Bread of Life: Believe and Then Receive

The Gospel of John has rightly been called the Eucharistic Gospel.  At first blush, this appellation may surprise some readers.  After all, the Gospel of John contains no narrative of the Last Supper that includes the words of Eucharistic institution, as the Synoptics offer us.  Instead, the Gospel is filled with Eucharistic images and language intended to help us go deeper into that mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood. It is the fruit of decades of spiritual reflection on this gift by Jesus’s Beloved Disciple, the last of the Gospel writers.

Bread of Life 1

The Bread of Life Discourse

Over the next few weeks, the Sunday Gospel readings will lead us through the most explicit language of Jesus regarding his flesh and blood offering. It’s called the Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:35-58).  This teaching of Jesus follows on the heals of the feeding of the multitude, a Eucharistic symbol in itself.  I have a special fondness for this discourse because, like many converts, it played a part in my conversion to Catholicism (Tweet this). I marvel, even now, that somehow I missed or minimized the very clear teaching of Jesus regarding this gift.

Why don’t non-Catholics see the Eucharist in John 6?

One of the keys to understanding how our non-Catholic friends may miss the Eucharist in this sermon is to understand one of the primary lenses through which they read the Scriptures.  For many, the primacy of the doctrine of sola fide (that we are saved by faith alone) becomes a “way” of reading not only Paul, but also Jesus. It colors how they see many texts. For me, as a Protestant minister, this discourse was about saving faith.  I wasn’t completely wrong on that point, as you will see, but that singular focus blinded me to the Eucharistic elements that follow.

Let me explain.

The Bread of Life Discourse is divided into two parts: John 6:35-47 and John 6:48-58. The divisions are discerned literarily by Jesus’s words “I am the bread of life” which begins the first half (vss. 35-47) and it’s repetition opens the second (vs 48).

In the first half, Jesus will focus on believing in him.  Take a moment to  read John 6:35-47 and note that “believing” in Jesus will open eternal life to us.  In fact, even earlier Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29). Those are the verses that captured my attention as a non-Catholic, and somehow I mentally stopped there.  But, Jesus’s focus on faith was strategic.  We must truly believe in his divinity and that he is sent by the Father in order to receive the second half of the discourse where Jesus explicitly teaches about consuming his flesh and blood (vs. 48-58).

From Believing to Eating

Notice, while reading the second part of the discourse, that the primary verb changes from believing to eating. His audience in Capernaum did not miss this language shift.  Look at their response in vs. 52, ““How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”  In the next verse, the language is unambiguous, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). “Amen, amen” is a way of telling your audience to pay special attention to what follows, as it is of great importance.

Many, who didn’t possess the necessary faith in Jesus’s divinity and origin, rejected this teaching and stopped following Jesus (John 6:66).  Jesus asked the Twelve whether they will leave also.  Peter, speaking on behalf of those who believe, declared, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).  It is their belief in who Jesus is (part one) that opens their hearts to receive his teaching about the Eucharist (part two).  It is only in reading the discourse as a whole that we see the complementarity of believing in Jesus so we may then receive him in the Eucharistic meal.

Question: As your faith grew and matured, did you see a corresponding growth in your love and appreciation of the Eucharist? How is that love of the Eucharist expressed in your life?

Next week: We will look more at the specific content of Jesus’s discourse, especially the importance of the Old Covenant manna for understanding the New Covenant Eucharist.


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Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is the co-author of Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God's Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.

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  • Denise

    To not accept the teaching of the Eucharist BEING the true presence of Christ given to us as a gift of sacrificial love is a rejection of his gift and not seeing it for what it truly is. I am sorry so many have been lead away from this teaching and are separated from receiving to precious and powerful gift. Even many in the Catholic church do not receive with the reverence Christs Precious Gift deserves and without Faith renders him ineffective to give the gift some will not receive. Open our eyes Lord to see you there calling us in love.

  • Jose Samilin

    Evading to believe Jesus in perverting the literal meaning of Jesus’ words, “this is my body, take and eat” to mean merely symbolic is fatal to ones soul. Jesus really and truly mean it that when the disciples started leaving Him, He was firmed and did not explain further. He didn’t say, Hey you people, please come back, I am just kidding!!

  • claudette morrison

    I feel Gods presence in the Eucharist in the past two years more than I ever did. This is because I understand what happens on the altar every time I attend mass. Since I gave life totally to Jesus the whole concept of the Eucharistic celebration have a greater impact on my life.

    • Jose Samilin

      Yes, truly God’s presence and real miraculous encounter with Jesus as we take in wholly His body, blood, soul and divinity that make us in full communion with Jesus and His Church.