1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51
Today’s Gospel reading is again a continuation of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel on the theme of Jesus the Bread of Life. Jesus tells us that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven and we have to listen to him and believe in him. Jesus stresses the word living indicating the growth and our oneness with him. Paul will add his word to tell us that it involves the attitude of being kind, tender hearted, forgiving, loved and loving, sacrificing and offering. Jesus strongly emphasizes to tell us that the Bread of Life and He are one and the same. His words are touching even today: “ I am the bread of kindness, of tenderness, of forgiveness. I am the bread of love, of loving, and of being loved. I am the bread of self-sacrifice and self giving. Eat of this bread and you will find the strength to live, courage to continue, and the will to be imitators of me. Eat this living bread and find me in you and you in me for we are one.” That is what Jesus tells each one of us as she shares the gift of Eucharist with each one of us. He is the one who chooses to live with us and become the our daily bread of life.
The first Reading taken from the First Book of Kings, tells us of the comfort given by God to Elijah as he moves into the wilderness. Elijah had gone a day’s journey into the wilderness and he was tired. Symbolically, his journey into the wilderness can be perceived as someone who is aimlessly wondering on earth. He does not know why he is living, a life without hope and destiny. In the midst of opposition it seems as if all is lost for him. In desperation and exhaustion Elijah sits under a solitary broom tree and asks God that he might die. He had enough of life, realizing that he was no better than his ancestors. He asks God to take his life and there he falls asleep. Indeed he had lost all hope and found no purpose in life. It is very much like the question that we often ask, Lord why is there so much suffering in the world and where are you. Then comes the moment of grace for him. Suddenly an angel touches Elijah and tells him to eat the cake baked on hot stones and to drink from the jar of water, the Bread of Life and the living water and Elijah obeys. Having eaten, Elijah laid down again to sleep. A second time, the angel of the Lord touches him and wakes him up and gives him food and he is called upon to walk forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mountain of God. The bread and water is the food he receives from the Almighty to take him to his destiny.
In the Second Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” Not that God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit strictly speaking can be upset by what we do. But it is surely the will of God, expressed by Jesus and prompted in us by the Spirit that our lives be lives of love. So, Paul invites us to “Put away from you all bitterness and anger and quarrelling and slanderous language, together with all malice… Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Only when we live the lives of love, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, and again live the lives totally free of violence and full of caring, can we say that we have truly eaten of the Bread of Life. When such a wide-ranging love becomes the dominant pattern of our living, that is convincing evidence we have truly eaten and been transformed by the Bread of Life. As the Second Reading says, we are to “be imitators of God…” We do that by living in love, in the same way that Jesus loved us and gave us his life in love for us. That is why Jesus gave us the command to love one another, as he himself has loved us and his love is eternal. That is why he tells his disciples “By this will all know that you are truly my disciples, when you have love one for another.”
The Gospel gives us the precious message that Jesus is the bread of life. Here we heard the prophetic words of Jesus when He says that He is the Living Bread that came down from Heaven. Through these words, Jesus was preparing the believers for the institution of the Eucharist which is his special gift to the Church. This living bread will sustain us and nourish us with its strength on our life’s journey. The crowd, not long before so eager to eat the bread in the wilderness, now grumbles, are refusing to accept his teachings. This aspect is very similar to the incident in the desert where the Israelites grumbled against Moses and God and refused to accept their mission. Yet God is generous and gives them Manna in spite of their grumbling. In the New Testament we have Jesus who has much more to offer and is now offering it, namely his own body and blood. Even then when Jesus says, “I am the bread, the food, that came down from heaven” they start grumbling and complaining. They particularly object to the words ‘from heaven’. Like the people of Nazareth, they show extra familiarity with him. “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?'” and they find it hard to accept him. They knew who Jesus was from the human point of view, namely a carpenter from Galilee. In fact, they could not understand the reality of Jesus the incarnation of God among them.
To understand him it is necessary to have faith and the attraction of the Father. Hence Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” The question remains, how a person is “drawn” by the Father? The word draw is a special word in the Bible and used delicately. It is like the magnetic pull a total attraction to the person one chooses to love. We are drawn to Jesus through the indwelling Spirit of Truth who teaches us and guides us. This is possible by hearing the Father’s voice and learning from him. This happens by our coming freely and unconditionally to the feet of Jesus. To learn from the Father in practice is to hear and believe the message of Jesus. Because no one has seen the Father except Jesus. And only through Jesus are we taught and drawn by the Father. Jesus is the sole interpreter of the Father. Once again Jesus emphasizes the same word and says, “I AM the Bread of Life.” Looking at the people doubting in his words and teaching and continuing from what the people told him earlier, he says: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness – and they died.” But Jesus gives a different bread that comes from Heaven, that is, from God. When a person eats this Bread he will not die but will live forever. That is the new life which Jesus gives us.
The Jews in fact clearly understood the meaning of this bread. When bread was offered in the temples to the deity, it was understood that it became part of the divinity. This bread was then given back to the people to share and eat as their nourishment and the people believed that they took part in the very divine person and it became their food. When Jesus said I am the bread of life and called them to eat him, it was a direct invitation from him to believe in his divinity. In our Christian context it is an anticipation of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper when he said over the bread, “This is my Body which will be delivered over, handed over for you.” Ii is a call to participate in his divinity. This Bread of Life that Jesus gives from his Father can be summed up in one word: Love.
Today we ask the grace from Jesus that our Eucharistic celebrations may become truly an experience which helps us to be transformed into a community of love. We need to become a people reaching out in love to all those in need around us. We ourselves, as living members of the Body of Christ, must ourselves become life-giving Bread for others. Our Eucharist, then, becomes first a celebration of what we are – a loving people and secondly becomes a force in our lives to love even more. Just as prophet Elijah went for 40 days and 40 nights on the strength of the bread God gave him, we too may travel on our life’s journey with the strength of the Eucharist.
Anecdote: A pastor heard that one of his parishioners was going about announcing to one and all that he would no longer attend church services. This rebellious parishioner was advancing the familiar argument that he could communicate with God just as easily out in the fields with nature as his setting for worship. One winter evening, the pastor called on this reluctant member of his flock for a friendly visit. The two men sat before the fireplace making small talk, but studiously avoiding the issue of church attendance. After a while, the pastor took the tongs from the rack next to the fireplace and pulled a single coal from the fire. He placed the glowing ember on the hearth. As the two watched in silence, the coal quickly ceased burning and turned an ashen gray, while the other coals in the fire continued to burn brightly. The pastor’s silent message was not lost on the parishioner. After a long pause, he turned to the pastor and said “I’ll be back at services next Sunday.”
Nineteenth Sunday of the Year: August 9, 2009
1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51