Today's gospel reading from the sixth chapter of John begins Jesus' famous Bread of Life discourse, which we read for four consecutive Sundays. There is a distinct, intentional progression in the words of Jesus regarding our response to this heavenly bread.
During the first part of the discourse, Jesus emphasizes that we must believe He is the Bread of Life. The word believe is used four times from verses 29 through 47. Jesus teaches that we must believe in Him, and accordingly, believe the truths He is revealing. "I Myself am the Bread of Life. No one who comes to Me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in Me shall ever thirst" (Jn 6:35).
Jesus makes an abrupt, intentional transition in the last half of the discourse. He stops using the word "believe" and begins using verbs and nouns referring to eating and drinking. For nine consecutive verses, 50 through 59, the verbs eat and drink or nouns for food and drink are used. "If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever" (Jn 6:51). "If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you" (Jn 6:53). "The man who feeds on this bread shall live forever" (Jn 6:58).
Jesus clearly states that anyone who believes in Him will take the next step and eat His eucharistic flesh. There was no confusion for His initial hearers. They understood exactly the progression Jesus was making; they just refused to obey and eat (Jn 6:60ff). What about you? What will you do in response to Jesus' clear words? "Unless you eat..."