Jesus - The Bread of Life
Fr. Thomas Hopko · November 27, 2009
Jesus didn't just say he would give us our daily bread; he said he is the Bread of Life. Fr. Tom Hopko continues his study of the great "I Am" sayings of Jesus.
Among the many “I Am” words of Jesus, the “I Am” sayings, we have Jesus in the Gospel according to St. John where we find these “I Am” sayings—they’re all in St. John—we find him saying, “I am the bread of life,” or “I am the bread which came down from heaven,” or “I am the living bread which came down from heaven,” and we want to reflect today on what it means, or at least a little bit of what it might mean, when Jesus says about himself, “I am the bread.”
Here we have again that unique teaching of Jesus, the unique saying of Jesus, in which he does not simply say, “I will give you bread, I will give you what you need to live, I will give you both physical bread, spiritual bread, whatever ‘bread’ might mean, but he says that he is it. He not only gives it, but he is it, and he is himself what he gives.
So again, we just stress this again, that Jesus does not say, “I will show you the way,” he said, “I am the way.” He doesn’t say, “I will teach you the truth,” he says, “I am the Truth.” He doesn’t say, “I will tell you about life,” or “give you life,” he said, “I am the life.” And here he says, “I am the bread of life,” or “the living bread.”
We have to see that this sentence, these words about he himself being the bread of life, they follow in St. John’s Gospel, after Jesus does the Messianic sign of feeding the people with bread in the wilderness. This is very, very important. The feeding of the people [with] bread in the wilderness is one of the main Messianic signs that Jesus does, that he performs. It was a sign that even was predicted in the Old Testament.
The claim was that when God’s Kingdom comes, when David sits upon his throne in the Kingdom where there will be no end, when finally that reign of God comes to his creation, that there will be no hunger, there will be no starvation physically—that people will be fed, and no one will go hungry. This is a classical teaching of the Hebrew scriptures, of the Old Testament, that God, as we sing in the psalm in church, “God opens the eyes of the blind; God takes care of the widow and the orphan; God sets the prisoners free; God feeds those who are hungry.”
People could hear that psalm and say, “Well, gee, that’s just not happening. The blind are still blind, and the hungry are still hungry. There’s plenty of hungry people all over the place—blind people, homeless people, needy people, poor people—and it just seems like God is not taking care of them at all.”
The Christian conviction would be that that is true, that in this world you have many suffering, hungering people. You have people also who don’t know the truth. You have people who don’t really live. You have people who don’t know the way, are stumbling around in darkness. Yes, that is all going on, but the Christian conviction is that Christ is the savior, Jesus is the savior, and that he saves all of us from our delusions, from our deviations, our transgressions, our sins, our falsehoods, and our hungers and our thirsts, and that he satisfies all things.
But, we Christians believe—and atheists say, “You guys are lucky, because you can claim this”—we believe that is coming; that it’s coming in the age to come. In this age there is bearing the cross. In this age there is affliction. As Jesus himself says in St. John’s Gospel, “But take courage; be of good heart. I have overcome this world.”
So all these things that we sing about, about God feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and opening the eyes of the blind, and healing all the infirmities, and even raising the dead, we are all expecting that, we are hoping in that, we are believing in that, and we claim to have the first-fruits of that, the foretaste of that, the guarantee of that, the certitude of that, in what Christ did when he was on earth before he was crucified, because Jesus does all the Messianic signs.
It says that when the Messiah comes, there will be no one who is blind, and so Christ healed some blind people to show that he has that power. When the Christ comes there will be no lunatics and epileptics and lame people and dumb people and deaf people, and Jesus shows that by doing these acts of healing.
It says that the poor will be exalted, the sinners will be forgiven, and Jesus does that when he comes on earth. It says that when he comes, there will be no hunger, that he will feed people, that, as Isaiah said, he will give us food without price. He will give us bread without price, that the desert will blossom, and that no one will go hungry, and the water springs will burst forth, and so on.
We actually read those sayings of the prophets, Isaiah, for example, in our church services on Epiphany, [at] Christmas-time, particularly on Epiphany, where it says that all the rough places will be made smooth, everything will be made right, there will be cosmic peace, and that people will come to God and that they will be fed without price, they will be given bread without price. This is found in the prophets; in the prophet Isaiah, particularly, that is read in the Church on Epiphany.
There is definitely this conviction in Holy Scripture that God does take care of his people, and he will take care of his people, and he has taken care of them, and he promises them that [he] will, and this is the conviction of the Old Covenant.
You have this belief that all things will be made well when the Messianic King comes, but the Christians say that he comes first to suffer, first to die, to be able to recreate creation, and this is the very reason why, also, that it’s the Christian teaching that those who belong to Christ, those who believe in him, are those who care for the poor and care for the widow. That’s the proof that they believe in Jesus: that they care for those who are sick, they visit those who are in prison, they give food to the hungry, they give something to drink to the thirsty, they give clothes to the naked, they give homes to the homeless, because we believe that God does this for all of us, and he will do it in the age to come.
We are supposed to be anticipating the age to come, believing in it, living by it, following it, keeping the commandments of God, which Jesus himself showed that he could do, but that would only become permanent, only become everlasting and eternal, when he returns again in glory. In the meantime, we believe in him, we preach this Gospel, we expect these graces and these blessings to come, even the resurrection of the dead and everlasting life, where there is neither sickness nor sorrow nor sighing nor hunger nor thirst nor anything but everlasting life.
Therefore, we act in this divine manner. As the Russian philosopher [and] Christian, [Nikolai] Berdyaev, said, “When you’re a Christian, bread for yourself is a material problem, but bread for my brother is a spiritual problem.” Bread for myself is a material problem, but bread for my neighbor is a spiritual problem—a spiritual challenge. So we have to, in imitation of Christ, feed those who are hungry when we can.
We’ll even go a step further. As we will see, we have to become, ourselves, bread for the people around us—not only give them bread, but be bread for them, as Christ is the bread for us.
We are getting ahead of ourselves a little bit. What we want to see now is that when Jesus comes he does the Messianic signs, and one of them that he does is that he feeds the multitudes of people, without price, giving them bread, miraculously, in the wilderness, in the desert. The feeding of the multitudes—it’s in all four Gospels, so that ought to tell us that it’s very important. That the feeding of the multitudes is in all four Gospels, and in St. Mark’s Gospel, and in the synoptic Gospels, generally, there’s two feedings—not just one, but two. That, if we look at this particular point in the Gospel of St. Mark, we see that in St. Mark’s Gospel, you have Jesus feeding the 5,000 people in the sixth chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel; and in the eighth chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel, you have Jesus feeding the 4,000.
Let’s take a look at this and see what it says. In St. Mark’s Gospel, this is what we have. First, in the sixth chapter, it says Jesus is teaching the people in a lonely place, far away, by themselves in the desert place. Great crowds follow after him, because he had compassion on them, and he taught them. He said they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he taught them many things. It says (Mark 6:35-44):
When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place (a desert place, a wilderness), the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the country and villages around about and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”
And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy 200-denarii–worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”
And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.”
When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”
Then he commanded them all to sit down by companies upon the green grass, so they sat down in groups, by hundreds, and fifties, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people, and he divided the two fish among them all, and they all ate and were satisfied, and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish, and those who ate the loaves were 5,000 men. (That’s not counting the women and the children.)
In St. Mark’s Gospel, just two chapters later, you have this said (Mark 8:1-10):
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days, and they have nothing to eat, and if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way, and some of them have come a very long way.”
And his disciples answered him, “How can we feed these men with bread here in the desert?”
And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They said, “Seven.”
He commanded the crowd to sit down on the ground and took up the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish, and having blessed them, he commanded that these also should be set before them, and they ate and were satisfied, and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full, and there were about 4,000 people. He sent them away, and immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
Then they start having a discussion about all of this, because they forgot to bring bread with them in the boat, so they only had one loaf of bread with themselves in the boat. So he cautioned them (Mark 8:15-18):
“Beware, take heed of the leaven of the Pharisees, and the leaven of Herod.”
And they discussed with one another, saying, “We have no bread.”
Being aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? Having ears, do you not hear, and do you not remember?”
Then he refers to the two feedings (Mark 8:19-20):
“When I broke the five loaves for the 5,000, how many baskets of broken pieces did you take up?”
They said to him, “Twelve.”
“And when, with the seven loaves for the 4,000, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?”
And they said to him, “Seven.”
And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
They obviously didn’t understand, and I don’t think anybody could have understood at that point until after the whole Gospel is over, after the whole story is finished. Then you look back and you understand. What do you understand? What could we possibly understand? What is going on here, it seems, in the synoptic Gospels, is this: Jesus does the Messianic sign of feeding the people in the wilderness. He even does it twice. Sometimes the question is asked, “Why does he do it twice, and why are there seven loaves left over for the 4,000, and twelve baskets left over for the 5,000? What’s that all about?”
Well, I really don’t know, but the best theory that I ever heard [was] by a Roman Catholic monk, a biblical scholar, who lives in Jerusalem. I read once that he said that it seemed to be that the double feeding is because he does it once in Gentile territory, and he does it once in Judaic territory, and that is a sign that he is the Messianic Lord, the King, the Christ, for the Gentiles as well as the Jews—the Jews and the Gentiles. He says that when you had the feeding of the 5,000 with twelve left over, that symbolizes the Jews. When you had the feeding of the 4,000 with seven left over, that symbolizes the nations. Twelve is a symbol for the Jews—the twelve tribes, the twelve apostles. Seven as a symbol of fullness means the rest of humanity, the rest of humankind.
Who knows? Maybe that’s the answer, maybe it’s not. I kind of like it. I find it very touching; it makes sense. But one thing is for sure, as we just heard, in Mark, he does it twice, and they even talk about it, and he says, “When I fed the 4,000, how much was left over?” “Seven.” “When I fed the 5,000, how many [were] left over?” “Twelve.” “Well, don’t you understand?”
It means that he is probably trying to tell them, “I am really the savior who comes for the people of Israel, and for all the nations, and I feed them bread in the wilderness.” As the psalmist says to the Lord, “Can you spread a table in the wilderness?” That was one of the questions about what God was capable of doing. It’s in the Psalter. I do not have the number written here (Psalm 78:19), but it’s a line that’s very memorable. “Can you spread a table in the wilderness? Will I spread a table in the wilderness?” And he does it—Jesus does it. He spreads a table in the wilderness and feeds the people. He does it twice. It shows that he can do it. He shows that he is capable of doing it.
But we remember again—we always have to remember—that these are Messianic signs. Jesus didn’t feed everybody. He didn’t feed the whole world. He couldn’t have, when he came in the flesh in order to die, because the Kingdom of God had not yet come and the Kingdom could only come when he enters into his glory, when he enters into his power.
It’s the same thing as: Jesus didn’t heal everybody, and even those whom he healed, they died again. Those he cured got sick and died again. Those whom he fed in the wilderness, they were probably hungry again. Maybe later on in their lives they remembered how Jesus had fed them in the wilderness and they were satisfied, and now they’re hungry again, because all these things are not solved until the end of the ages. They are solved when Christ returns again in glory. These are only signs of his coming.
Now in St. John’s Gospel, you have the narration of the miraculous feeding. It’s in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. As I mentioned, this feeding is in all four Gospels; it’s important. What do you have in St. John’s Gospel? Let’s just read it. It’s in the sixth chapter (John 6:1-6):
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias, and a multitude followed him because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. Now, the Passover, the Feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said, “How are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?” He said this to test them, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
Now, it’s the Passover season, and there’s lots of people there because they’ve come for the Passover, and they’ve come from all regions. Actually, the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, which side? It seems like it was the Judaic side. But in any case, the minute we remember Passover-Exodus, we remember how, when God led the people out of Egypt, they were complaining that they were hungry, they didn’t have food, He led them out into the wilderness to die. Again they’re in the wilderness, they’re in the desert, just where he feeds these people in the Gospel, where Jesus does. They’re out there in the desert, and they had nothing to eat. And then God gives them the manna, the bread from heaven, to eat.
The Psalms even speak about that manna as “bread from heaven,” or they speak about it as “the bread of the angels.” For example, this is how it is put in Psalm 78, and here’s where you have the line, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” It says that when the Lord God Almighty led the people out of Egypt and he saved them, he parted the sea, he led them through, he gave them water from a rock, he gave them manna from heaven, but they still sinned against him. And so it’s written, Psalm 78:17: “Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert, in the wilderness.” There you are, the desert place again. “They tested God in their heart, by demanding the food that they craved.” They are in the desert and they demand food, right? “They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He smote the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give provide, or provide meat for his people?’ ” And then the psalm continues: “Therefore when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath. A fire was kindled against Jacob. Anger mounted against Israel.”
There you have the wrath of God, folks. We spoke about this on the radio, on Speaking the Truth in Love, about the wrath of God, the anger of God. He’s angry with them. He brings them out, he saves them, and he takes care of them, he feeds them, and they still sin and they still murmur, and they still question. Then he said: “His anger mounted against them because they had no faith in God. They did not trust his saving power, yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven. He rained down upon them manna to eat. He gave them”—it says in the RSV—“the grain of heaven.”
In the Septuagint it says he gave them bread from heaven. “Man ate of the bread of the angels”—the panis angelicum—that’s a famous hymn in the Latin Church, the “bread of the angels,” connected to the Holy Eucharist, of course, for Christians. “He sent them food in abundance,” it says, “and he rained flesh upon them”—the birds and so on—“and then they were all filled, and he gave them what they craved.”
But then it says a terrible thing: “But before they had sated their craving, while the bread”—the food—“was still in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them and slew the strongest of them. In spite of all this, they still sinned. Despite his wonders, they did not believe.” And they did not remember that God was their rock, their savior. Read Psalm 78 and you’ll see what is going on here.
Now, Jesus comes, and he spreads the table in the wilderness, and he gives them the bread to eat, and it’s actual, physical bread—loaves—and there’s even some left over: seven in the Gentile territory, 12 in the Judaic territory, if that interpretation is correct.
But he does it; he does it. And he does it in the Gospel according to St. John. As we just read how, in St. John’s Gospel, they are there, and he sees this multitude; it’s the Passover of the Jews (John 6:5-7):
And lifting up his eyes and seeing that a multitude was coming, Jesus says to Philip, “How are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?” This he said to test him, for he, himself knew what he would do. (He knew what he was going to do.) Philip answered him, “200 denarii would not be enough bread for each of them even to get a very little.”
A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer then. A laborer working for 200 days would not bring enough money to be able to buy enough food to feed all these people, even if each one got just a little bit.
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a child here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many?”
By the way, I can’t resist saying here that once when I was giving a talk I mentioned that there’s a legend that the little child who brought the bread to Jesus was Ignatius of Antioch, a little boy who grew up and became the disciple of St. John and became the first bishop in Antioch and who died as a martyr in Rome. And I have heard someone say and even write that this boy actually was Ignatius of Antioch. I just want to say that is the traditional legend, but there is no historical record that this little boy was Ignatius of Antioch. It’s a very nice story, a nice legend. It may be he was. Who knows? But I don’t think that we should be very certain to say that that’s who it really was.
In any case, this boy comes, and he has five barley loaves and two fish.
[Andrew] says, “What are they among so many?”
Then Jesus says, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in that place. (Mark makes the same point—a lot of green grass.) So the men sat down, in number about 5,000. (So that is Judaic territory, it seems.)
Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated, so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and they filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done (the simeion; it’s a Messianic sign) they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” (“The prophet,” of course, is a Messianic title; he’s the Messiah.)
This is the same story that we heard in Mark, except Mark also has a second story about the 4,000. In St. John’s Gospel, however, what happens is this: after feeding, Jesus leaves. They get into a boat, and they go across the lake, and as they are going in the boat, there’s a terrible storm, and he quiets the winds. That’s another sign that he produces. He shows that he has power over the cosmos, power over nature, over the winds and the seas, that he really is God’s Son. He says to them, “Don’t be afraid,” because he comes to them walking on the water. So he leaves.
Then the next day, it says, the people who remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat. Jesus had not entered the boat when his disciples went away; they wondered how he got [to] them. Then it said, “However, boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” That’s a eucharistic overtone—whenever you eat you have to give thanks, and before we have the Holy Communion, we say, “Let us lift up our hearts, let us give thanks unto the Lord.” It’s the Eucharist, eucharistia. You give thanks when you eat, when you break the bread.
Then it says, “When the people saw Jesus wasn’t there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into a boat and they went across to Capernaum, Galilee, looking for Jesus, because they were hungry.” Now we get to what we want, really to think about today when Jesus says, “I am the bread.” It says:
When they found Jesus on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi (teacher), when did you come here?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs (Messianic signs), but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
And then he says this:
“Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on him has God the Father set his seal.”
And then they said to him, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?”
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
So then they said to him, “What sign do you do that we may see and believe? What work do you perform?”
This is almost silly, because they had seen him feed the 5,000 in the wilderness; they came chasing after him for the bread. But of course, the evangelist wants to make the point here; he wants to really bring this out. This is what they say, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. As it is written, ‘he gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” That is the manna. That is in the Torah, but that is also in the psalm: “He gave them the bread from heaven, the bread of the angels, to eat.”
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven. My father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
It’s so similar to the conversation with the Samaritan woman. “I will give you living water, [after] which, if you drink it, you will never thirst again.” The woman says to him, “Lord, give me this water to drink.” Here he says that God is giving the bread from heaven that he will give to you, that if you eat it, you will never be hungry again. And they say, “Lord, give us this bread.”
They aren’t getting it, you know. There is this earthly water, and then there is the water God gives, the living water. There is the earthly bread, and then there is the living bread that God gives. And then, you have it. When they say, “Give us this bread always,” here you have Jesus’ sentence that we are focusing on today (John 6:35-40):
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst, and I said to you that you have seen me and yet you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and him who comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day, and this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have everlasting life (eternal life) and I will raise him up on the last day.”
In other words, he is giving eternal life, and he says, “I am the bread of life. I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger. He who believes in me will never thirst.”
But then it goes on, and it goes on for a long while (John 6:41-46):
The Jews then murmured at him because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’ ” Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day, and it is written in the prophets, they shall all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.”
He is speaking about himself, of course. Then he says, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has everlasting life, eternal life.” Then he says it again (John 6:48-51): “I am the bread of life. Ego eimi o artos tis zois.”
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and never die—not die.”
Then he says it again:
“I am the living bread (not just the bread of life, but the living bread) which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
We spoke about life already on the radio. Life is communion with God. Life is not to die. Life is to be filled with the divine energies and the powers of God. Life is to control and to give glory and gratitude for the whole of creation. You need to be nourished in that life, so Jesus is not only the life, he’s the bread of life. He’s that one that makes this life possible. He says here, “The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” His own flesh is going to be the bread of life, and he is the life. It’s just amazing.
Then the Jews disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Now, that’s a startling, shocking sentence, because every Jew knows that you’re not supposed to touch the blood. You’re not supposed to eat the blood. You can’t have the animals with blood. Blood is the sign of life. Even if you eat the flesh of animals, you cannot eat it in its blood. That was forbidden by Mosaic law.
But he says, “Truly, truly”—and again we remember whenever he begins, “Truly, truly,” it is actually “Amin, amin, amen, amen.” This is not negotiable. This is the truth. You’ve got to accept it.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life (everlasting life), and I will raise him up at the last day.”
There you go again, you see, it is at the end.
“For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.”
So you have the connection of the bread to the life. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the life.” He also says that God has given his Son to have life in himself, to be the life, and to give this life to people. So here we have: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.” Then he says, “This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died. He who eats this bread will live forever.” This he said in the synagogue as he taught in Capernaum. Then it even adds, “Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying.’ ”
How can he say these kinds of things? Of course, we know that what this is going to mean, what they’re going to come to understand, is that he’s talking about the Holy Eucharist, that he’s going to give his body and his blood on the tree of the Cross. Then when the disciples remember him and remember the supper, at which he takes the bread and said, “This is my body which is broken for you,” he takes the cup and said, “This is my blood which is shed for you,” then they understand that they participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection by eating and drinking the bread and the wine that is offered to God as the Christian sacrifice in the new priesthood of the New Covenant, which, according to the letter to the Hebrews, is the priesthood according to Melchizedek.
We remember that in Genesis, Melchizedek came to Abraham, and he made the offering of bread and of wine. Bread and wine become the offering and then the bread and the wine are identified with the very body and the very blood of Christ himself. He says that if you are not eating and drinking these things— And he is speaking to Jews, by the way; this is very important. Sometimes people interpret [it that] if there are people on earth who never had Holy Communion, they could never be saved because they have no life in them, but Jesus is speaking to the Jews who are supposed to know who he is, and if they think that they can have life without him who is the life, and if they are just going to think about Moses and the manna in the wilderness, but not realize that he is the living bread that comes from heaven, they’re in huge trouble. They have simply rejected their Messiah, if that’s the case.
Jesus is teaching these things, but they can’t handle it, and they can’t believe it. He says, “The Father has to bless you, you have to open your eyes, you have to want to see, you have to want to understand.” He already said that earlier. He said, “You have eyes; you have to want to see. You have the ears; you have to hear.” But still they’re very confused.
We read how many people left him. It says, “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him,” because they’re scandalized at his saying, “I am the bread of life, I am the living bread, I came down from heaven. The bread that I give for the life of the world is my very own flesh, and unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood you have no life in you.” Well, that’s scandalous talk. They wanted no part of it. It is a hard saying. They left him.
Then Jesus, in St. John’s Gospel, says to the Twelve, “ ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and we have come now to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’ ” It’s a wonderful expression: “We have believed in you, and followed you, and now we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” “We don’t understand what’s going on. We’re mixed up. It’s not clear yet.” This poor Peter will even deny him three times before he is re-integrated into the Apostles by the three questions of Jesus when he rises from the dead. But when Jesus says to the Twelve, “Will you go away, too?” You have the wonderful answer, “Where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life.”
What Jesus says is this: yes, you have to have earthly bread; you can’t starve. God is the one who provides that bread, but don’t just labor for the food that perishes. Come to get the living bread, that when you eat it, you never die. Jesus says, “I am that bread. I am the bread of life.” Jesus, as the bread, is certainly connected to his broken body and spilled blood on the tree of the Cross, and in the Holy Eucharist. Certainly St. John’s Gospel, the sixth chapter, is speaking about that. But all the commentators point out very strongly that Jesus is also the bread as the Logos. He’s not only bread as the Lamb of God who is sacrificed, but he is the bread as Word, as teaching, as food.
Anyone familiar with the Holy Scripture cannot fail to remember the words of the prophet Amos, where Amos says in the prophecy (Amos 8:11-12):
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea and from north to east. They shall run to and fro to seek the Word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.”
Jesus is bread as being Word, as being Logos, and he is bread as being the sacrifice, as Lamb. He is Logos, and he is Lamb. It’s very interesting that in the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation in the Bible, the [very last] book of the Bible—which is the most liturgical book in the Holy Scripture, practically, with the letter to the Hebrews—Jesus is always called the Logos, the Word of God, and the Lamb of God. He is the teacher who gives the Word, and he is the Word itself. He is the high priest who offers the perfect sacrifice, and he is that sacrifice himself. It’s his body that is offered as the sacrifice. It’s his blood that is shed as the sacrifice. No longer lambs and bulls and goats and all that kind of stuff, but it is Christ himself, and therefore he gives himself as food for the faithful. Therefore he himself is the bread of life.
A couple more things: When Jesus began his earthly ministry, after he was baptized, it says in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that he was driven into the wilderness again, into the desert, where he was tempted by the devil. He was tempted by the devil, and the devil gave him those temptations not to be the Messiah, not to really be what God had sent him to be.
I will read you from Matthew. It’s in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but it says:
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and he fasted 40 days and 40 nights, and afterwards he was hungry.
So Jesus was fasting. We should remember that Jesus fasted. He taught us to fast. The Holy Scripture teaches fasting. You can’t really open yourself to grace and do the commandments of God when you’re just eating and drinking and filled with food and drink and not really controlling your body. So Jesus, when he goes into the wilderness after being baptized, it says he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. Then it says:
He was hungry.
Then it says:
The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
The devil tempts Jesus to change stones into bread. We know Jesus actually gave bread in the wilderness. He commanded his disciples to give food to the hungry. He fed the people when they were hungering. And he was hungry now. And the devil says, “Okay, you’re the Son of God, provide yourself with some bread. Take these stones and change them into bread.”
Jesus answers and says, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” He refuses to do it. He refuses just to be a giver of earthly bread. He is the bread of life. He’s the bread that comes from heaven. He has to give the bread that, if you eat it, you will never die again. Yes, he did provide earthly, human bread; he does, because he doesn’t want people to be hungry. But when the devil says, “Prove that you’re the Son of God, by just giving people bread,” Jesus said, “Oh no, human beings do not live by bread alone. They live by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” He is that very bread; he is the Logos who comes from the mouth of God.
It would be great if the Christ would just come and take care of all of our earthly needs; he didn’t come for that. He came to show that he’s capable of doing that, but those needs are satisfied only in the age to come. It’s only in the age to come where there’ll be no hungering and thirsting and sorrowing and sickness and disease and devils and epilepsy and lunacy and blindness and dumbness. That’s coming. Jesus is the one who does it, but he does it by being crucified and having his own body broken, his own blood shed, to be the bread of life for the life of the world, to give himself as the food to the faithful.
Now [with] that quotation, “Man does not live by bread alone,” Jesus was quoting the Holy Scripture. By the way, every temptation that the devil gave to Jesus in the wilderness, the three temptations, each time the devil quotes Scripture, and Christ always answers with quoting another scripture. The devil and the Lord were having a scripture battle in the desert; they are quoting scriptures against each other, and people have been doing it ever since, but some people quote the scriptures inspired by the devil.
As Martin Luther said—not usually referred to by me on Ancient Faith Radio—but Martin Luther said a true thing. He said, “Even the devil can quote Scripture to his advantage.” Anybody can quote scripture to their own advantage, but that’s not why we are quoting Scripture. We should never get into scripture battles with people. No, we quote the scripture, but as St. Hilary of Poitiers said, “It’s not in the reading, it’s in the understanding—non in legendo, sed in intelligendo”: what does it mean?
Jesus quotes Scripture. He quotes Scripture back to the devil. I will read to you the passage that he quotes from. It is the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 8:1-2)—Mosaic law. This is what’s written:
All the commandments which I command you this day, you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give to you. And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these 40 years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart: whether you would keep his commandments, or whether you would not.
It says God tested the people in the wilderness. Then it says, “He humbled you and he let you be hungry.” Will you trust me? Will you believe in me? He tested you, he humbled you, and let you be hungry, it says, “testing you to know what was in your heart: whether or not you would keep his commandments.” Then it says:
He humbled you and let you hunger, and then he fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man (human being) lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
Then he continues:
Your clothing did not wear out upon you. Your foot did not swell these 40 years. Know then, in your heart, that as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you, so you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by fearing him, for the Lord your God is bringing you into the good land.
And the Lord our God is bringing us into the Kingdom of Heaven. The good land of the Old Testament prefigures and symbolizes the Kingdom of God, the eternal life, the New Jerusalem, the whole creation, the whole galaxies and the whole world, filled with the glory of God that comes at the end.
So here, the people are tested, and Jesus quotes that sentence to the devil: “Man does not live by bread alone, but the human being lives by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” Yes, you’ve got to have earthly bread, and people who are hungry have to be fed, but that can’t be the ultimate purpose of their life.
And, as I already quoted Berdyaev: “Bread for myself is a material problem; bread for my neighbor is a spiritual problem.” If I have bread, I have to share it with one who does not have bread. I have to do everything that I can, even through government laws and policies and programs and whatever, that poor people would be fed, that no one would be hungry. It’s a scandal that in the 21st century there are still hungry people on earth; it’s an absolute scandal, like in Ethiopia and places where there’s drought. Why can’t we feed the whole world? We should be able to. But we don’t do it. And it’s not God; it’s us. We don’t do it. We should be feeding the hungry. We have that capability if we only wanted to do it. There’s no doubt about it.
But that’s not ultimate. We can eat and eat and eat and eat, and still die and go to hell, so we have to eat the bread of life. Jesus said, “Don’t come after me just because of the bread that I can give you. Don’t come for the food that perishes.”
In the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus taught the same thing that he taught in St. John’s Gospel, exactly the same thing. He says, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” He says that you should seek the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. And then, when he is teaching even about prayer, he says that we should pray, not in many words, but we should use the Lord’s Prayer, and just seek the things of the Kingdom of God, and he promises that everything else will be given. This is what he actually says:
I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink.
He’s saying this to his disciples.
Nor about your body, what you shall put on it. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Do not be anxious. By being anxious, can you add one cubit to the span of your life? Why are you anxious about clothing? Look at the lilies of the field.
Then he ends by saying:
Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or what shall we wear?” for the Gentiles seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well.
What Jesus teaches his disciples is this: Sure, you have to eat and you’ve got to trust God that he’ll take care of you. Sure, you have to help the people who are hungry and provide food for them and clothing and shelter. Yes, you must do that if you’re my disciple, but you must not labor simply for these things.
And then he makes this spectacular promise. He said, “If you seek the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, I promise you that you will get what you need in this life.” Boy, will you get what you need. (laughter) Sometimes we get what we don’t want, but it’s what we need.
But Jesus says very clearly: don’t be anxious. Anxiety is not befitting a Christian. You’ve got to be concerned; you’ve got to work, but you can’t worry, you can’t be anxious, you’ve got to trust. He does promise, if you trust, as it says in the proverb, “I have never seen the child of a righteous man begging bread.” Some way or other, it will all work itself out, and Christians have to believe that.
And if he does want us to suffer and die, then we should suffer and die together with Jesus, and bear witness to the coming Kingdom where there’ll be no suffering and death, and where there’ll be no hunger and thirst. But in this life, we have to trust God. He says in our prayers, we shouldn’t pray for anything earthly—not for food, not for drink, not for clothing. The holy Fathers—St. Cassian, St. Isaac of Syria— they’re violent on this point. If you’re a Christian, you don’t pray for anything temporal, anything earthly, or anything passing away. Sure, if you’re hungry, you could say, “Oh, God, please help me, provide some food.” But nevertheless, we still have to add, “Your will be done. If you want me to starve to death, I have to be ready to starve to death.” That’s terrifying, but it is true. God forgive me for saying it, but it is true.
We can ask. St. Peter says, in his letter, “Cast your concerns onto the Lord. Cast your burden on the Lord.” But what we really must know is that we trust God for everything, and when we pray, we pray for what God gives. We have the parables where Jesus said, “If any child asks his father for bread, will he give him a stone? If he asks him for a fish, will he give him a scorpion?” He said, “If you, who are evil, know how to do good, how much more will God, the Father in heaven, give good things, agatha?” In Luke it says, “give the Holy Spirit”; he doesn’t even say “good things,” it says, “the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”
In the prayer life of the Christian, we pray for all the eternal things, believing that, if we do that, according to the commandment of Christ, whatever we need or don’t need or whatever, God will provide as he knows.
This leads to the last consideration for today. Why, then, in the Lord’s Prayer does it say, “Give us today our daily bread”? Jesus gave the prayer that we are supposed to say: “Our Father, who are in the heavens, make your name be holy, make Your Kingdom come, and make Your will be done. As in the heavens”—I think that means as in Jesus Christ glorified—“so also among us here on earth.”
Then you have this next sentence that in English says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Then the prayer continues: “And forgive us what we owe, as we forgive those who owe us. Don’t let us fall when we are tested and tempted.”—“Lead us not into temptation”: that’s what that means; it doesn’t mean that God tempts us; it means “don’t let us fall when the temptations come.”—and on the other hand, but on the other hand, “deliver us from the evil one.” The evil one is every lawless man, every antichrist, every son of perdition, every demon, and the devil himself.
That is the Lord’s Prayer. But still, it seems to us in English, that in the middle of the prayer he does ask us to pray for bread—“daily bread.” Some interpretations of this say, “Well, all it means is, give us what we need to keep us alive”—earthly, and of course, also heavenly—“Give us what we need to live. Give us today the, as we say in English, ‘daily bread.’ ”
But here we’ve got to know something. That word “daily,” in English, is not “daily” in Greek. In fact, it’s not “daily” in Church Slavonic, either. It’s only “daily” in English. It came to be “daily” in Latin, but originally it was not even “daily” in Latin. It became “daily” in German, “tägliches Brot” in the Lutheran [translation]. Maybe even the people who translated the King James used “daily” because of the German Lutheran translation, but this is something we really have to look at carefully, because what it says in Greek, both in the Matthew version and in the Luke version, in Greek it says, in Matthew, “ton arton imon ton epiousion dos imin simeron.” “Ton arton imon” means “the bread for us.” “Ton epiousion”: and that word in Greek is a very strange word; nobody even knows what it means; that’s the only place it exists!
Literally, “epi” and “ousia” mean “super-substantial” or “super-essential” bread. “Give us today the super-essential bread.” “Nasuŝnyj” in Slavonic. In the original Latin, it was translated by St. Jerome as “supersubstantialem panem”—the super-substantial bread. Give us today the super-substantial bread. In Luke 11 you have exactly the same adjective, “epiousios,” being used.
In Luke, actually, the formulation, grammatically, is different from Matthew. In Luke it says, “Give us each day”—give us day by day—“the epiousios artos.” It’s “kathimeron,” not “simeron.” It’s: “give us according to each day,” but you still have this expression in Greek: “epiousios artos, ton epiousion— ton arton ton epiousion.”
My own opinion, and I have spoken about this at length in long CDs: 12 hours on the Lord’s Prayer—you can get it from St. Vladimir’s Seminary, if you like—but I am convinced, myself, following the Fathers, that Jesus is not at all speaking about everyday bread here. He’s not speaking about earthly food. That “epiousios” in Greek, to those who know and follow the Semitic Fathers, like Athanasius the Great, who was a Copt, although he wrote in Greek, and others—they would say that it seems to mean, “Give us today the bread of the future age. Give us today the bread of the age that is coming.” Or: “Give us today tomorrow’s bread.” That’s how the note puts it in the Oxford Annotated Revised Standard Version: “Give us today tomorrow’s bread.”
[There] is wonderful commentary on this by Jeffrey Wainwright in his book on the Eucharist and by Raymond Brown in his commentary on the Gospels, that it does seem that Jesus, in the prayer, doesn’t mean anything temporal or earthly. That’s certainly how John Cassian, certainly how St. Isaac of Syria, certainly how St. Athanasius the Great interpreted this prayer.
Later on, some of the Greek Fathers interpreted it as “daily,” or “something that we need every day,” but it doesn’t really seem to be that meaning. It seems that the New Testament even shows that, because Jesus does say, “Labor not for the food that perishes.” He does say, “Don’t pray for something to eat.” He does tell the devil, “Man does not live by bread alone.” He promises to give the earthly bread to those who seek the heavenly bread. And certainly, when Jesus Christ says, “I am the bread of life,” he wasn’t speaking about being food for our earthly life on earth. Definitely, he did not mean that.
I think that what we have to conclude, and we must conclude right now, is that even in the Lord’s Prayer, when it says, “Give us today the bread of the future age, give us today the real bread, give us today the true bread, give us the epiousios bread, the super-substantial bread, the super-essential bread, the heavenly bread,” it means Jesus himself.
It means Jesus himself, and that’s given to us now already in the Holy Eucharist. That is why we say the Lord’s Prayer at the Divine Liturgy, just before we have Holy Communion. And we say, with boldness, without condemnation, to dare to call God “Father,” that he would give us the super-substantial bread. The super-substantial bread that God the Father gives us is his own Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. I am the living bread that came from heaven. I am the bread that, if you eat it, you will never die. Seek this bread. Seek the bread that I myself am, because I, Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, the incarnate Logos, I who am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, I also am—I am the bread of life. He who eats this bread will never die.”