Gospel Reading for August 9th, 2015: Part Two of the Bread of Life Discourse
John 6: 41:51
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “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’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. 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 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. I am the bread of life. 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. 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.”
In the last two Sunday gospels from John, Chapter 6, Jesus performed the miracle of feeding five thousand followers from just from five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Then, these followers pursue Jesus across the Sea of Galilee without invitation to Capernaum where they ask for more signs, like the manna from heaven God gave their ancestors. Jesus begins a dialogue with them designed to reorient their understanding of who He is and why they should follow Him. He can give them more than just bread to eat to fill their stomachs; He is the bread of life that God has sent to lead them to salvation and all its rewards. He is establishing the new covenant with God which He later in the book of John summarizes, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).
This part of the discourse shows these confused Jewish followers rationalizing, a behavior I know well. Like all genuine encounters with Jesus, they have experienced life-giving care in the multiplication of the loaves which prompts them to change their lives and follow Him. Unfortunately, like I do so often in these moments, they rationalize, they make excuses for holding back. According to the Google definition, rationalizing means attempting “to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.” This works so well because of the “logical, plausible” dressing which covers the excuse. In the case of these followers, it is quite reasonable for them to doubt Jesus as divinity or the messiah. Isn’t he the son of a simple carpenter? Don’t they know his family? How can he be sent from heaven? It is not plausible based on Jewish tradition or their life experience. But here’s the thing: they know. They know based on their encounter in Tiberias with the feeding, and they know because they have been drawn to get in a boat and follow Him here to Capernaum. They sense His divine call.
So how does one throw off the obstacle of rationalization in order to follow Jesus’s call? Jesus gives advice in this passage. He tells them and us, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.” In other words don’t keep listening to and giving the excuses offered by the world until you believe them. The antidote for ignoring those doubting human voices and thoughts is time with the Word in all its forms. We can take time alone with the Lord in prayer. We turn back to Jesus in the sacraments, especially with regular communion. We can read the Word in the scriptures. We can build our lives around habits of service and worship that will keep Jesus in view. All these encounters with the Word orient us away from the voices of doubt to the knowledge of Him. For those of us like myself who have much experience believing the rationalizations, I can attest following Jesus is a better way. In comparison to a life without the bread of life, His yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30).