"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."
How do we "eat" Jesus? Here our Lord compares Himself to bread which we are instructed to eat. Furthermore, He clarifies that He is not only bread, but the living bread. This is distinctive. It is in contrast with natural bread which, after one eats, is no longer able to sustain him. But this bread is eternal. It lasts forever and brings eternal life to whoever eats. Jesus is the living bread. He is distinctive. One cannot find this bread anywhere else, or in anyone else.
Most people in reading this passage assume Jesus is using bread as a metaphor to show that faith in Him sustains us spiritually as surely as eating sustains us physically. This is, indeed, a part of what is being said. But there is more.
John is using this incident to teach the early believers to whom he is writing about the core teaching of the Church of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. Jesus is showing us that He is truly present in the bread. It really is Him. It is not merely a symbol of Him, or something like Him. It's Him. For those who dispute this, they need only look on further in the chapter where our Lord makes it even more explicit that this is what He is teaching. When the people are offended by this, He could easily have told them He was only speaking figuratively. But He doesn't do that because He wasn't speaking figuratively. On the night of the Last Supper when our Lord took bread and pronounced, "This is My Body," we can be sure the apostles knew in that moment what He meant when He gave this teaching recorded for us in John's Gospel.
Why is this so important? Because it is in coming to the Eucharist that we are replenished with Grace. Sins are forgiven and strength is provided to live out this calling to a holy life. Without the food of the Eucharist we are spiritually malnourished. In such a weakened condition, we are easy prey for the enemies of our souls.
There is more. By giving us the precious gift of the Eucharist, Jesus has made Himself manifest to all believers. We can come, draw near, and worship. We can see Him and touch Him. He takes on, once again, physical proximity. He does this to comfort and encourage us; to aid us in our faith as we continue our pilgrimage through this life.
By giving us His flesh in this manner, we become unique partakers with Christ in the atonement He offered at the cross for our sins. We are one with Him. Through Him, in Him, and with Him, we are offered to God as a living sacrifice.
The people of Jesus' day didn't understand this. It offended them. They were trying to grasp these sacred mysteries by their own understanding. It doesn't work. As our Lord explained later, they are spiritually discerned. It must come by revelation.
To believe in Christ is a good start. But we are called to feed on Him continually. We do this in many ways, but the primary one is to receive Him in the Eucharist. Let us draw near, then, with hearts full of faith and feed on our Lord Jesus Christ who has so lovingly given Himself for us all.