Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Living Bread Come Down From Heaven

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1. 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). When Elijah laid down beneath the broom tree and prayed for death, he had been on the run. You see, Elijah had just put to death 400 prophets of the false god Baal following a tremendous sign. (It is in chapter 18 of the First Book of Kings if you want to read about it). In spite of the great sign of God’s presence among Israel and the powerful words spoken by the prophet, few people were convinced. They preferred to follow the false gods who were nothing rather than follow the true God, who could actually make a demand upon them to change. Elijah was sick of his failure and wanted to die. But God had other plans, and so the Lord bade Elijah to get up and eat, so as to have the strength necessary to continue speaking the Truth.
2. Today as in those ancient days, there seems to be a great number of those who prefer falsehood to truth. We must admit that the truth about ourselves can be frightening. Many Catholics do not make use of the Sacrament of Penance because they fear the what might be revealed in the examination of conscience. Often we are afraid to speak the truth to others either because we are afraid of what they will do, or because we have had the experience of suffering on account of saying what is right.
3. Even though we might not be guilty of this sin, many people’s view of Jesus Himself has little basis in reality. That is, Jesus is often considered to be a revolutionary whose words are really too hot to handle, or a nice guy who really did not say anything demanding all. Even though all Christians admit the stark reality of the Cross, most would prefer to think of the Cross as something in the past that should have no real bearing on how we live. After all, God does not really want us to be crucified, does He?
4. The truth about God, however, is true no matter how many or how few people believe it. When Jesus began His Bread of Life discourse as reported in John’s Gospel, He had healed many people, expelled many demons, fed thousands with just a few loaves of bread and had walked on the water. And yet, there were many who simply would not believe in Him. They preferred the comfort of their own thoughts that did not require any form of change on their part. “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). They did not really know Him. They refused the evidence of truth placed before their very eyes and shut their hearts to Jesus’ words.
5. Unlike Elijah, Jesus was not dismayed. Rather He told them that faith comes as a gift from God. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him (John 6:44). Their preference for unbelief did not keep Jesus from announcing the truth about Himself- He is the Bread of Life come down from heaven. It is a theme which is common throughout the Gospels- that Jesus alone is Life. There is no other way to heaven, there is no other god, and if we want to truly live Jesus must be the center of our existence.
6. Elijah had to choose to serve God, whether or not he was “successful” in the world. It was either be faithful to God, or adhere to lies. In the Gospel Jesus is telling the truth about Himself and we must make a choice as well. Either we follow Jesus or we turn away from the truth.
7. The way in which Jesus makes His demand for our discipleship is not an easy path in the world. For example, when Jesus said we must eat the Bread come down from heaven to live, it appeared to the people that Jesus said they had to become cannibals. (Many of our Christian brothers and sisters reject the Eucharist on this very basis). Cannibalism is not what Jesus is really demanding. He will provide the means by which we can eat His body and drink His blood in an unbloody manner. But the commitment and trust that Jesus was demanding from His listeners in the Gospel was absolute, and it continues today. Will we follow?
8. Of course, the Lord is not going to leave us to our own power any more than the He left Elijah to die under the broom tree. He fed Elijah, and the Lord will feed us. But we have to trust in Him, commit ourselves to Him even when the world opposes us with all its might.

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