St. John, in recounting the Bread of Life discourse, which we read over several Sundays, uses some interesting linguistic dexterity that begs a deeper exploration – an exploration that will begin today and conclude next Sunday. The challenge of Jesus’ words is severe enough without the linguistic gymnastics that John uses but, as we will see, John realizes that this discourse requires more than simple words and language to portray it in all its depth and glory.
The Greek word, esthio, is a common word that means, to eat. It is used often in the Gospels, for example when the Pharisees ask Jesus why He eats with sinners, or when we hear about John the Baptist eating locusts and honey. It is a simple word that conveys what each of us does every day. Whether we sit down at table to eat a meal or grab a snack to eat on the run, the word and the action are the same. This is the word used at the end of today’s Gospel when Jesus says, “whoever eats this bread will live for ever.”
As simple as the word and action are, it is distressful and quite challenging to the disciples of Jesus. They are not cannibals and several times in the Old Testament (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10-13; Deut. 12:16 for example) they are told not to drink the blood of animals. Blood is seen as equating to life and God did not want them drinking the life of a lower species but He does, as we will come to understand, want us to drink and participate in His life – forever!
Jesus calls Himself the living bread. Bread is inanimate. It does not grow or move. The bread that Jesus promises is living because He lives. None of this would make sense until His resurrection but remember, John is writing to post-resurrection Christians and he recounts examples of the difference between Jesus’ body before His resurrection and afterward. It is His glorified body that we eat.
The mystery of Christ’s glorified post-resurrection body and Holy Communion is beyond our understanding. The Son of God shares His life with the common bread of Holy Communion.
We believe, we eat, and we live.