This passage is the concluding part of the discourse on the bread of life, which was taught by Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum after the multiplication of the loaves and fish.
The people saw the sign; they decided to take him by force to make him king on the spot.
Why do these amazed and admiring crowds seek Jesus? They are moved by an immature faith. They are interested in Jesus just because they think he is able to satisfy, through miracles, their material needs.
Mature faith is something else, something those who understand know that Jesus does not perform miracles to impress, but to introduce a deeper reality.
In Capernaum, the crowd does not understand. Jesus attempts to explain the mystery. He starts presenting himself as the bread of life, which comes from heaven (John 6:33-35).
He declares that whoever listens to him, assimilates his message, his gospel, feeds himself on the words of life. But his statement is not listened to.
For the Jews, the bread that came down from heaven is the manna (Psalm 78:24) and the food that nourishes is the word of God (Isaiah 55:1-3). How can “the son of Joseph claim such right?” they ask indignantly.
Instead of mitigating his claim, Jesus makes an even more surprising statement. The bread to eat is not only his doctrine, but his own flesh. “The bread I shall give is my flesh and I will give it for the life of the world.”
Eating this God made flesh means recognising that the revelation of God comes into the world through the carpenter’s son and to welcome this wisdom coming from heaven.
Even after this clarification, the scandalous aspect of the proposal of Jesus remains. How can we eat his person? The shocked reaction of the listeners is understandable and justified. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v.52).
They understand he is not only referring to the spiritual assimilation of God’s revelation, but also to a real eating. What does he mean? The discourse on the Eucharist is inserted here.
Jesus gives the meaning of the sacrament of Eucharist. This is the “fount and summit of all Christian life.”
We know that on Sundays many Christian communities do not gather around the table of the bread of the Eucharist, but around the word of God as they have no priest to serve them. We are confident that they receive an abundance of life from this unique food available to them.
Eucharist, it must be emphasised, is a sacrament—that really makes the Risen Christ present. It does not substitute faith in the word of Christ. Before receiving the Eucharistic bread, it is necessary to listen to and meditate on a gospel passage. The reading of the word of God is the essential premise.
Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Translated by Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF