No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to My Father and learns from Him comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
Those words indicate to us why, today, our Christian faith is unacceptable to many who are liberal-minded, because they speak of our having to listen humbly to One above and beyond us, One Who is totally outside of our supervision or control; and what is yet more objectionable, they even speak of our responsibility before that mysterious One, to hear Him and respond appropriately:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draw him; everyone who listens to My Father and learns from Him comes to Me.
Let us therefore -- who as disciples of Jesus are fully aware of and responsive to the sublime mystery of divine holiness and love – now reverently and gratefully consider the great blessing all of us gathered here for worship have already received.
For today you and I have come to Jesus, and Jesus tells us that we have come because the Father Himself has drawn us; which means that, in the depths of our being, each of us has heard the Father, heard Him speaking to us personally; and, having learnt from what He said to us in those secret depths, have come, at His behest, to Jesus.
Everyone who listens to My Father and learns from Him comes to Me.
Of course, someone could -- especially in the old days -- come to Church because of social pressures of one sort or another. Even then, it could be said that the Father was behind it all, and that such was the one way He, in His wisdom, saw to be the best for us at that time and in the situation we then found ourselves. In such a case, however, we would not have fully learned from the Father, nor would we truly have come to Jesus, until we had progressed further and attained to personal faith, as Jesus says:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
That is the first lesson for us today: coming to Church is only fully meaningful and true in so far as we come with personal faith in, and commitment to, Jesus as our Lord and Saviour; but, if we have come to Mother Church and to Jesus in that way, then Jesus Himself assures us that we do have eternal life:
Whoever believes has eternal life.
Nevertheless, that is not everything; because eternal life, just like natural life, needs nourishment. No normal mother and father, having given life to their child, would leave it without nourishment, because the life they have given has to develop, must grow. Similarly, the eternal life given to us through faith in Jesus needs to grow, must develop, for such is the very nature of life: it has an innate drive towards fulfilment and perfection, and the only nourishment for such further development of eternal life within us is indicated by the following words of Our Lord:
I am the bread of life.
What does He really mean with those words? Can we not get nourishment from Him whenever we pray to Him, study the Scriptures or, perhaps, share in silent meditation like certain modern Christian groups do who do not have the Eucharist?
Of course, when we do such things there is no doubt that we do get a blessing from Him. Nevertheless, Jesus meant something much more than that: for He spoke of eating the bread that He would give; eating in the way the Israelites ate manna in the desert when they had to go out to collect the manna before putting it on their plates, so to speak:
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.
Praying, reading and studying God’s word, are all most important aspects of a living faith, and yet, Jesus quite deliberately said that even those who come to Him with faith must also, eat His bread:
I am the bread of life. This is the bread which comes down from heaven that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.
So, we live by faith, and to help our faith grow and produce its fruit we need to eat this living bread which Jesus gives. What, then, does “eating” mean here? It means chewing, consuming, because the word He uses is the normal word for those actions; and, of course, the Israelites in the desert did actually eat the manna:
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert; whoever eats this bread, will live forever.
Now, we all know that there is a difference between true eating and just receiving food into our mouth: indeed, even taking food into our stomach is not really eating if we do not digest it and find nourishment from it. So it is with this Bread of Jesus: we need to prepare before eating, so as to eat It with dispositions that will enable us to receive nourishment from It. What then are those dispositions?
This Jesus makes clear when He tells us that His gift of Bread will actually be His Flesh, given up, offered, to His Father, for a most particular purpose:
The bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.
The Eucharistic Flesh of Jesus we receive in Holy Communion is given, He tells us, “for the life of the world”, which means, given in sacrifice to His Father for the life of the world, to save mankind from sin. Surely, therefore, we can now begin to understand more clearly what should be our attitude of mind and heart as we approach the Lord in Holy Communion.
First of all, we must approach in all humility, knowing that we are not bestowing any favour upon Him when we draw near to receive Him, for we need to be freed, cleansed, by Him, from our past sins and enduring ignorance and frailty. Moreover, loving Him as yet imperfectly, we also want and indeed need to love Him more, and so our second attitude of mind and heart should be one of longing: longing to give ourselves, with Him to the Father, in a spirit of loving self-sacrifice: being resolved to walk in His ways, to carry our cross with Him to our Calvary, seeking to carry and indeed love whatever ‘load’ the Father may choose to put on our shoulders as true disciples of Jesus, while carefully avoiding and firmly rejecting whatever is sinful. Only with such dispositions can we approach and receive fruitfully Him Who said:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.
Those lessons, learnt from today’s Gospel, are confirmed by St. Paul who told us in the second reading that we are called to:
Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (NRSV)
That we might thus walk humbly along Christ’s way, offering ourselves with Him in His sacrifice to the Father -- loving Him, in and together with Jesus, in what is Jesus’ supreme expression of total love for His Father -- is precisely why the Eucharistic Food is given us: for this Bread is given not simply to enhance our native powers such as were required for the journey of Elijah to Mount Horeb:
The angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him and said, "Arise, and eat, because the journey is too great for you." So, he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God;
for the bread that Jesus bestows is given to enable us to make a journey leading to the very portals of heaven: for loving Jesus, and with Him the Father, is the closest we can possibly get to the Father on this earth, it is the most intimate foretaste of our promised share in eternal beatitude.
Our spiritual journey, our journey of ever deeper faith in Jesus, was indeed faintly foreshadowed by the physical journey of Elijah to Mount Horeb, but it was directly envisaged and indeed made fruitful for us by Jesus Our Lord when He spent forty days and forty nights in the desert fighting with, and triumphing over, Satan. After that epic conflict Satan retired temporarily while Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Gospel and laid the foundations of His Church. Then, apparently contesting the definitive nature of Jesus’ previous victory, Satan once more entered the lists for an ultimate struggle with Jesus where he pitted his dire threat of earthly suffering and death against Jesus’ Personal power to promise and bestow eternal life. Jesus took up Satan’s gauntlet and, by rising from the suffering and death of the Cross in the power of the Holy Spirit, He totally destroyed the Devil’s earthly power, before finally ascending in bodily glory to heaven, and thereby manifestly confirming the validity of His promise of eternal life, and establishing the foundations of God’s coming Kingdom through the subsequent Gift of His most Holy Spirit to Mother Church and, through her, to all His faithful disciples.
So, our journey in the strength of Jesus’ Eucharistic Food is meant to lead us in the power of His Spirit to triumph over sin and suffering in our lives, before passing -- with Jesus -- through death to our final triumph over Satan. Thereupon, He will guide us to the heavenly home where God the Father has prepared a festal gathering for His Son, and where Jesus -- having prepared many rooms -- gives welcome and rest to all who have persevered in His Name. Ultimately, He will lead all His faithful and triumphant disciples into the glorious Presence of Him Who will embrace us as His true children in Jesus and thereby show Himself to be the One true Father of all, before – as the supreme source of all that is good -- inviting us to take our place at His table where we will share in Jesus’ eternal happiness and glory.