Commentary on 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51
FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY in succession we continue our reading of John chapter 6, based on the feeding of the multitude by Jesus with a few loaves of bread and fish.
Today’s Gospel opens with the people complaining about Jesus saying, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." It reminds us of the way the Israelites complained about God to Moses in the desert. God’s response was to give them manna which seemed to come down from heaven. Here, however, they are complaining because Jesus describes himself as coming down from ‘heaven’.
They are shocked by such apparent arrogance. "We know who this fellow is," the people are saying. "We know he is Joseph’s boy from Nazareth. How can he say he came down from heaven?" But, of course, they clearly do not know Jesus’ full identity. It is a good example of Johannine irony where people say things without realising their full significance.
Called by the Father
And why do they not know? Because "no one can come to me unless drawn by the Father". To know Jesus and to accept him as Lord is to respond to a previous invitation or calling. God always takes the first step. We do not choose him; he chooses us. Every move we make in God’s direction is always a response on our part.
Here in the Gospel the people were being given that invitation but they were not responding. They could not; they had already closed their minds: "This fellow is just the carpenter from Nazareth." And, to be honest, we also do that frequently as Jesus comes in various forms and through all kinds of people into our lives inviting us to love and serve him. In many cases, the Jesus that people reject is a creation of their own or of people around them but not the Jesus of the Gospel.
"To hear the teaching of the Father and learn from it is to come to me [Jesus]." And "everyone who believes [in me] has eternal life." ‘Eternal’, that is, real – based on truths and principles and values that are enduring and universal and last forever.
The Bread of life
Again Jesus makes the claim: "I AM the bread of life." ‘I AM’ is God’s own name, which Jesus applies to himself. And he is the Bread of Life. We should note that he is not talking primarily here of the Eucharist, of Holy Communion. Rather, Jesus is saying that he, his whole way of life, his teaching, his attitudes and relationships towards his Father and people, everything that the Gospel tells us about him is real nourishment and food for our daily living. Not to know and assimilate Jesus in this way is to be starved of essential nourishment for living a full life.
The people’s ancestors had manna in the desert. But it was only material food. They died. Indeed, many died in sin and in rebellion against God. But that is not possible with the bread that Jesus gives. His is a life-giving bread. To eat that bread is to be totally united with God through Jesus. It is to have one’s whole life impregnated with the spirit of Jesus. And, in the Gospel, that is a definition of life. Such a person is fully alive – now and forever.
The next statement must have sounded rather shocking: "The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world." That flesh which was offered up in love and died on the cross is the key to life. So before Communion at every Mass we pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,
by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit,
your death brought life to the world.
Effects of eating the bread
We eat that bread by absorbing into ourselves the spirit, the truth and integrity, the love and compassion, the generosity and peacefulness of Jesus.
And how do we know we have truly eaten this bread? By the kind of people we become, by the ways in which we behave. The Second Reading (from Ephesians) gives a few examples:
not having grudges against others;
not losing our temper and shouting at people;
not calling people names;
not acting spitefully and getting our own back;
being friendly, approachable, kind, forgiving, especially to strangers and outsiders.
Yes, today, let us taste and see and experience how good the Lord is. Let him be the primary food and nourishment of our lives.