WORK FOR THE FOOD THAT LASTS FOREVER. With these words Jesus sought to raise the horizons of his audience from material concerns to spiritual realities. More specifically, he has in mind to create the desire for a communion with his person. For, as he subsequently makes clear, faith in the Eucharist is faith in his person. The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.... I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in will never thirst. This doctrine proved to be too elevated for the crowd who had seen the miraculous powers of Jesus manifested the day before in the multiplication of the loaves. Even many of his disciples found this teaching beyond their capacity for belief. The proclamation of Jesus' claim to be the heavenly bread that bestows unending life not only on the soul but also on the body proved to be a test of faith.
This teaching, however, had already been adumbrated in the sacred writings and in Jewish tradition. Ben Sirach states that He (God) gave them knowledge and the Torah of life as their heritage (17:11) and in 4 Ezra 14:30 the Jewish author refers to the Bread of Life. The Torah was referred to quite simply as bread by Rabbi Jehosua in his interpretation of Proverbs 9: 5. Where Wisdom says: Eat of my bread he maintains quite correctly that it means in substance: absorb my teaching, be formed by my Torah. (cf. Strach-Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 2:483). Jesus as Teacher, the one sent by the Father imparts the bread of life by his words. In the Eucharist, he himself becomes the life-giving bread, source of a new, divine life.
The liturgy presents this passage of the Gospel to us during the Easter Season by a deliberate design. Faith in the Eucharist is intimately associated with faith in the resurrection itself. The Eucharist depends entirely on the resurrection, for it consists in the risen, glorified body of the living Lord Jesus. Both these mysteries, The Eucharist and the resurrection, when first announced met with unbelief on the part of the majority of disciples. In neither instance, however, did the Lord soften his words so as to modify the demands made on faith. At the resurrection, he ate in the presence of his apostles and showed them his wounds to demonstrate the reality of his flesh and to convey the identity of his person with the Master who had taught them. In his discourse on the Eucharist, he insists all the more when objections are raised that this bread he speaks of is truly his own living person, his body and blood. Consequently it is his full divinity and his living, glorified humanity at the same time.
In other passages of St. John's Gospel we are reminded of this same fundamental truth. He who drinks of the water that I will give will not thirst in all eternity, he declared to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob (John 4: 13, 14). I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will not die in eternity(John 12: 25, 26).
Later when they ask him what they must do to perform the work that God requires of them, he gives a reply that is calculated to make us reflect: This is the work of God that you believe in the one he sent. Belief in the Lord Jesus does indeed require labor, the work of the heart. This interior work is no less a struggle against the thoughts of the flesh and of this world than that bodily labor by which a person strives to obtain the necessities of life, which are symbolized by bread. Belief in the Eucharist requires a confrontation with the worldly mind-set that narrows down the possibilities of life to what is material and even visible. Proof that satisfies our limited intelligence is not forthcoming for any of the divine mysteries. But faith in the person of our Lord, in his word and in his authority, opens up the inner eye of the heart to behold divine truth and to discern in them the gift of a higher, nobler life that is limitless because it is a sharing in the glorified state of our risen Savior. All that we do to maintain and deepen our faith in these mysteries is the work of God. May we spend the best of our energies, our time and our labor in striving to obtain this bread that so nourishes us as to enable us to grow into citizens of the Kingdom of God.Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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