Monday, August 17, 2015

Numbers and the Bread of Life Discourse

Dear Theophilous,

I’m not someone who superstitiously puts a lot of faith in numbers. I don’t play the lottery. I won’t go out of my way to avoid the number 13. I don’t really have a favourite or lucky number (although throughout my entire recreational athletic career I have worn the number 7, that’s due more to the fact that when selecting my first ever hockey jersey I chose the sweater with the captain’s C on the front in a moment of 6-year-old vainglory). It’s just that I feel life is too short to spend my time worrying about how the numbers in my life will affect how my day plays out.

All this being said, I do love finding symmetry and patterns in the world around me; something that usually involves number games. One of my favourite number games is to find numerical links throughout Holy Scripture. A few of which (both obvious and obscure) include:


The Holy Trinity
The number of persons involved in Original Sin
The number of times God called Samuel
The number of persons involved in the Transfiguration
The number of angelic visits during the Nativity story


Tribes of Isreal
Elect for Paradise (12x12=144x1,000=144,000)


Years the Israelites wandered in the desert
Days that Elijah spent on his journey
Days Christ spent in the desert
Days between the Resurrection and the Ascension

This list is very incomplete. I’m sure there are biblical scholars that have spent their careers looking at these numbers, interpreting them, commenting on them and sharing the wisdom these numbers impart.

As we work our way through the Bread of Life Discourse (Year B – Weeks 17-21 of Ordinary Time), there is another numerical coincidence that I find interesting, to say the least.

As a highlight of his teaching through the entire Bread of Life Discourse Jesus tells the crowds (and us):

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever. (Jn 6:53-58)

The Bread of Life Discourse remains as difficult to swallow today as it was in the time of Christ:

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” (Jn 6:41)

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52)

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60)

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and walked with him no longer. (Jn 6:66)

It was during my meditation on the Bread of Life Discourse a couple of years ago that this last line caught my attention for it’s numeric value, for which I feel it bears repeating, but with a slightly different emphasis:

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and walked with him no longer. (Jn 6:66)

I doubt that it would take much commentary to make the link between the Scripture context and its numeric value. Disciples no longer walking with Christ in a verse numbered 6:66 … a number associated with Satan (the Beast) in the Book of Revelation (cf Rev 13:18). It is Christ who calls us to abide in Him through the Eucharist, His very flesh and blood; and Satan who pulls us away.

More telling is the exchange Jesus has with His Apostles immediately after the other disciples left Him:

“Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6:67)

To which Simon Peter replied:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)

Through His loving grace the Father has given us the gift of freewill. When Christ calls us to Him in the Eucharist it is for us to decide whether we will fall away and walk with Him no longer, or will we turn to Him because He has the words of eternal life.

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