Nineteenth Sunday, Year (B)
(1st. Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30 – 5:2; John 6:41-51)
Obviously it wasn’t easy to hear a man say:
I am the bread that came down from heaven;
we would think him mad or laugh him out of court! And so the first thing to notice about today’s Gospel reading is that the Jews did not do any such thing. No! They had had some experience of Jesus: they had frequently heard Him speak, closely observed His Personal bearing, and at least heard of certain miraculous ‘works of His hands’. Consequently, they were not drawn to laughter when such a man made a claim even so extraordinary as:
I am the Bread that came down from Heaven.
In fact, they felt a certain anxiety before Him and were even irritated with themselves and each other for no apparently good reason; and so they started complaining and grumbling among themselves, saying among other things ‘Come down from heaven, indeed’!:
Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’
Why did they not just laugh? What a testimony it was to Jesus that they didn’t!
It seems that only immediately involved professionals, that is, the pagan and brutalised soldiers, along with the hypocritically self-righteous chief priests, scribes and elders would ever be able to laugh at Him. As regards the ordinary people, indifference to anything that was not directly pertinent to their own worldly concerns was their greatest fault because it would eventually make them so very malleable, even ‘mob-able’, for their leaders’ abuse.
There were others along with today’s murmuring Jews however, who could better explain why they considered Jesus as One not to be laughed at, as One Whom they -- as experienced and/or influential people -- found to be far different from any other man they had ever come across by reason of a certain 'righteousness’ which made Him both mysteriously unique and yet, somehow, dangerous; such, indeed, were the feelings of the wife of Pilate who warned her husband:
Have nothing to do with that righteous Man;
and of the centurion who, having watched His suffering and death, spontaneously glorified God saying:
This Man was innocent beyond doubt!
It was this Personal ‘something’ about Jesus – not just the fact that He had only recently miraculously fed a very large crowd from a boy’s picnic lunch of a few loves and fish – that was troubling the Jews speaking with Him at the present moment; it was a disquietude that somehow something was being asked of them that they were not able or ready -- each of them for personal reasons -- to give, and so they complained in their own hearts, murmured and argued with their companions, until Jesus found it necessary to say:
Stop murmuring among yourselves, no one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draw him.
That was not the way to find the truth about, and understand the Person of, Our Lord. Instead of complaints to bolster a prejudiced opinion there had be a desire for the truth and a recognition that the truth about Jesus could transcend the limits and the power of merely human appreciation and reasoning. The truth about Jesus could only be received, ultimately, as a gift – the Gift -- from the Father.
And because people must have a motive to impel them to make the necessary efforts to seek such truth, Jesus added the words:
And I will raise him up on the last day.
The prophet Jeremiah had foretold that, in the days of the coming Messiah, all men would be taught by God; and here Jesus -- quoting the prophet -- added what were His very own mysterious and provocative words:
Everyone who listens to My Father and learns from Him comes to Me.
And this is the precise point for our own entry into the drama of today’s Gospel reading!
The Jews seeking Jesus were ‘murmuring’ among themselves about His words, (others translate ‘murmuring’, as ‘complaining’, ‘grumbling’), and Jesus says quite bluntly, ‘Stop that. Try to listen to My Father (and your Father) and learn from Him.’
Notice that very carefully, People of God; for life’s ultimate decision, Jesus advised that we listen to God and learn; not that we discuss among ourselves in order to arrive at an agreed conclusion, which would be both meaningless and ludicrous!! Salvation is absolutely personal and relational; involving sincere personal love for, and deep personal commitment to, God. Note that Jesus did not even say, ‘Discuss it with the Father’, or, ‘Pray to the Father’, because such prayer can with many people so easily become a matter of ‘discussing with’ or ‘talking to’ where they themselves are in the driving seat. Therefore Jesus concentrated attention on one word, listen to His (and their) Father: that is, that they calm their heart in humble acceptance of its emptiness before Him, and still their fevered imaginations and thoughts by unconditional trust in Him. He advised them, and advises us, to patiently wait upon the Father’s mercy and hope for His blessing; having only our gratitude and praise to offer for His goodness.
And now we come to a great truth about the world we live in, People of God: the Father teaches all and always has taught all.
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died. I am the living bread that came down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.
See, the Father was already teaching and preparing the Jews as they were being led from their slavery in Egypt. He was preparing them for Jesus’ coming, by teaching them to look for life in food from heaven. They accepted that all food came ‘from heaven’ in so far as it was ultimately given them by God. But all such food originated from, and ended up on, earth. They had to become able to understand the need for living bread originating from heaven, which alone could give them heavenly, eternal life.
There we have the clearest possible example of God’s Providence with Israel and with us today. From the beginning of Israel’s history there was a vital question of, and need for, ‘bread from heaven’; and for over more than a thousand years God was guiding Israel towards the possibility of their being able to understand and appreciate something of truly living Bread coming from Heaven in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.
That is the function and purpose of all earthly realities and experiences! They are all, under God’s Providence, able to help us to an initial appreciation of the ultimate realities of heaven. That is what can make life, living, such a wonderful experience: how can we, with St. Paul, manage to take away the veil so lightly covering the beauty of God?
Everyone who listens to My Father and learns from Him comes to Me.
Listening to God means not just listening with our ears, it involves the desire of our heart, it concerns the ‘background’ attention of our mind ever hovering around God, and our willingness and ability to drop earthly concerns when Jesus passes nearby:
They came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, He is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man replied to Him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)
Bartimaeus there gave a most beautiful master-class in the Christian art of listening, for and to God!
Such listening can make life and our daily living it out a truly wonderful experience, offering personal pointers to heavenly realities; and when we learn to so look at, question and taste, the joys and sorrows, bitter and sweet things of life, then everything becomes able to beckon us ever on and ever more engagingly.
Jesus has yet one more piece of life-enhancing advice for us though:
Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the Bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world.
Whoever eats this bread which is My Flesh … once again we have one supremely important word which is, this time, ‘eats’.
And notice, once again, that He does not say ‘receives’, but ‘eats’. We have not only to open our mouths or put forward our hands to receive such food, but we have to ‘eat’ it: some might say we have to ‘chew’ it. Be that as it may, the essential point for our ‘eating’ is that we each of us recognize the food as essential to, necessary for, my very life. It is not to be anonymously received, but personally eaten with joy and gratitude. And according to the book of Proverbs, having been generously given such food, we should give a thought to our returning like for like, in other words we should be stirred to want to give ourselves in return to the Lord Who gives us all.
My dear People of God, living such a life, full of intriguing invitations and loving calls, receiving such daily Personal Food, we are most certainly not alone on our journey through life, but are developing, as the years pass by, an ever greater companionship and intimacy with One Who is of Himself and wills to become for us personally the Love, Truth, and Life of our life. May we participate in this Holy Mass and hopefully receive Holy Communion with such faith and love as to experience that intimacy and companionship as never before. Amen.