The Jews were complaining to each other about Jesus, because he had said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ ‘Surely this is Jesus son of Joseph’ they said. ‘We know his father and mother. How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus said in reply, ‘Stop complaining to each other.’ ‘No one can come to me ‘I am the bread of life.
unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They will all be taught by God,
and to hear the teaching of the Father,
and learn from it,
is to come to me.
Not that anybody has seen the Father,
except the one who comes from God:
he has seen the Father.
I tell you most solemnly,
everybody who believes has eternal life.’
Your fathers ate the manna in the desert
and they are dead;
but this is the bread that comes down from heaven,
so that a man may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’
The Jews were complaining to each other about Jesus, because he had said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ ‘Surely this is Jesus son of Joseph’ they said. ‘We know his father and mother. How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus said in reply, ‘Stop complaining to each other.’
‘No one can come to me
‘I am the bread of life.
The readings in today’s Mass are connected by a common thread of images – that of life being a journey during which God is close to us. We look at the images, one of God’s presence and one of sustenance or food.
[1 Kings 19:4-8] We are shown life as a journey during which we need help and sustenance. Even in moments of despair, God is close at hand to help. In the first reading from the Old Testament, a despairing man is twice sent an angel by God to help. The angel is a representation of God’s help and indeed of our own individual guardian angel. Strength is restored to the despairing man when he eats and drinks, an image of the future Eucharist, and the man sets off for Mount Horeb, the mount of God, an image of heaven where the presence of God dwells.
[Psalm 33:2-9] In the lyrics and verses of the Psalm sung to God, we are urged to continue on our journey full of joy and happiness as God is faithful, true and steadfast in his love towards us.
[Ephesians 4:30-32; 5:1-2] In the epistle reading taken from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul goes one step further on that journey with us and suggests that we do not forget others who are walking with us, nor to forget what the purpose of our journey is – redemption in the eternal presence God. He urges us as children of God on our journey to be kind to one another, to follow the example of Jesus and to forgive one another, just as God indeed forgives us.
[John 6:41-51] The short gospel passage talks about Jesus’ own journey, coming from heaven to teach all the inhabitants of the world of God’s love for mankind. For keeping spiritually sustained on that journey with him, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life … I am the living bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
On this our journey with Jesus, we are to be sufficiently fed and spiritually nourished to be able to live in the presence of God, not having to die alone and outside of the realm of God’s love.
[Summary] The readings in today’s Mass show that God is interested in the spiritual welfare of the individual person, even with the provision of an angel guardian. In this manner with God’s presence in our life, we do not make our physical journey on our own. We are in the company of others to whom we can give support and from whom we can get help. We behave accordingly with respect for others and respect for our earthly home, as Pope Francis calls it, on that journey.
Jesus’ life and journey on earth was to bring about the renewal of mankind’s spiritual life, as given to our first parents. Part of that spiritual life was lost through sin. But our presence with God is restored, by the simple or not so simple act of accepting the teachings of Jesus and living them in an imitation of his spiritual life.
To live a spiritual life, Jesus speaks not of the life and death of the body, but of the spiritual life of the soul in need of a nourishment which is himself, the living bread come down from heaven. His message is clear and simple “whoever believes has eternal life”, that is to say journey’s end in the presence of God.
Having satisfied their hunger by multiplying bread, and having reproved them for coming back to look for him just because they wanted further miracles, Jesus now introduces himself to friend and stranger alike, much to the surprise of all, as the real miracle, the bread come down from heaven. To his listeners this claim must have seemed exaggerated. It was not long since he had multiplied the bread, and they could not forget how he had fed the crowd, but they still could not believe that this unexpected donor could be himself the gift they had been waiting for. It is one thing to provide bread miraculously to a hungry multitude, but to present himself as divine nourishment was something quite different. Worst of all, the incredulity that afflicted them that day, is still to be found in the hearts of the faithful of today.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
The people knew where Jesus came from, but they failed to understand him. Jesus anticipated his revelation because of their incomprehension. For the first time he uses the formula “I am” (Jn 6,41.48.51), similar to the formula used by God himself in the Old Testament to refer to his salvific will (cf. Exod 15,26; Ps 35,3). The essential needs of man are met in his person – he is the bread of life (6, 35.48). The same claim is made in the real miracle worked by Jesus. The multiplication of the bread, which preceded it, was no more than a sign. He was capable of satisfying the hunger of the crowd and he is himself, in person, the life that has no end.
What the people saw in Jesus prevented them from believing in him. Once again, the resistance to belief and the grumbling against God arose from a misunderstanding. How can he claim a higher origin when they know where he comes from and who his father is? (Jn 6, 42) It is quite understandable that they should leave him. Here was someone they knew, the son of Joseph, claiming to have come down from heaven. Jesus knew their objection even though they had not expressed it (Jn 6, 43), and he even suggested the reason for their disbelief (6, 44-47). He does so with a touch of irony. Of course they know him, but they cannot recognize him because it has not been granted to them to do so. Their objections prove that God has not led them to him, and their refusal to believe means that they will not be raised up (Jn 6, 44). Only one who is drawn by God can come to Jesus. Whoever comes to him must know that he is being led by God. Coming to Jesus has its beginning in God. For that reason, anyone who accepts Jesus, has been ”initiated“ by God as his disciple.
Basing himself on Isaiah 54, 13 (Jn 6,45), Jesus declares what was the belief of the early Christian community. Anyone who listens to God comes to know the one sent by God. Listening to God leads to Jesus. Whoever learns from God comes to know Jesus. There is no Christian faith without docility to the Father.
To believe in the one sent by God, it is not necessary to have seen God previously. Only the one who comes from God, has seen God (Jn 6, 46). Faith is the condition of eternal life. The context suggests that faith is to be understood as adherence to the one sent by God, the one who claims to be the bread of life come down from heaven (Jn 6, 35.48).
The claim to be the bread of life, seemingly repeated far too often, opens up a new development (Jn 6, 49). The manna in the desert which did not save from death, and the bread from heaven which does save the one who eats it, introduce a new theme. The bread of life is bread to be eaten (Jn 6, 51), and, what is more, that bread is the flesh of Jesus (Jn 6, 52). This is a new revelation with a formulation that is clearly sacramental, the bread that I will give for the life of the world (Jn 6, 51). In John, flesh is the form of presence of the Logos in the world (Jn 1, 14). The Incarnation, therefore, has a purpose which is now revealed – death and redemption. And the manifestation of God is for a particular task – to give his life so that the world may have life. Jesus will make God known when he gives his life for the world.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
“What does being drawn by the father mean if not learning from the Father? And what does learning from the father mean if not listening to the Father? What does listening to the Father mean if not hearing the word of the Father, and I am the Word of the Father. Do not think in your hearts, if we have not seen the Father, how could we have learnt from the Father. Listen to the words from my mouth … I know the Father and I come from him, and the word comes from the one whose word it is, not the word that is heard and then passes away, but the word that remains with the one who spoke it and attracts those who listen.” (Augustine, Treatise 26, 9 ).
Jesus continues the discourse he had begun after the multiplication of bread. The grumbling among his listeners that his words gave rise to, is proof that they have not been called by God to be united with him. They think they know him well, but Jesus does not recognize them as his disciples. Acceptance of his words is the criterion on which he bases his refusal to accept them. And paradoxically, his difficulty in accepting them, increases their inability to believe. Jesus claims to be the food of immortal life, come down from heaven. Anyone who accepts him as genuine nourishment will be regarded as a disciple at the school of God himself. Anyone who does not accept the words of Jesus, is not God’s disciple. The disciple who is not put off by the words of Jesus is a gift of God for his Son. Being a disciple of Jesus and sharing his table is not for the one who chooses it himself, but for the one chosen by God.
The Christian who does not accept what Christ wants to be for him or her, and what God wants to give him or her in Christ, will never be able to believe no matter how much he or she tries. “We come to Christ, not by running, but by believing,” says St Augustine. “We draw near to Christ, not by movement of the body, but by the affection of the heart. Do not imagine that you are attracted by your thought. The soul is attracted by love … Give me someone who loves me and he will know the truth of what I am saying.”
Maybe it is because we do not allow Christ to satisfy our needs, that we today do not understand the strange impact those words of Jesus had on the people who were searching for him. They had gone in search of an abundance of free food, and the one who could guarantee it was now offering himself as bread. Worse still, they thought they knew him well and did not expect miracles from him. They knew enough about him not to believe what he was saying to them. A man whose parents are known, cannot invent for himself a miraculous origin. Someone whose parents live on earth, cannot claim to have come down from heaven.
If we look carefully at the difficulty those people had, we will see that we have the same difficulty. We think we know Jesus so well that we cannot believe everything he promises. We know so much about him that it is hard for us to believe him. We are so familiar with Jesus and his gospel, that we take for granted anything he might say to us, and we consider his promises impossible. Since we think we know him so well, Jesus has ceased to interest us. We think we can learn nothing new from Jesus, that he has nothing extraordinary to say to us. We have stopped paying attention to him. We are losing the chance to experience what we desire most and are most in need of, the satisfying of our needs, simply because we do not believe that we will find the solution in Jesus.
And when we are with him, if we have gone in search of him, we treat him as if he were an old friend. We know him too well to expect any surprise or to ask for a miracle. We are so preoccupied with our lives and the things we need, that we do not reflect on what we know of Jesus and what he can offer us today. To think that we could take Jesus seriously, if we allowed Jesus to be for us today what he really is – bread of life. He would transform us into satisfied people, despite our many needs. Sadly, we deprive ourselves in foolish manner of Jesus who can deliver us from all our needs.
Jesus himself tells us why – no one can come to me unless the Father draws him. Anyone who listens and learns from what the Father says, comes to me. Again, St Augustine asks, “What does being drawn by the Father mean if not learning from the Father? And what does learning from the Father mean if not listening to the Father? What does listening to the Father mean if not hearing the word of the Father?” Jesus Christ is the word of the Father. Knowing our own needs is not enough for us to come to Jesus. Nobody comes to Jesus unless he is sent by the Father. Many have need of Jesus but only those who are sent by the Father can come to him. The people who went to Jesus, in search of bread to satisfy their hunger, were met by a Jesus who refused to answer their need, because he wanted to respond to a much deeper and more permanent need – their hunger for God. Jesus is the only one who can answer this need.
God does not send us to Jesus for him to satisfy our temporary hunger for bread. That would be to reduce Jesus to the level of our needs. And for God to send us to Jesus, it is not enough that we suffer earthly needs. We have to listen to his will. If we become disciples of God, then we will receive the bread we are so much in need of. If we learn what God wants to teach us, we will understand that in Jesus we have bread that sustains us, not just for today, but for the life that lasts forever.
We need then to stop thinking that we know everything about Jesus and that we have nothing new to learn. If we give time to God and pay attention to what he wants to say to us, we can count on the gifts of Jesus now, and in the future eternal life. This is not easy to understand, because it is not in our power. To come to Jesus, we must believe in God. To have our needs satisfied by Jesus, we must pay attention to God. If we let ourselves be led by Him, He will lead us to Jesus, with no effort on our part and despite all our shortcomings. We cannot live without God, ignoring his will, and at the same time expect Jesus to free us from all our needs. Only those who are attentive to God, and learn from him, will find in Jesus the bread of life.
We have then a sure criterion to find the solution to this problem which is so common in our Christian life. If we say we are interested in Jesus, but he shows no interest in us, it is certainly because we go on looking for Jesus only to meet our human needs, and we are not willing to pay the price to have all our needs met. We look for Jesus because we are missing something or someone, and we think only of our needs. But if, instead of focusing on our needs, we were to listen to God, and instead of worrying about what we are not yet, we were to think about what we are already in the eyes of God, we would find Jesus, and that meeting would be a marvellous experience and a beautiful adventure.
Instead of looking for Jesus to satisfy our needs, we should seek him, trusting that we will find in him more than we expect. We need less knowledge and more faith. We know that faith and trust between men cannot be imposed by decree. They are rooted only in love. This norm of human relationships applies also to our relationship with God. Jesus reminded us of this. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father. Believing that Jesus is the answer to all our problems and entrusting all our problems to him is not something that comes from our own needs, but rather from God’s need to place us in the hands of his Son. This means that before ever we set out on our search, Jesus is already waiting for us. Before we present our problems, he has already prepared the solution. Before we think of him, he is already thinking of us. Our faith, our decision to follow Jesus and to stay with him, is, therefore, the reflection and the result of God’s fidelity in our regard.
We must, therefore, allow ourselves to be educated by God. We must leave our little preoccupations and become totally preoccupied with learning from him. If we allow ourselves to be directed by God in this life, we will discover the wonders that Jesus does for us in this life, and we will have the certainty of receiving in the future a life where we have no needs. Jesus has promised not only bread that does not last, but the bread of life. Only if we believe in him, will we live forever. This is the miracle he promises us today. It is true that he does not save us from all our little daily needs, but he has promised to free us from our greatest punishment, death. It is time for us, then, to waken from our sleep and discouragement, and regain our strength to walk towards God who is waiting for us. If we make Jesus our food, in his word and in his body, he will become for us our life, now and forever.
we confidently call you Father as well as Lord.
Renew your Spirit in our hearts:
make us ever more perfectly your children,
so that we may enter upon the inheritance you have promised us.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Music used in the reflection: “Haven” by Lee Rosevere (CC-BY-NC)