The good news is that during this summer we are graced to hear the Gospel of John, chapter 6 – the “Bread of Life Discourse.” It is a wonderfully-told narrative, it is theologically rich, it is incredibly human, and above all it is profoundly Eucharistic. The bad news is that is divided over five weeks of Gospels, breaking up the narrative and challenging our understanding in continuity as we hear what was always meant to be one cohesive gospel. This is week three of five… hmmm? So, let me do this – I will give you a brief summary of my homilies from the last two weeks (or you can read them here: (“If only I’d know…” and “The grace to persevere”) and then connect it to this week’s readings.
Two weeks ago, as Jesus performed the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 using the simple offering of a young boy’s fish and bread, I asked you to consider that among the 5,000 only one stepped forward to offer what he had. From that small offering, Jesus worked miracles. I wondered if the other 4,999 mused to themselves, “If only I had known, I would have given Him everything.” From our small gifts of bread and wine, Jesus works the miracle of Eucharist to feed us that each one of us “hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, so that He who gives himself totally to you may receive you totally” – and Christ can work miracles through us.
Last week I tried to connect the second reading from St. Paul to the gospel in which Jesus is offering the people a choice: to believe in Him, the Bread of Life come down from heaven, or to continue to look for miracles and signs and remain as they are and have always been. Jesus is asking them, as does St. Paul, to: “put away the old self of your former way of life… and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Jesus was speaking to people who were thinking about manna and the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. Jesus was telling them to believe in order that they persevere. The manna from heaven helped them to persevere and reach the Promise Land across the Jordan River. The people in the Gospel persevered, put on the new self of Faith, and, in time, joined the heavenly banquet table in Heaven. In the Eucharist, we have a source of grace to persevere in a challenging and complex world – make lasting changes, put on Christ, and be for others a source of grace and love in the world.
And the world can be a tough place sometimes. In the today’s first reading, Elijah laments, “This is enough, O Lord!” And begs to Lord to take his life to be done with his prophetic mission and move on to heaven. Maybe Elijah is momentarily filled with all that St. Paul warns us against: “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling… malice.” We and Elijah are admonished to “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.”
God had plans for Elijah and sent an angel to bring food and drink for the earthly journey that he might imitate God and live in love. God has other plans for us and sends the Eucharist as a source of grace, that we too imitate God, living in love. Because there are times we are dearly challenged to do exactly those things as we try to put away the old clothes of our former selves and put on Christ in order to fully live out the vows we make at Baptism: to become people who love God and neighbor.
And others don’t want us to change, they want to trap us in our old selves for their own reasons, because they think they know us, or perhaps because this new life challenges them. “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’?”
And so we come to this Eucharist, this living bread come down from heaven. And we choose. Will we keep dressing in the same clothing of our old self, and holding back our lives from the Lord’s plan? Or will seek the real food of Christ and believe in Him, the one God sent to be the Bread of Life. Will we let go, not hold back, and then fully partake in the life in Christ, put on Christ, come to the table of the Eucharist for the real food that makes lasting change – and accept the grace to persevere. Even when the whole world wants us to remain who we were. Even when the whole world seems to be a burden and we are tempted to join Elijah and cry out, “This is enough, O Lord!”
These are the moment when we most need the Eucharist that we not hold back, but persevere, and believe.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.