The Jews who followed Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand were looking for the Messiah—the New Moses who would again bring down bread from heaven. When they found that Bread, they grumbled. Why?
By Gayle Somers
Gospel (Read Jn 6:41-51)
As we know from last Sunday’s Gospel, the Jews who had seen Jesus miraculously feed a crowd of hungry people strongly suspected that He was the Messiah—the “Prophet” Moses long ago had foretold that God would send. Jewish rabbinic tradition, by Jesus’ day, taught the Jews to expect with the Messiah a return of the manna, the “bread of angels” (see Ps 78:25). When they caught up with Jesus, they began angling to see if He would produce more miraculous bread as a sign that He was, indeed, the Messiah. If so, they wanted to proclaim Him king (see Jn 6:15).
In today’s Gospel, St. John tells us that when Jesus identified Himself as the bread from heaven they sought, they were offended. They had asked Him for a sign so they could “come to” Him and “believe in” Him (see Jn 6:35), just as Moses had worked signs in Egypt to help the Israelites believe God had truly sent him as their deliverer. These people wanted to see the bread “which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (see Jn 6:33). Jesus, in essence, said, “You’re looking at it.”
What caused them to grumble? It wasn’t His call to come to Him and believe in Him. At this point, they understood Jesus’ claim to be “bread from heaven” as a metaphor for them to accept His leadership, to believe God had sent Him, and to follow Him as their king. They were ready to do that. No, it was Jesus’ claim that He “came down from heaven” that caused the problem. They murmured against Him for this: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know His father and mother?” Jesus’ claim seemed preposterous to them. They were not ready to believe in Him that way. His rebuke to them—“stop murmuring among yourselves”—was the same rebuke Moses gave to the Israelites when they refused to believe God could provide for them in the wilderness in ways they could never have imagined (see Ex 16:7). History was repeating itself.
Jesus diagnosed the problem: “No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him.” What did He mean? To try to figure Jesus out from a strictly human perspective will never work. If we say that human beings can’t “come down” from heaven, then we are assuming that we know everything that it is possible to know. We review history—it’s never happened before. We review what we think can happen in the future—nothing new can enter the stream of human life. So, having closed down all possibilities, humanly speaking, we would reject Jesus’ amazing claim. Only someone completely open to the idea that nothing is impossible for God can ever “come” to Jesus and give ear to His claim to have been sent from heaven by the Father to be our bread of eternal life.
Having already disturbed the crowd with His words, Jesus now proceeds to rattle them completely. He reminds them again that the miraculous manna did not grant eternal life. The bread He offers does: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” If Jesus had stopped right here, maybe the crowd would have settled down, because, up to now, even if they stumbled over His divine origin, they could perhaps “come” and “believe” in Him. However, the discourse takes a surprising twist: “the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.” Well. Yes, there had been “bread” and “flesh” in Moses’ miracles in the wilderness. But did these Jews ever imagine they would hear these words combined this way?
The drama continues.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, I know there are times when I arrive at a “not possible” conclusion before I have opened myself to You. Please forgive me.
First Reading (Read 1 Ki 19:4-8)
We have here yet another food miracle from the Old Testament (our third reading in as many weeks). Elijah, who lived about the 9th century B.C., had just called the Israelites to forsake their idolatry in a fiery prophetic miracle on Mt. Carmel. As a result, the wicked queen, Jezebel, sent out forces to track him down and kill him. He was so discouraged by this pursuit that he was ready to die. Everything seemed like failure.
In his sleep of sorrow, he was awakened by an angel who ordered him to “get up and eat.” Again he slept; again he was awakened by the angel. “Eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” The meal refreshed and strengthened him. He was able to walk “forty days and forty nights” to meet God at Mt. Horeb.
When we see these Old Testament episodes of God’s provision of miraculous food to nourish and sustain His people, can we really find it so surprising that Jesus would leave us a miraculous meal for our own journey home?
Possible response: Angel of God, my guardian dear, if I fall into a sleep of sorrow over something, please wake me up and exhort me to eat the Eucharistic meal for the strength I need.
Psalm (Read Ps 34:2-9)
The psalmist writes as one who has experienced God’s deliverance in times of fear, affliction, and distress. This glorious trustworthiness of God leaves him with blessing and praise “ever in my mouth.” How interesting that when he desires others to experience it, too, he urges us to “taste and see how good the Lord is.” Could the psalmist have imagined how literally true Jesus would one day make this? Our song today is one we can sing with confidence, for we have tasted of the Bread of Heaven: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Eph 4:30-5:2)
Because we can “taste and see” the goodness of the Lord in the Eucharist, what sort of people should we be? St. Paul again gives us practical instruction in holiness. Having been “sealed for the day of redemption” by the Holy Spirit, we need to recognize that in this personal relationship with Him, we are capable of grieving Him. How? If we allow “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling … along with … malice” to fester in us, we cause the Holy Spirit a kind of sorrow. Why? Because He wants to transform us into God’s “beloved children,” sharing His divine nature, and these other things make that impossible. Instead, with the Spirit’s help, we are to choose kindness, compassion, and forgiveness towards others (see how much of our life in God depends on our life with others). St. Paul reminds us that those who have tasted the goodness of God are called to the same life Christ lived when He “handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma” (see also Gn 8:20-22, when Noah offered God a sacrifice of thanksgiving for deliverance from the Flood). How can we live this way? It is hard, and we are weak, made of dust. We need food for this journey, don’t we? Thank God, He offers it every single day.
Possible response: Holy Spirit, help me be ruthless in mortifying whatever in me causes You grief. I want to cooperate with Your work of transformation in me.