Elijah went a day's journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death, saying: "This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers." He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. Elijah looked and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the Lord came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!" He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.(P) The word of the Lord.
I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad. (R)
Glorify the Lord with me, let us together extol His name. I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. (R)
Look at Him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. When the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard, and from all his distress He saved him. (R)
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and delivered them. Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in Him. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.(P) The word of the Lord.
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. It is written in the prophets: They shall all 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."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
One day, two friends met each other on the street. One of them looked very sad, almost on the verge of tears. His friend asked him, "What has the world done to you, my friend? Why are you so sad?" The sad fellow replied, "Let me tell you: three months ago, my uncle died and left me fifty thousand dollars." "That's a lot of money", his friend said. "But you see", the sad fellow continued, "three weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and he left me two hundred thousand dollars, free and clear", the sad fellow continued. "It sounds to me that you've been very blessed", his friend said. "You don't understand!" the sad fellow interrupted and said, "Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million from her." Now the friend was really confused and asked, "Then, why do you still look so glum?" "This week I have received nothing!", the sad fellow said.
There are times we expect God to grant us certain things which He never promised us, and when we do not get what we want, we can so easily get discouraged and upset and even get angry at God. The situation was no different when Jesus was on earth, as described in today's gospel of John (6:41-51). As a matter of fact, the text elaborates further on the teaching of Jesus about "the Bread of Life" which we began to read and reflect at Sunday Mass two weeks ago.
Two weeks ago, you might recall that after attending the Feast of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem, Jesus had returned to Galilee and a large crowd of people followed Him because of many miraculous healings, John (6:1-15). Another important Jewish feast - the Feast of Passover was near, John (6:4). Seeing the large crowd gathered around Him, Jesus told His disciples to give them something to eat but they did not believe that it was possible to get enough bread to feed all of them, John (6:5).
However, one of the disciples called Andrew brought to Jesus five loaves of bread and two fish which a boy had given to him. Jesus blessed the bread and fish and asked the disciples to distribute these among the crowd. Amazingly, after everyone had eaten enough, the disciples collected twelve large baskets of leftovers. And seeing the great miracle, the people wanted to make Jesus their king so that he could continue to provide the miraculous food, John (6:15). But Jesus escaped to the hills while the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee in their boat.
Last Sunday, we read that, the day after the miracle, the same crowd started looking for Jesus again, John (6:24-35). When they did not find him in the place where they were fed, they were sad. But they did not give up their search. They, too, crossed in their boats and were surprised to see Jesus with his disciples in Capernaum. They knew that Jesus did not get into the boat with the disciples the previous evening. So, they asked him when and how he got there. From John's account, we learn that the previous night Jesus had walked on the waters and joined the disciples on the other side which the people did not witness, John (6:16-23). But Jesus did not answer their question.
Rather, He told them that it was because they had their stomachs filled that they were seeking him and not because they saw the signs. In other words, instead of seeing the bread as the sign, they had seen in the sign only the bread; they saw Jesus as being useful to them; they sought Jesus only for what He could do for them materially. But Jesus told them to work for food that will sustain them for all eternity which, in fact, the Son of Man, that is, He Himself, will give them. Then the people, in great excitement and looked to Jesus as the new Moses, asked Him to provide them with miraculous food always. While they were still thinking on earthly terms, Jesus wanted to give more than just earthly manna. He said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst", John (6:24).
Last week's gospel text ended with this extraordinary claim and promise. First, by equating Himself with bread, Jesus was saying He is essential for life. Second, the life Jesus was referring to is not physical life, but eternal life. He wanted the people not to focus on the physical bread which He miraculously created the day before and which perishes but the spiritual bread that He brings as their Messiah and which brings eternal life. Third, in using the words "I AM" the name God had used exclusively for Himself when speaking to Moses, Jesus identified Himself with God, Exodus (3:14).
In today's gospel we read the crowd's response to Jesus' declaration as "the Bread of Life". When Jesus spoke of Himself as the bread of God and the bread of life descending from heaven, which was to be fed upon in a spiritual manner by faith and about which the people were ignorant of and did not desire, they became disappointed and grew uneasy and displeased that He did not speak of the delicious physical food they expected. They, just like the people of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, began to murmur, mock, and scoff at his parentage and descent, and object to the claim of His coming down from heaven. 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?", John (6:42).
In essence, they were saying to one another, "He can't be from heaven, because He's from earth; we know Him and his parents; He is really no different from any of us; he cannot offer us anything special, let alone the everlasting life." They saw in Jesus nothing more than his earthly relations. So, Jesus' claim about Himself collided with human perceptions and human reasoning about what is possible. But Jesus was very certain of what He claimed and what He promised. Hence, He told them to stop murmuring, thus revealing that He, like God, knows the secret thoughts of human beings and implicitly reminds them that they are no different from their ancestors in the desert.
Jesus then proceeded to tell them that only those drawn by the Father can come to him. This indicates a unique relationship that God the Father has with the Son. Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day", John (6:44). This would mean that the Father only draws us to salvation since all do not come. Some come willingly, and some are dragged unwillingly, but eventually all will come. We have no part in the drawing, although we respond to His drawing. God draws us because we, human beings, have no ability to come to Him, nor have the desire to come. Because our heart is hardened and our mind is darkened; we do not desire God and are actually enemies of God, Romans (5:10). Therefore, it is only by the merciful and gracious drawing of God that we are saved.
Jesus further noted how the Father draws people to the Son. Quoting the Prophets, He said, "They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from Him comes to me", John (6:45). In essence, Jesus reminded them that relying solely on their human intellect, they would never arrive at the truth of the gospel; they would never be able to understand the magnitude of God's plan of redemption for mankind; they would not know where He came from and how He got the power and the things He was teaching concerning sin, death, life, joy, peace, salvation and so on. Because divine things cannot be known by human reason, but by spiritual revelation; they needed divine direction that can only come from the Father. That is to say, they have to hear and learn from God; they have to be taught by God. Only those people will eventually come to Jesus and receive the gift of eternal life.
Jesus then went back to the very words of the Jews with which they challenged him to prove He was the Messiah by providing an unending supply of food like Moses had done in the wilderness for their forefathers, for forty years. The manna which their fathers ate seemed to them a greater work than the miracle that Jesus had performed. So now, Jesus reminded the crowd that their ancestors who ate the manna in the wilderness, "the bread from heaven," died because they grumbled against God, suggesting that the crowd would suffer the same fate if they chose not to believe in Jesus, the true bread from heaven.
Jesus ended this part of the discourse by repeating His claim but with a new fullness of meaning, John (6:35; 48). He said, "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", John (6:51). Before Jesus had spoken of being "the bread of life", that is, the source of life. He now spoke of this bread as "living" and thus saying that He possesses in Himself the essential principle and energy of life. And finally, He identified the bread of which He had spoken with His flesh, and said that He would give that "for the life of the world".
What is the message for us today?
God is aware of our physical needs, and it is His delight to provide for His children. He does not ignore our suffering or the feeling of physical pain or hunger. In fact, God is more in tune with our needs than we are. He provides our physical needs without us even asking, just as He did with the crowd because we are far more important than birds whom God feeds without their labor, Matthew (6:26); Luke (12:24). However, just as Jesus directs us, we can pray to God for our daily bread; we can ask for provision, and show our dependence on God and our faith in His power to provide our needs. Of course, He does not provide tomorrow's needs today. Even as we literally trust God to provide our daily needs, we need to be satisfied with what we have. Otherwise, as Saint Paul says we will fall into temptation and sin, 1 Timothy (6:6-8).
Grumbling and murmuring against God did not stop in Jesus' time. Believers and unbelievers alike grumble against God and ask for signs so that they may believe in Him. The mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, once commented that, "There is enough light for those who desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition." Jesus who was both God's Son and God Himself-God in human flesh, has given us more than sufficient signs, prophecies and teachings and all of which have been recorded in the Scriptures so that we may place our faith in Him, John (3:16); 1 Timothy (3:16). Let us truly believe in His Word now and believe it always.
If we approach the truth the way we, human beings, understand and approach, we will never arrive at the truth of the gospel nor shall we experience eternal life, that is, living forever with God in joy, peace and happiness. But if we strive to know the true and living God through His Word, that is, the Bible, "His coming is as certain as the dawn; his judgement will burst forth like the light; he will come to us as showers come, like spring rain that waters the earth", Hosea (6:3).
God Bless You!