This Gospel passage that we have just heard is another in a five or six week-long series of readings all taken from the sixth Chapter of John’s Gospel. Taken together these readings give us a picture of Christ’s attempt, for the first time, really, to introduce to his followers the idea of the Eucharist.
But before He could do that, there would have to be a great deal of preparation. So Christ calls back to the minds of the people instances from their own history, in which God revealed God’s nature by providing God’s people with food, such as the multiplication of the loaves by the prophet Elisha in last week’s First Reading, the manna in the desert today, and so on.
To this the people respond, “Show us why we should follow you. Do something God-like, Feed us. Keep us comfortable and happy.” In effect they are saying, “If you want to be God, fine. But be God on our terms. Then we will follow you gladly.”
And so here Christ has to radically alter the direction of the conversation, and of the people’s understanding. He says, “Oh, I will give you bread all right. But the bread I will give you doesn’t have much to do with being comfortable and full. It has to do with being alive.”
The people say, “Well, that sounds fairly ok. Give it to us.” And Christ, “I am the bread of life.” It is as if he is saying, “The bread I will give you will never make sense to you until I do. Until you can say that a thing is true because I say it, or a thing is good because I do it, you will never be ready to take the bread of life.”
You may remember that last weekend I spoke a little bit about the meaningfulness of our efforts at virtue. How each one of us sooner or later reaches the point at which we must ask, “Is it really worth all the trouble it takes to try and make one’s way through life in at least a halfway decent and Christian way?” well, anything that Christ did is meaningful, valuable, purposeful, because Christ did it.
Why is there a point to being patient and forgiving over and over again in an exasperating and frustrating world? Because simply, Christ was patient and forgiving over and over again in an exasperating and frustrating world, and Christ acts meaningfully. Every claim that Christ makes for himself, He makes for the Eucharist. Every promise that He made to those who accepted Him, He makes to those who accept the Eucharist.
The Bread of Life is still with us. If we do take it, and eat in memory of Him, because He did, then our lives will be purposeful, satisfying, valuable. They may not always be comfortable, these lives, but they will always be good and meaningful.