine which shall become body and blood of Christ. (in preparing the land, sowing, nursing, watering, reaping, grinding, baking, crushing, fermenting etc.). They are eaten and drank not only by the one who makes them.
Two important points are to be noted. One, it is the outcome of the co-operative work of humans and nature that makes the bread and wine that shall become the body and blood of Christ. Two, reversing the point just made, any bread and wine, the fruit of the hard toil of humans, if blessed by God, is potentially good enough to become the body and blood of Christ (originally bread and wine for H. Qurbana in Syriac tradition used to be brought by believers from their home. I should not go beyond this for possible misunderstanding of my point). No wonder God when created humans, set them on earth to "till the earth and keep it", so that bread and wine or food materials may be produced out of it which shall become not only nourishment for the body but also for the soul taking it as a sign. So the food we eat is not only to fill our tummy, but also to set our relations right and to enter in to better relationships.
This Gospel passage is set to be read by the Church for meditation during post-Pentecostal days. The Holy Spirit that came upon us which, 'shall leads us to all truth' (John 16: 13) shall help us understand the need to preserve the amity between humans and nature (which was lost during the time of Adam "cursed is the ground for thy sake" – Gen. 3:17) to produce good fruit which shall by the blessing of the creator, become the source of nourishment both of body and soul. So what we make to feed us and what we eat to nourish us becomes true nourishment only if it helps us to go further and beyond to join our Lord at the 'Messianic Table'. Everything we see here so shall become a sign pointing to the future possibility.
I am the Bread of Life
by Rev. Fr. Mammen Mathew
Jesus, The Bread of Life
by Rev. Fr. Dr. P. C. Eapen
Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost
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