BETHLEHEM: HOUSE OF BREAD
It’s remarkable that even though the infant Jesus couldn’t speak, from the first moment of his birth, he was proclaiming that he is the Bread of Life. It’s as if is impatient to institute the Eucharist.
The word Bethlehem in Hebrew means “house of bread” and it’s also no coincidence that Jesus rested in a feeding trough—a “manger” sounds much more quaint, but that’s what it was.
So let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on Jesus, the Bread of Life.
IF YOU BELIEVE AND EAT THIS BREAD…
The baby in the feeding trough at Bethlehem would later go on to feed five thousand in the outskirts of Galilee, invoking memories of the manna the Jews received in the wilderness, and the promises and qualities linked to that manna—a promise and quality that Jesus linkes to himself.
It was part of Jewish Messianic belief that, when the Messiah came, he would once again feed his people with the heavenly manna. In Solomon’s temple there had been stored the Ark of the Covenant containing the tables of the Ten Commandments, the rod that had budded, and a golden pot containing some of the manna that afterwards, when the temple was destroyed, Jeremiah had hidden away. It was foretold that when the Messiah came, he would produce it again, and the faithful would eat of it.
Our Lord, of course, is fully aware of this, and to further heighten this connection between himself and the manna, Jesus insists that it was God, not Moses, who had given the people the bread from heaven. It was part of Jewish belief that the manna was given because of the transcendent merits of Moses, and that, with his death, it ceased. Jesus denies this and insists that the giver of the manna is no human person but God himself. This is in short a claim to be nothing less than divine.
YOU WILL HAVE ETERNAL LIFE
The qualities of the manna were even more wonderful. The manna was said to be angel’s food, distilled from the upper light, and the dew that falls from above. It was said to answer to every taste and to every age. It varied in itself according to the need and wish and condition of the eater. Whatever the eater needed, the manna was. Here then is the claim of Jesus that, whatever be the need of any man, in the Eucharist he can satisfy it.
Remarkably, this new life enters into us through the most common food of mankind: bread and wine, which now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, at consecration, contains Christ’s flesh offered for our body’s welfare, and his blood for our soul’s. St Ignatius calls it the medicine of salvation.
That is, Eternal Life.
When we receive the Eucharist we are taking Christ into our innermost self, so much so, we can never really truly know what true life is until Jesus Christ permeates every aspect of our being.