Today, we can encounter the tree of life every time we eat the body of Christ and drink Jesus blood in Holy Communion. These precious gifts from heaven are meant to sustain us, rejuvenate us, and open us up to the wisdom of God. Truly, the Eucharist is our spiritual food.
The Bread of the Messiah. God began revealing his deep desire to fill us with his living bread long ago. Think about the ancient Israelites traveling through the Sinai desert after being set free from slavery in Egypt. The journey was hard, and food and water were scarce. But here in this lifeless wilderness, God gave his people water from a rock and manna from heaven.
Some twelve hundred and fifty years after this journey through the desert, Jesus of Nazareth fed thousands of people with just five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1-15). John is quick to point out that this miraculous feeding took place just before the feast of Passover (6:4). It seems that John presented this feeding as a prophetic message, a sign linking his readersand usto the past and pointing to something far greater. John saw that this miracle pointed toward a new Passover, one that was not grounded in deliverance from physical slavery but in deliverance from slavery to sin and death.
The Jews of Jesus day believed that in the coming age, the miracle of the manna would be repeated. And they believed that this miracle would be performed by the promised Messiah, the One who would take Moses place as Israels new redeemer (John 6:14; Deuteronomy 18:15). Responding to the peoples beliefand expanding their hopes even moreJesus told them that his bread would bring eternal life, while the manna in the desert could only sustain and strengthen their mortal lives (John 6:32-33). For Jesus, eating his flesh was a life-and-death issuewith eternal ramifications.
A Sacrificial Bread. Two prophetic dimensions in this story deserve a closer look: First, Jesus knew that he was going to become an unblemished sacrifice, like the Passover lamb. Second, when he fed the five thousand just before the Passover, Jesus was indicating that his sacrificehis death on a cross would be manifested to his people in the form of bread. In the prophetic gesture of a miraculous feeding, Jesus linked the image of bread to a spiritual feeding grounded in his sacrifice.
Jesus words hereThe bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6:51)are meant to point us to the Last Supper, when he told the twelve: This is my body, which is given for you (Luke 22:19). In both instances, he was telling his followers that he was the new Messiah and that he himself was the bread from heaven, Gods eternal food that far surpassed the manna in the wilderness.
Everyone who heard Jesus knew that he was speaking about spiritual life and spiritual feeding, not physical life and physical bread. They sensed that this rabbi who had just fed thousands of people was now speaking about himself as a living sacrifice. Understanding Jesus wasnt their problem. Their problem came in the challenge to accept him and his words. They sounded too radical to believe (John 6:52).
Because they could not accept Jesus words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, many in the crowd left him (John 6:66). When Jesus saw what was happening, he challenged the apostles to put their faith in him and not walk away. Thats when Peter, still wondering why Jesus gave such a hard teachingand probably wondering also if he himself should leave thought to himself, Where else would I go? Is there anyone else who penetrates my heart the way Jesus does? Is there anyone else who performs magnificent miracles? Is there anyone else who can give me eternal life? No, no, no. He must be the Holy One of God (6:69).
Taste and See. When the apostles were with Jesus, they saw him with their own eyes; they heard him preach with their own ears; they touched him with their own hands (1 John 1:1-2). Likewise, our senses are the pathways to information. They are like the keyboard of a computer and the microphone of a tape recorder. Its through our senses that we receive the information that we can then process in our minds, store in our memories, and hold in our hearts.
In this description of the apostles experience from 1 John, one vital sense was missing: tasting. The apostles saw, heard, and touched Jesus. Through their senses, they came to love him and to treasure his words. Everything they received through their senses caused the apostles to believe that Jesus really was the Messiah, the Holy One of God. But they had not yet grasped what it meant to eat Jesus flesh as the Bread of Life.
At the Last Supper, when the apostles ate and drank with Jesus, a new dimension was opened up for them, and they were able to internalize in a new and deeper way everything that they had experienced during their time with him. Because eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood involves much more than seeing, hearing, and touching the Son of God, they now had a far deeper experience of who Jesus was and what he had come to do. Now, at the Last Supper, the apostles had a much deeper connection to him than ever before.
Where Can We Go? Since the beginning of creation, God has longed for us to come to him and be fed by him. At the Last Supper, this longing of Gods finally became a reality. At every Mass, Jesus is present to us in a powerful way, inviting us to be transformed as we eat and drink of him.
As you come to receive Jesus this week, try to be like St. Peter. There may be some doubt. There may even be some areas of resistance to Jesus. But in the final analysis, we can all echo Peters proclamation of faith and surrender: Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69). Trust that when you eat the Bread of Life, Jesus will fulfill his promise and raise you up on the last day (6:54).
Remember: Judas Iscariot was with Peter and Jesus. He ate the same bread as the rest of the twelve, but it did not change him or his mind. So it is clear that the power of the Eucharist to transform us is related, to some degree, to the way we yield ourselves to the gift that we are receiving. Notwithstanding a dramatic miracle, the Body and Blood of Christ will nourish those who are pliable more than it will nourish those who resist its power.
With your whole heart, treasure this spiritual food from heaven every time you receive it. Make sure that you are right with the Lord, and promise yourself that you will be completely open to whatever Jesus wants to say to you and whatever he wants to do in your heart. Come to Jesus with a pure and humble heart, and you will find yourself lifted up to Gods presence and transformed. This is the way to let the rich food from heaven fill you up and make you whole.