Interpreting John 6: Jesus, Moses, and the Eucharist
This article originally appeared on Catholic Exchange. It has been published with permission.
Jesus asks a number of different questions in the Gospels, but one in particular always stood out to me, “Do you believe that I can do this?” (Mt 9:28). Originally posed to two blind men, this question like all of Scripture, transcends its initial audience and can be applied to us as well. For this reason, I often propose this question to my high school students when I’m teaching them about the Eucharist – do you believe that Jesus can transform bread and wine into His Body and Blood? To answer this question, we must turn to chapter six in the Gospel of John. In John 6 we encounter Jesus’ famous Bread of Life Discourse, where He firmly establishes His teaching on the Eucharist. But in order to understand this teaching we first have to look at the two passages that precede the discourse. These two passages serve as the interpretive key for the Bread of Life Discourse, because in them Jesus manifests a power over nature and an ability to feed God’s people that is greater than Moses.
Being greater than Moses is one of the marks of the Messiah. The Jews were familiar with Moses’ words, “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen” (Deut. 18:15). They were looking for a man who was like Moses, who performed mighty deeds, provided nourishment, and set captives free. All of these things are found in Jesus, the Messiah, who manifests Himself as the new Moses. Knowing this will help us to interpret John 6 and the Bread of Life Discourse.
Chapter six of the Gospel of John is broken up into three segments, which build upon each other and conclude in the epic climax of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. The opening of the chapter begins with the miraculous Feeding of the 5000.
As Jesus was teaching in Tiberias, a multitude of people began to follow Him, “because they saw the signs which He did on those who were diseased” (Jn 6:2). After a long day the people were tired and hungry, so Philip approached the Lord and asked how they were supposed to feed so many people. Jesus instructed His disciples to gather the five barley loaves and two fish that were available and have the people sit down. Jesus then gave thanks and distributed the food. All ate and were satisfied.
Read the rest on Catholic Exchange.