The Gospel reading today takes us into the heart of Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life. Here the Lord speaks about what we honor as the source and summit of our faith: the Holy Eucharist. Unlike every other teacher or prophet who came before or after him, Jesus identifies himself as the source of life, the “bread that came down from heaven.” His words challenged his listeners then, and they still challenge us today, to open our hearts and minds and take the leap of faith into the arms of God.
The Jews were incredulous that this man whose parents they knew could claim that he “came down from heaven.” They were held bound by their earthly thinking, completely unable to comprehend that the extraordinary Son of God had come among us as the ordinary son of Mary and Joseph. At every Mass, we face a similar challenge: to believe that the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ has come to us in the ordinary appearances of simple bread and wine. We are challenged to put aside our earthly thinking for heavenly thinking – that is, faith – and to yield to the grace poured out for us and into us through the Eucharist.
It is this need to yield that Jesus speaks of when he says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him.” We may have the idea that we somehow “lead” in our relationship with God. But Jesus tells us that it is the Father who leads us; he calls us, draws us into relationship with him. Our response is to yield to him, so that he can do his work in us.
The Jews were not willing to yield, but instead murmured among themselves as Jesus spoke. This murmuring was actually rebellious grumbling, much like the Israelites did in the desert against Moses and against God (cf. Nm 21:5). We must be aware of when we are grumbling against God rather than yielding to him. Grumbling closes us off to his call, but when we allow the Father to draw us, we open ourselves and become receptive to the action of his grace in our lives.
We can experience his grace most deeply when we receive the Eucharist. Jesus tells us today that he is the bread of life, and that “whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” He makes absolutely clear the connection between receiving him in faith and receiving the gift of eternal life. “Whoever believes has eternal life.” Jesus’ perfect act of love and obedience on the Cross, the giving of “his flesh for the life of the world,” has given us what the manna in the desert could not give. Those who ate the manna died, but those who eat the “the “living bread that came down from heaven” enter into eternal life. This is a gift beyond measure, beyond comprehension, which God freely gives to all those who yield to his truth and follow his way.
As St. Paul tells us in the second reading, we have already been “sealed for the day of redemption.” In Baptism we are initiated into the life of Christ; in Confirmation we are strengthened in the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and as “imitators of God,” we strive to become holy, as his beloved children. With his grace we can work to replace our vices with virtues, our fear with love, and our hatred with forgiveness. Holiness is not some unattainable goal set aside only for special people who live in monasteries. We grow in holiness as we yield to grace and strive to put into practice everything Christ taught.
At times we are so burdened with the difficulties of this life that we can barely think of holiness or the hope of eternal life. In such times we can identify with the prophet Elijah, who is in such a low condition in today’s first reading. Elijah has fled into the desert to escape from the deadly threats of Jezebel, and now he is so tired and discouraged that he prays for death: “This is enough, O LORD!” The Lord answers his prayer, but not in the way Elijah had hoped. Instead of taking his life, the Lord gives him life, providing food and drink, not once but twice, so that he can continue his journey of life and his mission.
God alone knows what is “enough” for us. He listens to our prayers and he answers, not necessarily in the way we expect, but in the way we truly need. He provides the sustenance we need to continue in the mission he has set for us. The Eucharist, the Bread of Life, sustains and guides us throughout our journey to holiness in this life and into the next. As we believe in and experience the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we truly “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
How can I yield to the work of God in my life? What is my response when faced with the difficulties of daily living? Do I turn to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as my source of strength?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.