We are familiar with Jesus’ speeches on the bread of life, but we can too quickly conclude that He is just talking about the Eucharist. Exegetes are divided about this point, some proposing that Jesus is teaching exclusively about wisdom, others exclusively about the Eucharist, others see the first part of the discourse as about wisdom, the later part about the Eucharist. Andre Feuillet, a well known Catholic Exegete of profound faith, espouses the “both and” position. If we follow his intuition it should profoundly expand our contemplation of the mystery. Christ is “the bread of life,” but also – as He says – the “living bread” and the “true bread.” These titles don’t mean exactly the same thing. The Word of God is the Father’s bread – that is the meaning of the “true bread.” An image so visceral about the relationship between the Father and the Son is astonishing and is certainly more adapted to the mystery of Divine Love than to dogmatic theology.
The Father lives by the Son, and the Son lives for the Father. The Father has “worked” for the food that brings eternal life: He has engendered the Son from all eternity, He has poured Himself out completely, substantially, in giving life to the Son. The Son has received everything from the Father, and gives everything back freely: He is “bread” for the Father. This is the substantial bread that even feeds the angels, “the bread of angels.” What comes down to earth as bread, “from the Father,” is the same bread on the Father’s heavenly table: the Father’s “daily bread,” is given to us when we ask for “our daily bread.” The manna that falls from heaven is a sign of the life-giving and nourishing Word of God. If even God the Father nourishes Himself on this bread, the heavenly Wisdom of which He is the Source, how could we disdain such a gift? This bread is not the “crumbs that fall from the children’s table, eaten by dogs.” Anyone who receives even the tiniest fraction receives the entire infinite substance. If even the Source of Wisdom satiates Himself on the substance of Wisdom, why do we continue to “work for what fails to satisfy?” If the Substance of Wisdom reveals that He is food – bread for the Father – by His unflinching obedience through suffering – how could we not partake of this meal? He has come down from heaven to become our bread – the Father shares His Bread with us.
Jesus is identifying himself as the bread mentioned in the Scripture citation from Exodus quoted in vs. 31, just as John the Baptist identified himself as the voice mentioned in Isa 40:3 (John 1:23).1
IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH:
Do not talk about Jesus Christ while you desire the world. Do not let envy dwell among you.… I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love.2
Now he proceeds to commit to them mysteries. First, he speaks of his Godhead, saying, “I am the bread of life.” For this is not spoken of his body since he says toward the end, “And the bread that I shall give is my flesh.” At present, [bread of life] refers to his Godhead,2 which is “bread” through God the Word, just as this bread [of the sacrament] through the Spirit descending on it, is made heavenly bread.3