The crowds had been following Jesus everywhere he went; one could almost say they had been pursuing him. He escaped them three times by boat; but somehow they had been able to guess where he was heading and each time had managed to catch up with him. They were impressed by the signs he worked, by his teaching and miracles, and wanted more and more to be with him.
Jesus did not disappoint them. He had taught them at length (16th Sunday) and miraculously fed them by the multiplication of loaves and fishes (17th Sunday). Then he had begun teaching them in the synagogue in Capernaum (18th Sunday) and today (19th Sunday) he continues that teaching.
But things were now strangely different. The people were puzzled, restless, uncertain. They were complaining to each other about Jesus, because he had said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ ‘Surely this is Jesus son of Joseph’ they said. ‘We know his father and mother. How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’
It strikes me as curious that it was his claim to have come down from heaven that unsettled them. Why did they not say ‘We know his father and mother. How can he now say, “I am bread”?’
The mood, I imagine, was probably like that of the Hebrews who travelled with Moses through the desert. They, too, complained against him. ‘We have no water, we have no bread, we have no meat.’
In any event, they were complaining about Jesus to one another because now his teaching no longer ‘added up’; it no longer squared with their human way of thinking, the thinking of the flesh.
They hadn’t noticed that actually he was no longer just teaching them, at least not in the sense of taking them from the known to the unknown, no, Jesus was not explaining a teaching, he was illuminating a mystery. And as we have already discovered, he was not asking them to understand his words but to believe them. And isn’t this our challenge too, as Catholic Christians?
It’s a sad spectacle when a Christian tries to reconcile Jesus’ words and deeds with human thinking. The miracles are ‘clarified’ with far-fetched and unlikely explanations that eventually the miracle seems more plausible than the ‘clarifications’. Sooner or later we all have to stand before the gospel of Jesus and give an honest answer to the question ‘Do I believe or do I not believe the words of the Master?’
Noticing their dissatisfaction Jesus replies, ‘Stop complaining to each other’ and sets aside the doubts created by their human logic by spelling out for them that the path to the life he offers is ultimately walked only by those who open their hearts to God.
No one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me, and I will raise him up at the last day. In other words, to come to Jesus is to be drawn by the Father – and to be drawn by the Father is always to come to Jesus.
To hear the teaching of the Father, and learn from it, is to come to me.
Jesus thus claims divine credentials for his words and puts the challenge as simply as he can; the divine life he offers is accessed only through faith: I tell you most solemnly, everybody who believes has eternal life.
And so let us open the door of our heart wide, let us allow the Father to draw us, let us set aside our fleshly way of thinking and receive the Lord’s words with faith:
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.And so we join the dots: bread for the stomach; earthly bread ... bread for the soul; bread from heaven ... Jesus is the living bread; he has come down from heaven ... the bread he gives is his flesh; for the life of the world.
Do you believe that?