Have you ever had someone ever tell you, “Who do you think you are?” This question because the other person may well have thought that your enigmatic explanation made that individual feel ignorant.
In the Gospel for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 6:41-51), Jesus is placed in a similar situation. His statement is, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” And the group of Jews surrounding Jesus becomes quite surprised by this statement and asks for an explanation.
What did Jesus mean by such a comment? Seems to me that there are two important concepts here: “bread,” and “from heaven.” The first deals with nourishment, and the second deals with divine origin.
First, bread as nourishment. Jesus tells the group that their ancestors ate Manna (bread-like edible food) in the desert. The Israelites were crossing the desert as they were leaving Egypt for the promised land.
During this exodus the people expressed hunger and called to God, via Moses, to give them food. Then this Manna came from the heavens and the people were satisfied. (Cf. Exodus 16 for this narrative) The people were nourished. Then Jesus told the crowd that this gesture occurred only once. That is to say that these folks who received the Manna eventually died. Consequently, this nourishment was totally physical.
Second, the concept of “from heaven.” Manna came from the heavens as noted in the text from Exodus. God sent the bread to nourish his people. So, the gesture had a divine origin.
Now, what can we learn from the Gospel? By reflecting on what Jesus said about himself. Bread is nourishment. We can become nourished by receiving the Eucharist. This is primarily spiritual nourishment and one can receive it more than once.
The Eucharist reminds us of the Last Supper and the use of bread to give life. Every time that we go to Mass, we become spiritually nourished by receiving the Eucharist. This constancy of reflection and reception is almost a certainty for eternal life.
When Jesus says that he is “from heaven,” our background understanding brings to mind the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas. For these seasons keep telling us that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. So what we understand when Jesus says that he is “from heaven,” we are in reality understanding his humanity and divinity. Our belief in this is reflected in our behavior toward others.
Nourished by the Eucharist (bread), and belief in the divinity of Jesus (from heaven), gives us pretty much of a guarantee of eternal life as long as we behave ourselves.