Bread of Life

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Next to rice, every Filipino rich or poor likes his pan de sal in the morning. For many poor people, this simple bread dunked in coffee is their only meal until noontime. The lowly pan de sal has even become a gauge of an improving or a sinking economy. During bad times the bakers have a choice, to keep the price and make the bread smaller or to keep the size and raise the price. Over the years, the pan de sal has shrunk many times.

Action starter: Be a lifegiver.

The presence or lack of bread (in its many forms) augurs prosperity or poverty and hope or despair. Food is a basic necessity. We cannot live without eating. One who doesn’t eat dies and one who doesn’t care about living doesn’t care about eating. The first reading describes the prophet Elijah in a state of despair. He was persecuted by Queen Jezebel who was promoting her foreign gods to Israel. The prophet, alone and discouraged, reached a point where he just wanted to lay down and die. An angel of the Lord had to goad him to eat. His emotional state and strength came back after he has rested and eaten. God provided support for Elijah, just as He lifted the spirits of His people by feeding them with manna in the desert.

The gospel this Sunday is the discourse of Jesus on the bread of life. Typical of the author John, Jesus is shown trying to raise the level of understanding of His hearers. His hearers have witnessed the multiplication of the loaves and in fact wanted to make his a king. This assures them of a free meal every day. The Lord however, started talking of a different kind of bread. He spoke of Himself as bread come down from heaven. This puzzled his listeners. How can a carpenter and one whose family they know be from heaven? He also spoke of Himself as the bread of life. This is more puzzling. Finally, He told them about giving them His own flesh as food. Not only is this puzzling. This is too much. This is unacceptable.

If we were part of His audience we would have found His statements difficult to accept. From hindsight and from our own perspective, we can understand that Jesus was speaking about the Eucharist. Indeed He is the bread of life. We partake of His flesh when we receive the Eucharist. He is the bread that came down from heaven. Not only did God become man. God became our food in the form of ordinary bread.

I often wonder about that. Shouldn’t have the Lord Jesus chosen a more expensive object by which He could be seen and touched? Why not gold or diamond? The reason is obvious. Jesus wants to be part of us. It is not enough that He be seen and touched. He wants to be our food. Jesus wants to be assimilated in us as our bread of life. We who receive the body of Christ become extensions of His body. Jesus becomes present in us. Wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, there Jesus is present. He is present not only in the form of bread. He becomes present in each and every partaker of the Eucharist.

Beside the words of consecration, I find the words in the offertory very meaningful, “By the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.” Jesus chose a most humble matter by which He could be remembered and received. He wanted to be available to even the poorest. He chose bread. Next time we receive the Eucharist, let us remember that this is not mere bread. This is the bread of life. This is the flesh of Christ. We who partake of it make Christ present once more in a very concrete way in the world. We too become the bread of life.