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Why does Jesus hold our interest after 20 centuries? What can we expect of him? What can he give to support men and women of our time? Is he perhaps going to solve the problems of today’s world? The Gospel of John speaks of a very interesting dialogue that Jesus holds with a crowd on the shores of Lake Galilee.
The day before, they have shared a surprising and free meal with Jesus. They have eaten bread until they were filled. How would they just allow him to walk away? What they look for is that Jesus repeat his action and again feed them for free. They aren’t thinking about anything else.
Jesus upsets them with an unexpected proposition: «Do not work for food that goes bad, but work for food that endures for eternal life». But how would we not be worried about our daily bread? Bread is indispensible for life. We need it and ought to work so that no one ever lacks it. Jesus knows that. Bread is number one. Without eating we can’t subsist. That’s why he’s so worried about the hungry and the beggars, who don’t receive from the rich even the crumbs that fall from their tables. That’s why he speaks ill of the foolish landowners who store up grain without thinking of the poor. That’s why he teaches his followers to ask the Father every day for bread for all God’s children.
But Jesus wants to awaken in them a different kind of hunger. He speaks to them of the bread that doesn’t only satisfy hunger for one day, but can satisfy the hunger and thirst for life that exists in the human heart. We must never forget it. Within us is a hunger for justice for all people, a hunger for freedom, peace, truth. Jesus presents himself as that Bread that comes to us from the Father not to fill us with food, but «to give life to the world».
This Bread that comes down from God «gives life eternal». The food we eat each day keeps us alive for years, but comes the time when that food can’t defend us from death. It’s useless to keep on eating. It can’t give us a life that’s greater than death.
Jesus presents himself as «bread of eternal life». Each one of us needs to decide how we want to live and how we want to die. But those who call ourselves followers of Jesus need to know that to believe in Christ is to nourish an unprecedented power in us, to begin to live in a way that doesn’t end in our death. Simply speaking, to follow Jesus is to enter into the mystery of death, sustained by his resurrecting power.
When they heard his words, those people of Capernaum cried out from the depths of their hearts: «Sir, give us that bread always». With our wavering faith, we sometimes don’t dare to ask for such a thing. Perhaps we only worry about the food for each day. And sometimes just for ourselves alone.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf