Have you ever wondered why Jesus uses the symbol of bread in this long discourse in the Gospel of John regarding His identity? We know that apart from it being a staple food during the time of Jesus, it also has historical and religious significance for the Jewish people, tracing back to God’s life-sustaining manna, which kept their people alive in the desert, after they had complained about not having anything to eat. It wasn’t just cultural but Jesus chose bread as His metaphor intentionally.

Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel presents this discourse on the ‘bread of life’ and if you recall, we have been reading from this chapter for the past two weeks and we will continue to read from it for another two. The teaching on the ‘bread of life’ which comes after the feeding of the multitude, has more to do with the identity of Jesus rather than the Eucharist itself. Today, we hear Jesus say again, as He did in last week’s Gospel, that He is the bread of life. but Jesus adds that He is the living bread.

The Gospel begins with a report that the Jews complained about Jesus’ claims regarding His identity. Once again, like other occasions, their complaint is that they knew His family, and they knew He was the son of Joseph. Therefore, they could not comprehend what Jesus meant when He said “I have come down from heaven”. The inability to accept Jesus’ origins will be seen throughout John’s Gospel.

To those who started to complain, Jesus will say that only those who are chosen by God will recognise Him as the one that God sent. This is a recurring theme in John’s Gospel, that God has chosen those who will have faith in Jesus. The words of Jesus will further aggravate the crowd when He goes on to talk more about His unity with the Father. He is the one who has seen the Father and, therefore, knows the Father – this became the stumbling block.

From being impressed with Jesus through the signs they saw Jesus do, it will slowly move towards disillusionment. They crowd will gradually disassociate themselves from Jesus because He did not perform the sign they wanted and  His teaching, in their minds, borders blasphemy.

In this prolonged pandemic, disillusionment is possibly something that many people struggle with. Compounded with the economic and health crisis, we have also a political crisis. So, apart from disillusionment, there could be disappointment, disorientation, discouragement, fear, doubt, and anger. In times like these, disillusionment is not a bad thing, but it’s never easy, for those stuggling. But what can we do?

For the crowds that followed Jesus, the disillusionment was caused by the fact that what Jesus was saying was inconceivable to a logical mind. What they failed to realise is that they trusted their limited, human minds’ perception of God and could not see beyond. It is only natural that when we have to adjust to a drastic change in our lives, we may not see any good in it at first. 

In a time of disillusionment and even helplessness, all we can do is to surrender the situation completely to God, letting Him take the lead and trusting that He will use it to bring about His greater glory: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Jacques Philippe in his book Interior Freedom writes, “In situations of trial, not knowing why we are being tested is often harder to bear than the testing itself. “What is the meaning?” People ask. “Why?” and they get no answer. When, by contrast, reason is satisfied, suffering is much easier to accept. It is like the doctor who hurts us–we don’t get angry with him because we understand that he does it to make us better.”

At times like these, belief in God may be difficult and faith does not come easy. This is why the words of Jesus this Sunday offer us direction and hope: “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (John 6:51). In disillusionment or despair, turn to Jesus because He has promised to satisfy our hunger and thirst – He is our Bread of Life.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (8 Aug 2021)