The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
12 August 2018 at St Peter the Apostle and St William Parishes in Naples, FL
1 Kings 19, 4-8 + Psalm 32 + Ephesians 4, 30 to 5,2 + John 6, 41-51
Something happens with this text today that is important. Until now the people engaged with Jesus have been called: the crowd. Now the identity of the crowd is given. The crowd is “the Jews.” This sixth chapter of John’s Gospel is loaded with images of the Exodus in the Old Testament. There is the report of Jesus walking on the water to the other side of the Sea which brings up the image of Moses leading the people of Israel through the Red Sea. Then there was last week talk of Manna in the desert that God provided through Moses. Now today there are people murmuring just like the Israelites murmured at Moses resisting his leadership. They murmur now because they think they know where Jesus comes from. When he says: “Stop murmuring among yourselves” he means “Be quiet and listen.” They can’t see who is right in front of them because they think they know the truth about the origins of Jesus. Their knowledge stands in the way of the truth. They are not listening! The consequence is unbelief, and the only way out is to be drawn into faith by the Father, and that is the focus of this text.
As always, there are clues in the original text. The word used by John when he speaks of the action of the Father drawing people is the same word used to describe fishing nets being hauled into the boat. We must be dragged into faith by God: there is no other way to come is what Jesus is saying here. This is a troubling idea, because it leaves us to wonder what happens to those who murmur, to those who seem not to have been drawn to Jesus, and what about us, a people who are sometimes so shallow or inconsistent in our faith? It raises some questions that are not easily answered because there is no answer to the work of God except the promise and the hope that God does draw people to faith.
Jesus is not making it easy on that crowd. He does not make it easy on us either. The more they resist, the harder he makes it. When they do not accept Jesus as the Bread of Life come from the Father, he starts talking about eating flesh which is not only difficult but offensive to the crowd. He has no interest in making it easy. The fact here is that we must follow Jesus on his terms even if it seems difficult or offensive. Following Jesus on his terms is what it means to be a disciple. Bread from heaven is no free lunch but thinking that it was is what brought the crowds chasing after him to begin with. Bread from Heaven will cost Jesus his life and feeding on this bread will bring us as well to the cross.
When we begin to listen to this through the context of the Passover which is about to happen and the Eucharist we are about to celebrate, we are drawn to this altar which is more than just a table set for a feast. It is also the altar of a sacrifice. The food we find at this altar is not a free meal. To take this Bread of Life we take a share in the sacrifice, the suffering, the obedience, and the service of the one whose flesh we consume. It is costly. It is tough. But it is the only way to life, as the Father continues to draw us deeper into the mystery and wonder of his love.