(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
For the last few weeks, we have been listening to chapter 6 of the Gospel of St. John. The chapter begins with the feeding of the five thousand people, the sign that points to the fullness of the Kingdom, the same sign we see in the Eucharist. The people like begin fed. They desire more. Jesus tells them that he himself is the bread of life, the bread that satisfies our hunger and thirst for God. In the Gospel for this Sunday, we hear the people's reaction to this news.
Then they began to complain about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Our translation of the Gospel says the people are complaining. The Greek word that St. John uses means muttering or murmuring with discontent. They are not happy. What is their problem?
Jesus has said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." What part are they complaining about? The people mutter, "How can he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" The people have a problem with the part about heaven, not the part about bread. They seem to be questioning where Jesus comes from.
It does not bother them that he says he is the bread of life. They have been fed by him, they are drawn to him for more. They sense that he might satisfy their desires. But will he satisfy their desire for God? They do not know if they can trust him.
That seems odd, doesn't it? Do we trust Jesus? Perhaps the people have put their trust in others who have let them down. Perhaps they have been hurt or disappointed by a friend or a member of their family. They do not know if Jesus will hurt them, too. They want a relationship that will satisfy their desire for God, but will Jesus let them down? Can they believe in him?
Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.
Jesus knows they are afraid to trust him. He cannot force the people to believe in him. He does not want to force them at all. But he reassures them. It is God who draws people to Jesus. If they feel drawn to Jesus, they can trust that feeling because God is its source.
They can trust him, Jesus says, and then he makes a solemn promise. He has come down from heaven, and he will raise them up on the last day. What does that mean? We know that God raises Jesus to new life--to eternal life--after he dies on the cross, on the third day. Jesus says he will raise people, too. He has come down in order to raise up. He will gather them into his own rising.
It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
It is God who teaches us, God who draws us together. It is God who has made Jesus the one into whom we are all gathered. Jesus makes another solemn promise:
Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.
Jesus makes this promise to "whoever." We know that "whoever" can be us. What are these solemn promises between Jesus and us? Why is he making them? In the Bible, making these solemn promises is called covenant. Covenant is relationship between God and people.
Our part of the covenant relationship? Jesus says it is to hear, to learn from God, to believe.
God's part of the covenant? To raise us up, through Jesus, into eternal life.
Covenant relationship requires a sign--something important to help us remember the promise of eternal life. The sign will allow us to celebrate this relationship with God. What sign points to Jesus coming down in order to raise up?
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Jesus calls himself the bread of life--he says it in last week's Gospel, he says it again here. This repetition is important. Could the bread of life be the sign of the covenant relationship between God and people?
Jesus says that he is the living bread that came down from heaven. It happened. Once for all. Jesus became flesh and blood--human like us. He lived, he offered his life as gift on the cross, he rose to new life never to die again. One and done.
Jesus also says, "This is the bread that comes down from heaven." It happens. Over and over. What is he pointing to? To what is he referring?
Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Unlike the other three Gospels, St. John's account of the Last Supper does not include the blessing, breaking and giving of the bread with the words, "Take and eat, this is my body." But here in Chapter 6, Jesus seems to be anticipating the moment of the Last Supper. The bread that Jesus "will give" is his flesh, his body. Jesus is clear: the bread is his body. See the bread. Know that it is his body. His body that dies on the cross. His body that is Risen in glory.
Over and over at Mass, the words of the Last Supper are repeated. Over and over the mere little wafer becomes the bread that comes down from heaven in order to raise us up. Over and over we eat of this bread as a sign of our participation in the covenant relationship that Jesus makes possible.
The covenant relationship with God and people comes together in Jesus. We hear, we learn from God, we believe. The sign of the covenant is the bread of life. We celebrate the covenant in the Eucharist. We are raised up through Jesus into eternal life.