A revelation and a promise – Thursday, 3rd Week of Easter – Acts 8:26-40/John 6:44-51
Much as you may want to, you can’t read this text in isolation even though the text brings you much consolation especially since it holds a mighty revelation and a promise of God. Chapter six of the Gospel of John is most aptly called the bread discourse. Yet the word discourse seems to be a very tidy word considering the stubbornness of heart that had filled the Jews and the disrespectful way in which they argued with Jesus
At the top of the chapter, we learn that Jesus has fed the Jews, all five thousand of them. They then seek him; not for who he is but for what he can give them. Jesus calls them to acknowledge that he is the Messiah; he asks them to believe in him whom God has sent. (6:29). On their part, the Jews demand a sign or some work that he could perform (6:30) They wanted a magician yet Jesus was their Messiah, a fact they refuse to acknowledge.
The Jews now harken to the signs worked by God through Moses. For the Jews it was Moses who gave them bread and Jesus corrects their false ideas. Yet behind all of this it is not God that they seek but what God can provide for them. “Give us this bread always” (John 6:34) they ask.
Jesus now declares the first of the seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John (6:35) declaring himself to be the “bread of life” a bread that once accepted will never know hunger and the person of Jesus, when believed in, will never cause us to thirst. Sadly, the Jews could not be mentally dislodged from their material need of bread. Even the promise of eternal life does not seem to get their attention, rather they complaint because he said he was the bread that came down from heaven (John 6:41). They claim to “know” who Jesus is, who his father and mother are. Their ‘self-assured’ knowledge stands in the way of seeing the truth and little knowledge, we know, is dangerous.
Our text of today must be read in this background. Jesus is emphatic that the reason why the Jews, or for that matter humanity today, cannot recognize him is because we are not drawn to God; we are drawn to the world but not to God. To be drawn to God demands an openness on our part. A sportsman does not have to be convinced to accept free tickets to the world cup finals nor does an art historian turn down a guided tour to the Vatican Museum; they do so because they are drawn passionately to what they love. If we are open to God, we are drawn to him and he draws us then further into his love.
To the Jews who cling on to Moses and the one-time meal of bread that he provided in the desert, Jesus once again reiterates in verse 48 that he is the bread of life and then again in verse 51 says “he is the LIVING bread that came down from heaven”; not like the bread their ancestors ate and are now dead. He is the bread that comes down from heaven and we who eat of him will never die but live forever, for this bread that he gives is his own flesh, his own body. Words that he will repeat on the last night of life, “take and eat for this is my body.”
As I read this text I am struck by the triple proclamation of Jesus. Not once, but thrice he declares that he is the bread of life. There is a reason why he repeats this teaching; he does it so that we may not think that this is some off the cuff remark but the very foundation of our faith. Nothing else that we consume, not even from the silver platters from Buckingham palace can compare with this humble yet most divine gift that can nourish and sustain us in this life and the life eternal. It is with this sense of the sacred that I bemoan the sadness with which our Lord is often treated in the reception of Holy Communion at holy Mass.
Call me traditional, but every ciborium, ever chalice, ever corporal, every tabernacle, every bit of sacred vestment made in the past (rarely in the present) expressed this single truth, that these sacred objects hold Our Lord Jesus Christ and therefore only the best was made and used to adore him. And the same could be said in the way we received this “living bread come down from heaven.”
While one may rightly make a case for the interiorization of this divine revelation, the fact remains that what is interiorized is expressed externally and that for me is lacking….. way lacking in the Church today.