The major “bread of life” theme continues from last Sunday’s reading. Even though the people had been fed through the multiplication of loaves and fishes, they did not understand what was really signified by that miracle. So what do they do? They ask for still another “sign” when Jesus asks them to believe in him.
The “bread of life” that Jesus is teaching them about is not food to satisfy their physical hunger. Rather, it is food for eternal life. That food is Jesus himself, as he clearly teaches them that he himself is this bread of life, a bread that will eliminate all spiritual hunger if accepted. Once again Jesus is asking them to believe in him; the multiplication of loaves was simply a sign pointing to his divinity, and a transforming event that was intended to lead them into a transformation of their very lives through faith.
Scripture scholar Fr. Leslie Hoppe, OFM has a helpful explanation of the story’s setting. He says that according to an early Jewish tradition, the Messiah was to reproduce the miracle of the manna. Therefore, the multiplication of loaves should have been an immediate and obvious clue that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. But now Jesus goes even further, and tells the crowd that there is more than manna here; indeed, Jesus himself is the bread of life—not just a worker of miracles to feed the hungry, but the actual food for eternal life.
This bread, this heavenly banquet food, is available simply by believing in him. Here we are, many centuries later. Catholics would not be worshipping the Lord and receiving him as Holy Communion at Mass if we did not believe both his claim that HE is the bread of eternal life and his words of consecration passed on to his apostles with a command to use them. (How casually do you approach the Real Presence, Jesus, when you come forward to receive this precious gift at communion time? Our attitude is something to consider and resolve.)
Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. We express our faith in the Real Presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine in many ways, including genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord.