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August 1985

Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you. (John 6:27)

After having fed the five thousand by multiplying the loaves, Jesus crossed to the other side of the sea of Galilee, without being seen, in order to withdraw from the crowd which wanted to make Him king. Nevertheless, many people had begun to look for him and had crossed the lake to join him. However, Jesus did not accept their enthusiasm which was born from self-interest. They ate the miraculous bread but had stopped short at the purely material advantage without grasping the deep significance of that bread, which showed that Jesus had been sent by the Father to give true life to the world. The crowd saw Jesus only as a wonder worker, an earthly Messiah, who could provide them with material food in abundance and at a low price. This is the context in which Jesus said to the crowd:

Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you.

The "food which does not perish" is the person of Jesus and also His teaching, since His teaching is completely one with Him as a person. Later on, when we read other words of Jesus, we see that this "bread which does not perish" is also identified with the Eucharistic body of Jesus. Therefore, we can say that the "food which does not perish" is Jesus in person, who gives Himself to us in His Word and in the Eucharist.

Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you.

In the Bible the image of bread appears often, as does the image of water. Bread and water represent the primary nourishment which is indispensable for man's life. By applying the image of food to Himself, Jesus wants to tell us that His person and His teaching are indispensable for the spiritual life of man, in the same way as bread is indispensable for the life of the body. Material bread is certainly necessary: Jesus Himself provides it in a miraculous way for the crowds. But it is not enough on its own. Man bears within himself - even if he is not fully aware of it - a hunger for truth, justice, goodness, love, purity, light, peace, joy, infinity, everlasting life, which nothing in the world can satisfy. Jesus offers Himself as the only one who is capable of satisfying man's inner hunger.

Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you.

By presenting Himself as the "bread of life" Jesus does not limit Himself to stating that it is necessary to feed on Him, which means to believe in His words in order to have eternal life; rather, He wants to encourage us to experience Him. With the words "labour ... for the food which endures" He is inviting us with a tone of urgency. He is telling us that we must be actively involved and we must use all possible means to obtain this food. Jesus does not impose Himself, but He wants to be discovered, to be experienced.

Obviously, man is not capable of reaching Jesus with his own strength. He can do so through a gift from God. Nonetheless, Jesus continually invites man to be ready to welcome the gift of Himself which Jesus wants to give him. It is precisely by making the effort to put into practice the Word of Jesus that man acquires the fullness of faith in Him and is able to relish His Word as he would relish the taste of fresh wholesome bread.

Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you.

The Word of Life this month does not focus on one particular point of Jesus' teaching (e.g. forgiving offences, detachment from wealth etc.) but it leads us back to the very root of Christian life, which is our personal relationship with Jesus.

I think that the experience of anyone who has begun to live the Word of Jesus with commitment and, above all, lives the commandment of love for our neighbour (which is the summary of all the Words of God and of all His commandments) is that Jesus is the "bread" of his life, which can satisfy the desires of his heart and is the source of his joy and light. By putting the Word into practice, he will to some extent have "tasted" the Word as the true answer to the problems of man and of the world. Given that Jesus "the bread of life" gives the supreme gift of Himself in the Eucharist, anyone who has had this experience of the Word spontaneously goes to receive the Eucharist with love and the Eucharist occupies an important place in his life.

The same urgency with which Jesus exhorted the crowds to labour for the bread of life should push those who have had this marvellous experience not to keep their discovery to themselves, but to communicate it to others, so that many may find in Jesus all that their heart has always been looking for. To communicate this experience is a great act of love which they can do for their neighbours, so that, already on this earth, they too may know what true life is and so may have eternal life. What more can anyone want?

Chiara Lubich

(Thanks are due to J.D. for supplying a copy of the original commentary to this Word of Life)

 

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