Those in the crowd that Jesus is speaking with are those who experienced his multiplication of the loaves and fish. Step by systematic and deliberate step, Jesus is setting the stage for today’s insertion into his presentation.
Jesus begins slowly, but with each successive step, he is not willing to be tamed. He, as the One from above, the One who has seen and has been sent by the Father, is fully divine, as well as fully human speaking among those who have come to him. He has responded to the people’s request regarding how they were to “accomplish the works of God” and his response is that they are to believe in him, he who had been sent by God. They were to “work for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give”. Jesus himself, as he did with the multiplication, will provide the food that will endure for eternal life. Jesus shared that he is this food, the bread from heaven, that will give life to the world.
What Jesus has shared thus far and what he shares in today’s Gospel message has been given to him to say from his Father and is for everyone who is willing to accept his invitation: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.” We have an advantage, that those listening to Jesus, did not have. We just experienced Lent and we can certainly draw a line to how Jesus certainly does give his very life, his Flesh, that is sacrificed and hung on the cross. We believe too that Jesus died and experienced utter God forsakenness by giving his very life for the life the world.
But for those in the crowd who only the day before sought to unanimously make him their Messiah by popular acclamation are growing a bit uncomfortable. This discourse is now starting to move away from a more figurative discussion to a more dramatic and concrete presentation with horrific implications. After an initial gasp or two, some murmuring would have begun, centering around such questions as:
“Did Jesus really just say he would give his flesh?”
“Jesus is equating himself with the bread from heaven, and the bread he is offering is his flesh?”
“Is Jesus saying what I think he is saying?”
Yes! The Son is because the Father has given all that he is, holding nothing back, emptying himself into the Son. The Son has received all that the Father is and returns himself, giving all that he is, holding nothing back to the Father. This eternal giving and receiving, this eternal communion of Love shared between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. Jesus is offering participation in this perichoresis, this divine dance of infinite communion, as he offers all that he is to his listeners then and to us, this day, to be consumed. He is holding nothing back in his offer. We are invited not only to receive all that Jesus is, we are to also give ourselves away in return.
Photo: Artistic rendition of the face of Jesus based on the Shroud of Turin.