Gospel Reading for August 16th: The Bread of Life Discourse, Part 3
John 6: 51:58
Jesus said to the crowds: “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.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
In the last two Sunday gospel reflections, I have identified quite strongly with those five thousand Jewish followers who were fed barley loaves and fish by Jesus and felt compelled to follow Him across the Sea of Galilee for more preaching and perhaps more feeding. What follows is the Bread of Life discourse which continues in this gospel reading. I can relate to the sense of exhilaration and joy they must have felt from Jesus’s presence and breaking bread with Him. I can also relate to their apprehension and confusion as they tried to understand His message, one that is at once at fulfillment of all they had been taught and know of God and at the same time radically divergent from so much of their cultural experience and understanding. And yet by this third passage in the discourse, I find myself growing a bit impatient with them. Can’t they see He is calling them to a new relationship with God the Father through Him, His love, His service to others, His teaching, His Word? It is so simple. Just follow Jesus, right? He is the bread of life who will provide all nourishment, physical, spiritual, emotional—everything–if we just trust and follow Him.
Then, in preparing the reflections for these gospel passages, probably as a moment of grace to keep me from becoming too prideful or judgmental, the famous opening from The Great Gatsby popped into my head. The narrator, Nick Carraway, shares this advice from his father with the reader as a prelude to understanding Gatsby’s tragedy: “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” As a Catholic in this time and place, I have a tremendous advantage over that group of Jewish followers. The Church has taught me Christ is present daily in the Eucharist. I can come in to mass marred up from all my sins and doubts and general humanness and receive Him in me and with me. It doesn’t matter if I like the priest or the look of the church or the music. Regardless, in the sacrament of Communion, I get a direct encounter with Jesus that re-opens my heart to Him and strengthens me to go back out those doors and follow His way. I walk out more Christ-like due to Communion and closer to Him. This miracle is available to me weekly or even daily.
Those disciples at Capernaum didn’t have that advantage to help their belief and understanding. Jesus had not instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper yet. Furthermore, they did not have the witness of two thousand years of Christians and Catholics to bolster their acceptance that Jesus truly is the Bread of Life in all that implies, including His presence in the Eucharist. I find it quite an inspiration that some of those followers, especially the apostles, followed anyway and became pioneers in Christ’s Church. Their faith endured to continue their journeys to salvation. However, others found His call too hard to accept and returned to their former ways. We continue to pray for them and those like them today whose hearts are not open to Jesus in their lives.
This reading is a potent reminder of the gift we have in Communion and the Eucharist. I pray that we not take it for granted. Instead, let us approach the altar at every mass with openness to a new and deeper encounter with Jesus.