|Reading 1||Response||Reading 2||Gospel|
|1 Kgs 19:4-8||Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9||Eph 4:30-5:2||Jn 6:41-51|
Discourse part 1: I am the bread coming down from heaven
During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about the physical and spiritual nourishment that God provides.
The first reading from the Book of Kings tells how God fed the prophet Elijah on his journey through the wilderness. Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb (an alternate name for Sinai) begins as a flight from danger, but takes a surprising turn. In his wilderness exile, Elijah prays for death because he has been unable to turn the Israelites back to God. God feeds Elijah with miraculous bread to sustain him for his long trip to Horeb/Sinai. Christians hear the angelic bread from heaven as a type of eucharist: food for a pilgrim on his way to God’s mountain.
The second reading continues the letter to the Ephesus ekklesia. The letter’s major theme is the unity of all Christians in one believing community. Today’s reading continues the ethical exhortation (or paraenesis). Last week the author described the necessary attitudes of the “new person.” This week he lays out a program of formative actions, stated as imperatives: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit;” “remove all bitterness, fury, anger, and shouting;” “be kind, compassionate, forgiving of one another;” “be imitators of God;” and “walk in love.” By connecting these formative actions to baptism (“being sealed, ” preparing for the “day of redemption”), the author teaches that baptism initiates discipleship, but discipleship requires continuous growth and work. The author’s imperatives are a post-baptismal catechesis–actions for disciples who are “new persons” in Christ.
John’s gospel presents the first part of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. Last week the crowd caught up with Jesus at a Capernaum synagogue. In a series of questions and responses, Jesus introduced the discourse’s main ideas. This week another key question shapes the discourse’s first part.
Jesus tells those in the synagogue: “I am the bread of life; the one coming to me never hungers, the one believing in me will never thirst again” (Jn 6:35). Immediately those opposed to Jesus’ revelation (here designated as “the Jews”) begin to grumble, just as the Israelites grumbled against Moses in the wilderness (Ex 16:2). They frame their objection as a question, which has several layers.
- Is this not Jesus, whose father and mother we know? “The Jews” object that Jesus can’t be “from heaven,” because they know his earthly father and mother. Culturally, they object to Jesus placing himself “above his station,” even equating himself to Moses, who also gave bread from heaven. They judge Jesus is not a qualified messenger, and so reject his claims about who he is, his authority, and his ability to give bread he promises.
Jesus answers them by revealing his origins: what they do not know.
- First: The Father is the one sending Jesus (v 39). In the ancient world, a sender authorized his delegate to speak and to act in the sender’s place. The delegate’s authority came from and was the same as the sender. Jesus speaks and acts for the Father.
- Second: The Father draws believers (v 44). In the mystery of faith, the Father bestows faith on people, allowing them to believe and to be drawn to the Father and the Sent One (Jesus).
- Third: The Sent One (Jesus) reveals the Father (v 40). Based on the believer’s response, she or he receives everlasting life (a share in the Father’s life).
- Fourth: Jesus will raise up the believing ones at the end of time (v 44). When believers yield to the “works of God” (see v 28 and last week’s discussion), they receive the gift of eternal life. Being “taught by God” means listening to/hearing the Father, yielding to the Father (doing the works of God), and therefore recognizing Jesus as God’s Sent One.
Jesus fulfills the prophetic promise “They shall all be taught by God” by revealing the Father to all nations. The Torah only partially reveals the Father ( = produces life); but the true bread from heaven (Jesus) fully reveals the Father. Jesus surpasses the former bread from heaven (the physical food of manna and the spiritual food of Torah).
Jesus points out that the physical manna gave only physical life; manna did not give eternal life. The Jews’ ancestors and even the great Moses ate the physical food, but all are physically dead. Unlike the physical effect of the physical manna, those eating the true bread from heaven will live forever.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how God nourishes the believing community. In the past, God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with physical manna and with God’s spiritual word in the Torah. In today’s gospel, Jesus reveals that he is the true bread that feeds us as God’s living Word. Is the Liturgy of the Word something we sit through waiting to encounter Jesus at the Table of the Eucharist? Or do we let ourselves be nourished by the true bread from heaven Jesus shares at the Table of the Word? Do we recognize both as the bread coming down from heaven?