‘Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God...” — Eph 5:1-2

This week, we continue to hear from chapter six of St. John’s Gospel: Jesus’ bread of life discourse. Last week, Jesus spoke about how He feeds and sustains us, but this week, His teaching helps us to see how He is also food for the journey.

Once again, our other readings help to set the scene. In our first reading (1 Kgs 19:4-8), we enter in the middle of an adventure. The great prophet Elijah has proclaimed God’s word, but he has only met with opposition and failure. He has even had to flee for his life into the desert.

Elijah is exhausted and dispirited. In this dark hour, God speaks to Elijah and feeds him, so that he will be able to journey forward and not give up. At journey’s end, Elijah will encounter God Himself.

Many spiritual writers have seen this incident as another type of foreshadowing of how Jesus comes to us in our difficulties and trials: He will feed us, especially with the Eucharist, so that we can get up and journey on.

All this month, we continue to sing Psalm 34 and, as last week, we say, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” The psalm reminds us of God’s love and care for us, perhaps especially in times of adversity. It is one of the most beautiful psalms in the Scriptures and it makes a great prayer to have in a prayer book, purse or even on the refrigerator door!

In the second reading (Eph 4:30-5:2), we hear of what we might call two types of food. One is the food of bitterness, anger and meanness; the other is the bread of kindness, compassion and forgiveness. One food bloats and harms us; the other feeds and sustains us on our journey of life. Let us eat well!

In our next part of the bread of life discourse (Jn 6:41-51), the crowd reacts to the words Jesus spoke last week. They “grumble” or “murmur” against Him because of all that He had claimed. Incidentally, this is the same word that is used to describe the grumblings against God by the people when they journey through the desert to the Promised Land.

Jesus had said He is “the bread that came down from heaven.” We should notice that the crowd grumbles because they understood exactly what Jesus meant in His words. This is no mere symbolic talk or vague image. When Jesus says that He is the bread of life and the bread that came down from heaven, that is what He means.

Jesus goes on to say yet more in response to their grumbling (after telling the crowd to stop complaining!). He repeats that He is the bread of life, but then goes even deeper in two ways:

•  first, this bread is Jesus’ flesh, given for the life of the world, and He is the living bread from heaven. There is an amazing realism here and a vital connection to the Eucharist. Some commentators have tried to say that Jesus is only talking symbolically about believing in Him so as to have life, not about the Eucharist or the real presence in the Eucharist. However, this cannot be true. It is not an either/or, but a both/and meaning to Jesus’ words. The crowd certainly saw it this way.

•  Second, Jesus uses an underlying image of a journey or movement to explain Himself as the bread of life. The ancient Israelites ate the manna or the bread of heaven as they journeyed through the desert, but they still died. Whoever eats Jesus, who is the bread of life and the bread that comes down from heaven, will live forever. In the Eucharist, we receive this bread from heaven. This bread gives us life — both as a pledge of life after we make that final journey when we die, and also as food for our journey of life now.

Incidentally, the ancient Christians also called the Eucharist “viaticum.” This term was used by the Roman army for the supplies they would take on a journey or campaign to feed and sustain the troops. It is a great image of the Eucharist: a food that sustains and feeds us on our journey through life and that helps us in all our battles and struggles.

The Eucharist is a true “bread of life.” As we prepare for the diocesan Eucharistic Congress to be held Sept. 22, we see the strong connection between our readings this week and the Eucharist. The Eucharist is indeed our food for the journey in this life and a “foretaste and promise of the paschal feast of heaven,” when our journey is complete.