Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Jesus said, “I am the bread of life”. Taken in isolation, and stripped of its familiarity, this seems an exceptionally strange utterance. What can it mean? The Gospel for this Sunday selects a few verses out of a longer passage which really needs to be read as a whole, since it provides the context within which this strange claim is to be understood. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus chastises the people who have been pursuing him. This is the same crowd of “five thousand” that was miraculously fed from a few loaves and fishes. Jesus rebukes them because they had seen this, not as a spiritual sign, but as a marvelous source of free food.

It is against this background that he makes his assertion, and goes on to contrast the “bread” he has to offer, not just with the free bread the crowd was seeking, but with the manna that saved the Israelites from starvation in the wilderness. The key difference, we might say, is between the means to sustain life, and the source of life itself. It is a deep spiritual error to mistake the bread our bodies need with the “bread” that “endures to eternal life”.

This is a mistake that can be made with the best of intentions. The reference to Jesus as the bread of life is sometimes invoked in connection with Christian action for the alleviation of poverty and destitution -- as it is with the inclusion of Mjassojedow's picture of 'The Bread Line' in the Vanderbilt Library page for this week of the Lectionary (above). This is an indisputably worthy cause. Yet, the spiritual life that Jesus offers is needed by, and available to the poor no less than the prosperous. Wealth is no guarantee of salvation, everyone agrees. But conversely, being on the breadline is no insurmountable obstacle to it. Everyone needs to remember the Mosaic injunction with which Jesus repels the devil – “Man does not live by bread alone”.

John’s Gospel takes the thought further. There is a quite different kind of bread for which we ought to hunger, and it is to be found supremely, and uniquely, in Christ Jesus. Prosperity matters, but not as much as 'the riches of his grace'.

No comments:

Post a Comment