Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Volume 8 No. 5xx March z, 2018
II. Lectionary Reflections: Bread of Life

I am The Bread of Life

by Rev. Fr. Joseph Varghese
St. Mary's Syriac Orthodox Church, Bergenfield, New Jersey
The Malankara Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America

Gospel: (John 6:35-40)

35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
John 6:35-40 (NKJV)


Jesus' discourse on the "Bread" is very prominent in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. The idea of bread is developed through various stages. The discourse began with the feeding of multitudes. The idea of physical need of bread is developed through this miracle. Further, John describes how Jesus explained the manna given to Israelites is the bread from heaven. The discourse finally ends with Jesus declaring himself as the "Bread of Life".

The main idea of Jesus as God is developed by John from the beginning to the end of his Gospel (1:1 and 20:31). The discourse in John 6 is very much connected to the Old Testament exegesis. Many of the words and phrases used in the Gospel of John should only be understood in the light of the Old Testament texts. Peder Borgen, in his essay, came up with some insight into John's discourses in Chapter 6 with that of Old Testament settings of Exodus 16:4 and Isaiah 54:9 (Borgen 232). The sign what people are asking for is very much in line with the manna given by Moses at the desert, "He gave bread from heaven to eat" (Ex 16:4). Borgen argues that "Jesus fulfills the Messianic expectation of the Jewish people as the "bread of God" when he comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (Borgen 237). The 'bread of God' is then interpreted as a reference to 'he who (or that which) comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The prevalent thought in the Old Testament and, especially, in the Wisdom literature is that the manna or bread from heaven is frequently identified with the Word or Wisdom of God. God's Word or Wisdom is frequently identified with the Torah, and manna, in turn, is referred as a symbol of Torah. As such, John is trying to establish the correlation between Jesus and the bread of God in the Old Testament. The Gospel of John began with the identification of Jesus as the Word which comes down from God.

"I AM" as Related in the Old Testament

The relationship between the Fourth Gospel's "I AM" discourses and the "I AM" in the Exodus and that of "Before Abraham was, I AM" (8:58) has a close relationship. Perhaps, it is enough to say that John hears resonances with the Yahweh of the Book of Exodus in the "I AM" sayings. Though the "I AM" sayings appear confrontational in the following cases,

"I am the light of the world" (8:12);
"I am the good shepherd" (10:11, 14);
"I am the resurrection and the life" (11:25);
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (14:6);
"I am the vine" (15:1, 5)

but in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus makes himself the point of focus. With "I am the bread of life"; Jesus declares that the point of the sign is not the miracle, not the manna or the bread from heaven, but Himself, the Bread of Heaven. Further to the rumbles of Jewish people, Jesus says that as the true Messiah, he has far more to give them than what they are expecting. They have asked him to give them the manna and Jesus offers them more than manna or what Moses gave them; he offers them the Bread of Heaven, Himself. Further, the divinity of Jesus is implied in the use of the "I am" statement.

The Bread of Heaven and Messianic Expectations

The expectation of a prophet and establishing a Kingdom is always part of the eschatological aspirations of the Jewish people. Moses, a prophet, fed the hungry at the desert. Now Jesus, who is also feeding the multitudes, satisfies the Messianic expectation. As such, it is easy to establish a correlation between the feeding of multitudes by Jesus and the feeding of manna by Moses. For the Jewish people, the Manna given by Moses on the desert is always a backdrop in their thinking. People expect such miracles from the Messiah who will come and establish the Jewish Kingdom for them. It is the natural expectation that at the messianic time, the miracle of Manna that happened at the desert will be repeated and the people will be free from hunger. In the 2nd Book of Baruch Chapter 29:8, it is mentioned about the messianic time that "it shall come to pass at that self-same time that the treasury of manna shall again descend from high, and they will eat of it in those years". So, in order to establish the credentials of Jesus as the Messiah, people expect such signs from him. The geographical locations of both the incidents are similar. When Moses was receiving the manna, it was against the back drop of Mount Sinai; Jesus multiplied the loaves while sitting on the backdrop of a mountain. A messianic banquet is clearly seen in Isaiah 25: 6-8.

The major theme in the above passage is "Jesus as bread" which is interpreted later as the Eucharist.

There are various ideas of bread which are used in the Old and the New Testaments

Bread used as staff of Life

"Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment." (Ezek 4:16)

"Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it." (Ezek 14:13)

As a provision of God in need to Elijah

"And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook." (1King 17:12)

Bread as Offerings to God

And if you bring as an offering a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil.
 (Lev 2:4, NKJV)

To Feed The Disciples by Jesus

9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught."

11 Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and eat breakfast." Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, "Who are You?" - knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.
John 21:9-13 (NKJV)

To Feed The Multitudes

"Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish." (John 6:10-11)

Bread of Heaven

"Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. 32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (John 6:31-35)

Used as Remembrance

"And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." (1 Cor. 11:24)

The Echo of Bread as Eucharist in the Old Testament

"Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine.
He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

"Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand."
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything".
(Genesis 14: 19,20)

According to the article by Bill Erlenbach "What is being portrayed, however, is the generosity of Melchizedek. 'Bread and water' would have been the staple diet. Bread and wine is royal fare (1 Sam 16:20) and regularly accompanied animal sacrifice (Num. 15:2-10; 1 Sam. 1:24; 1 Sam. 10:3). Melchizedek who, in traditional Near Eastern fashion, combined the offices of the king and priest…is portrayed as laying on a royal banquet for Abram, the returning conqueror".

Bread in Holy Eucharist

Bread is the visible symbol in Holy Eucharist. God is present in the Eucharist.

"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed [it], and brake [it], and gave [it] to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body" (Mt 26:26).

According to Raymond Brown, discourse on the bread of life has two themes, the nourishing heavenly bread is the revelation or teaching of Jesus (sapiential theme); in the second (verses 51-58) it is the Eucharist (sacramental theme) (Brown p.274-275). The Eucharistic theme has, according to Brown, two indications "There are two impressive indications that the Eucharist is in mind. The first indication is the stress on eating (feeding on) Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood……. The second indication of the Eucharist is the formula found in vs.51: "The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world." (Brown p284-285)

Torrance has given an explanation about the presence of Christ in Holy Eucharist. "Properly speaking, then, the mystery of the Eucharist is not to be understood in terms of external causal relations between Christ and the Eucharist or between the Eucharist and ourselves, but in terms of our participation through the Spirit in what the whole Christ, the incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended Son, is on himself in respect both of his activity from the Father towards mankind and of his activity from mankind towards the Father". T.F. Torrence (Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation, 109.)

Further, according to Torrance, God's immanence presence is visible in the Holy Eucharist. "Thus Jesus prayed at the institution of the Eucharist that we may be one with him as he is one with us, sharing with him in the oneness which he has with the Father, which surely means that the real presence which Christ grants to us in the Eucharist is objectively grounded in the presence of God to himself, and as such is the profoundest and most intensive kind of presence there could ever be." (Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation, 121.)

Thus to speak of God's immanence in terms of presence, we must speak of the Holy Spirit mediating the presence. The Eucharist is a particular act of worship where the absent Christ is present through the mediation of the Holy Spirit.

There are three aspects of Bread in relation with the Church

1. Eternal life - 'Who ever partake in this has eternal life'

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:51)

According to C.H. Dodd "the food of eternal life is developed with reference to the manna spoken in the Old Testament as 'bread from heaven.' The dialogue here is based upon the well-attested Jewish beliefs, or speculation, about manna.

According to the Apocalypse of Baruch (nearly contemporary with the Fourth Gospel), "it shall come to pass at that self-same time that the treasury of manna shall again descend from on high, and they will eat of it in those years because these are they who have come to the consummation of time". (Dodd, p.335)

2. Union with Christ

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them." (John 6:56)

According to C.H. Dodd, the bread itself is identified as Christ who descend from heaven "…and it would be equally possible to construe it after the same manner, substantially, in the sense 'The bread of God is He who descends from heaven and gives life to the world" (Dodd, p.337).

3. Promise of Resurrection

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day." (6:54)

C.H. Dodd further argues that "the destruction and resuscitation of the body of Christ that the new kind of life is inaugurated" (Dodd, p.339).

In my opinion, the visible presence of bread and wine is the invisible presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The Orthodox Church teaches that it is a "mystery" that is beyond explanation in scientific or philosophical terms. The physical appearance termed are not just "symbols" - something that points beyond itself to something else - but are the Body and Blood of Christ. As St. John of Damascus wrote: "The bread and wine are not a foreshadowing of the body and blood of Christ- By no means!- but the actual deified body of the Lord, because the Lord Himself said: 'This is my body'; not 'a foreshadowing of my body' but 'my body,' and not 'a foreshadowing of my blood' but 'my blood'" (The Orthodox Faith, IV [PG 94, 1148-49]).

Pastoral Applications

As successors of the Apostles and teachers of the Church, the bishops, clergies and the faithful have the duty to hand on and preserve what God has revealed to us and to encourage all members of the Church to deepen their understanding of the mystery and gift of the Eucharist. There are various ways in which the symbolism of eating bread and drinking wine discloses the meaning of the Eucharist. As the natural food gives nourishment to the body, so the Eucharistic food gives spiritual nourishment.

Furthermore, the sharing of an ordinary meal establishes a certain communion among the people who share it; in the Eucharist, the People of God share a meal that brings them into communion not only with each other but with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Similarly, as St. Paul tells us, the single loaf that is shared among many during the Eucharistic meal is an indication of the unity of those who have been called together by the Holy Spirit as one body, the Body of Christ (1 Cor 10:17). To take another example, the individual grains of wheat and individual grapes have to be harvested and to undergo a process of grinding or crushing before they are unified as bread and as wine. Because of this, bread and wine point to both the union of the many that takes place in the Body of Christ and the suffering undergone by Christ, a suffering that must also be embraced by his disciples. There are many ways in which the eating of bread and drinking of wine symbolize what God does for us through Christ, since symbols are the visible presence of invisible grace.


Erlenbach, Bill, "The Convergence of Transcendence and Immanence in the Eucharist" Catholic Biblical Quarterly 62, no. 04 (October 2000): 632-44.

Torrance, Thomas F, Theology in Reconciliation: Essays towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.

Dodd, C.H, The interpretation of the Fourth Gospel Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Brown, Raymond E, The Anchor Bible: The Gospel according to John Garden City, NY: Doubleday &Co. 1966.

About The Author:

Father Joseph Varghese is the Vicar of St. Mary's Syriac Orthodox Church, Bergenfield, New Jersey, USA. He is a Member of the Inter-Religious Commission of the National Council of Churches, Executive Director of Institute for Religious Freedom and Tolerance (IRFT), New York; Member of the U.S. Consultation of The Oriental Orthodox - Roman Catholic Churches and a Delegate of the Standing Conference on Oriental Orthodox Churches (SCOOCH).

On Baking Bread and the Bread of Life

by The Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt

Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51

I have been baking bread for as long as I can remember.

It was a regular occurrence at the home I grew up in: the aroma of fresh baked bread.

It was, I'm told, an even more regular happening in the home my mother grew up in back in the time when bread could not be bought as easily as it can be today.

My grandmother, whom I never knew, baked bread. My mother baked bread. And so do I.

And while it's true my choices for baking are not as restricted as that of my grandmother --- who baked bread in the heart of the Great Depression --- so I'm told she always used water instead of milk. While it is true that I love branching out and so have been nurturing a sour dough starter for a year and a half and lately am having fun tending the sponge of a marvelous rye bread on the back of my stove --- While bread can be exotic, it's also pretty basic. All you finally need is flour, a little salt, yeast, water, and maybe a little sugar or other sweetener. Patience and a decent oven help, too. Still, all in all, bread is pretty ordinary. Every culture enjoys some form of it. In fact, I understand that for more than 6,000 years, people the world over have been baking bread.

And so it is that Jesus offers us today the image of bread as a way to better understand him. Indeed, his first listeners wondered, too, at the ordinariness of the man whose message they had come to hear. They wondered at who he thought he was --- this Jesus whose parents they knew so well. They wondered how one so much like them in so many ways could begin to think of tying himself to heaven when he says, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." Indeed, no doubt they wonder, too, how it is he can make such extraordinary claims about something so ordinary: claiming to be the bread which will satisfy hunger and quench thirst for all of time.

It is how God always seems to work, of course. Oh, there are plenty of extraordinary things which happen in the presence of Jesus, but in the end, God uses fairly ordinary means to reach us. We experience this over and over again in many of Jesus' teachings. Consider, for instance, his parables where he speaks of things like seeds and weeds and crops and vineyards and lost coins and travelers and families: all so very familiar to the people who first listened to what he had to say. And today, of course, he brings to mind the nearly universal image and experience of bread. Indeed, God employs ordinary means to help us understand, embrace and rejoice in God's love for and intent for us all: including Jesus himself, whose childhood, no doubt mirrored those of his neighbors. For of course, it is the ordinary we understand best. And by God's wondrous gift, it is the ordinary which the Holy somehow permeates and makes new --- in always extraordinary ways..

Whenever I bake bread I do so remembering so many. A grandmother I never knew and the large family she made sure were fed. An aunt whose house always smelled of fresh baked bread whenever we dropped in. My mother who taught us to knead and shape the loaves and who looked the other way when my sisters and I would playfully toss the dough to one another before placing it in the bowl to rise. All these women: simply ordinary people finding life in a tradition which helped sustain life at their tables. And of course, we are all so very privileged to think of Jesus, too, who compared himself to ordinary bread. And in doing so gave his listeners something to chew on. So that now all of our bread can speak to us of the promise of so much more than something to sustain us today.

How does the image of Jesus as the Bread of Life speak to you? What stories of 'bread' make Jesus' words today all the more meaningful to you?

Why do you think some of his first listeners were not able to understand or embrace his teaching? Have your questions ever mirrored theirs? Why or why not?

What other examples can you think of where God used ordinary means to reach God's beloved people? Where have you experienced the gifts of God in the 'ordinary' in your life?  

What Am I Hungry For? Meditation on John 6:30-35
Opening prayer

Lord our God, generous Father,
you have given us your Son Jesus
that we may relive with him and like him
his passion and his resurrection.
Through Jesus, give us the courage
to place ourselves into your hands
in the trials of life and in death,
that one day we may see your glory
and at your right hand your Son Jesus Christ,
who lives with you for ever.

Gospel Reading - John 6:30-35

So they said, 'What sign will you yourself do, the sight of which will make us believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers ate manna in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'

Jesus answered them: In all truth I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven, the true bread; for the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

'Sir,' they said, 'give us that bread always.' Jesus answered them: I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever hunger; no one who believes in me will ever thirst.


• The Discourse of the Bread of Life is not a text to be discussed and dissected, but rather it should be meditated and pondered. This is why, even if it is not fully understood, we should not be concerned. This text of the Bread of Life demands a whole life to meditate on it and deepen it. Such a text, people have to read it, meditate it, pray it, think about it, read it again, repeat it and ponder it, as one does with a good sweet in the mouth. We turn it and turn it in the mouth until it is finished. The one, who reads the Fourth Gospel superficially, may have the impression that John always repeats the same thing. Reading it more attentively, one becomes aware that it is not a question of repetition. The author of the fourth Gospel has his own way of repeating the same theme, but always at a higher and more profound level. It seems to be like a winding staircase. By turning one reaches the same place, but always at a higher level or a more profound one.

• John 6, 30-33: What sign will you yourself do, the sign which will make us believe in you? People had asked: What should we do to carry out the work of God? Jesus responds: "The work of God is to believe in the one who has sent", that is to believe in Jesus. This is why people formulate the new question: "Which sign do you do so that we can see and can believe? Which work do you do?" This means that they did not understand the multiplication of the loaves as a sign from God to legitimize Jesus before the people, as the one sent by God! They continue to argue: In the past our fathers ate the manna which Moses gave them! They called it "bread from Heaven" (Ws 16, 20), that is, "bread of God". Moses continues to be the great leader in whom to believe. If Jesus wants the people to believe in him, he should work a greater sign than Moses. "What work do you do?"

• Jesus responds that the bread given by Moses was not the true bread from heaven. Coming from on high, yes, but it was not the bread of God, because it did not guarantee life to any one. All of them died in the desert (Jn 6, 49). The true bread of heaven, the bread of God, is the one which conquers death and gives life! It is the one which descends from Heaven and gives life to the world. It is Jesus himself! Jesus tries to help the people to liberate themselves from the way of thinking of the past. For him, fidelity to the past does not mean to close up oneself in the ancient things and not accept renewal. Fidelity to the past means to accept the novelty which comes as the fruit of the seed which was planted in the past.

• John 6, 34-35: Lord, gives us always of that bread! Jesus answers clearly: "I am the bread of life!" To eat the bread of heaven is the same as to believe in Jesus and accept to follow the road that he teaches us, that is: "My food is to do the will of the one who has sent me and to complete his work!" (Jn 4, 34). This is the true food which nourishes the person, which transforms life and gives new life. This last verse of today's Gospel (Jn 6, 35) will be taken back as the first verse of tomorrow's Gospel (Jn 6, 35-40)

Personal questions

• Hungry for bread, hungry for God. Which of these two predominates in me?

• Jesus says: "I am the bread of life". He takes away hunger and thirst. Which of these experiences do I have in my life?

Concluding Prayer

Lord turn your ear to me, make haste.
Be for me a rock-fastness,
a fortified citadel to save me.
You are my rock, my rampart;
true to your name, lead me and guide me!
(Ps 31:1-2)


Eat and Live Forever - A Reflection

by Rick Morley

Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51

There was one brief, shining moment in the Hebrew Bible where things were pretty good. We had safety, and security, we had the Presence of God walking among us.

We had a nice garden.

And then we blew it. We had only been given one "thou shalt not," and we couldn't manage the "not" part. So we ate of the tree.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And, what happened when you ate of this tree? Your eyes were opened, and you became "like God," knowing good and evil.

But, you know, there was another tree in the Garden…The Tree of Life. And what happened when you ate of this tree? Well, we get the scoop on that when God talks of the consequences of eating from the Tree of Knowledge:

Then the Lord said, 'See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.'

So…obviously…we ate from the wrong tree. We were never told that we couldn't eat from the Tree of Life…but we ate from the tree that we were told not to.

We could have lived forever. In that garden. With God.

We were so close. It could have been great.

In John chapter 6, Jesus isn't talking about trees and fruit, but rather bread. But, he talks about this bread in a familiar way:

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.

Jesus is speaking of himself. He's speaking of the benefits of believing and abiding in him. Of consuming him, and making him a part of us, and us a part of him.

And…he's so very clearly identifying himself as the new creation. The new garden. The new tree. The new fruit.

God's dream in Genesis was that we would live forever with Him, and in Jesus that dream gets a fresh start.

In Eden it could have been great, but we messed it up. But, now, in Jesus it can be great again.

And, great forever.


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