Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Eph 5:2a, 25-32
Many who were listening to Jesus said, “This saying is too hard; who can accept it?” These words follow Jesus’ statement that the one who feeds on this bread will live forever, that He is the bread of life, and that we are to feed upon his flesh and blood, which are real food and drink.
The divisions within the Christian tradition may make the interpretation of Jesus’ words hard for us today. Some of grow up comfortable with the language of the body and blood of Jesus; that is, with John’s language .But the great Eucharistic controversy of the middle ages set up two opposing sides that battled for generations as to whether Jesus was present literally or symbolically. It seems there is something both literal and symbolic—“the symbols of bread and wine carrying the objective reality within them. In this the climax of his discourse, Jesus identifies the elements with himself (Peter Feldmeier, “The Word,” America Magazine, Aug. 13, 2012).”
But the people find Jesus’ words are hard for another reason. He says that He will raise us up to life, that He is our bread come down from heaven…all of this from the son of Joseph! And we know Joseph and this man’s mother. Our own familiarity with Jesus may make his words not startling but calm poetry. The response of many of Jesus’ disciples shows that they were challenged by Jesus’ words.
It is a very sad scene when many disciples no longer walk with Jesus but return to their former way of life. Presumably not a bad way of life, but one that will not include the “words of Spirit and life” which Jesus is sharing.
The challenge becomes clear as Our Lord asks the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” “Master, to whom shall we go?” says Peter. To whom they shall go will be revealed to all by where they go. They will go with the Paschal Lamb who will be sacrificed so that the scattered children of God may be gathered into one. The place will be Calvary, the icon of the giving of Spirit and life. There Jesus breathes over the Spirit in his last breath, and as blood and water flow from his side a birth is takes place. Those who gather beneath the cross will be filled with the life of the Spirit.
The “sign” of the multiplication of the loaves, which John has reflected on in Chapter 6, looks to the miracle of Our Lord’s death and resurrection to reveal its full meaning. All of Jesus’ miracles do that. As we are nourished at this banquet of the Bread of Life, may we receive the strength to always accompany Our Lord. We go with him to the place where he gives himself for the life of the world; where we are reborn in the gift of the Spirit. We celebrate the Eucharist as the apex of our life, the Church’s life. It is all here to be broken like the bread and divided and consumed in many different ways. It is at this banquet table that we gather as sinners to go forth as Christ, bearing God’s love into our so hungry world.
- Fr. Bill Murphy, C.P.