Tag Archives: Bread of Life discourse

23 August 2015: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21 Eph 5:21-32 Jn 6:60-69

 

The bread of life: test of discipleship

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we conclude our five-week meditation on the Bread of Life teaching, the Eucharist and discipleship.

Today’s first reading is from the last book of Joshua, Moses’ successor. In this passage, Joshua addresses the Hebrew people before he dies, summarizing God’s mighty acts in bringing the Hebrews to the promised land, and God’s now-fulfilled promise to Abraham and his descendants about providing a homeland. Joshua then asks the Hebrews to renew their covenant with God: do they wish to serve the God who has delivered them or return to the service of other gods? The people reaffirm the covenant with God: “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” The Lectionary editors chose this story because, like today’s gospel, it presents God’s people with a choice.

The second reading is from Ephesians, a letter written between 80-100AD. It is written by Paul, but may be by a Pauline disciple. This section is part of the parenesis (ethical exhortation) of the letter, specifically the “household code.”  In the ancient world, household codes described ideal relationships between household members (husband/wife, parent/child, master/slave) to maintain an orderly life. The Greek Stoic philosophers first proposed household codes, emphasizing the first party’s requirement for obedience and the second party’s obligations. Hellenistic Judaism expanded on the Stoics’ ideas, using the Hebrew scripture as a basis for moral behavior. In today’s reading the Ephesians’ author provides a set of Christian household codes. He reverses the Stoic ethical model, saying that the Christian first party’s obligation is for love and self-sacrifice. In all Christian household relationships, each person is subject to all others out of reverence for Christ. The author constructs a parable comparing the Christian husband-and-wife relationship to the Christ-and-ekklesia relationship. He builds the Christ/ekklesia parable from the mystical union of Christ and ekklesia: Christ as head of the ekklesia’s body; Christ as husband to the ekklesia. Just as Christ’s love is the starting point for his relationship with the ekklesia, so also love should be the starting point for the husband and wife relationship in a Christian marriage. In other household codes, power determines relationships. In a Christian household, love replaces power in all relationships.

This week’s gospel concludes John’s Bread of Life discourse. Over the last few weeks, the Jesus of John’s gospel revealed two new teachings:

  • Jesus as the Bread of Life offered to anyone who believes in him (Jn 6:34-47). Jesus addresses this first teaching to the crowds and to the Jewish people in the Capernaum synagogue. Just as the Torah spiritually feeds the Hebrew people, so Jesus, God’s Word incarnate, offers everyone the Father’s words of love and eternal life. The Jewish hearers understand that Jesus is saying he is the new Torah. They murmur against Jesus and reject him because they “know” him–he is not “the one coming down from God.”
  • Jesus as sacramentally present to the post-resurrection disciples through the Eucharist (Jn 6:37-58). John has Jesus direct this second teaching to the post-resurrection disciples and to John’s own ekklesia. The disciples could understand this Eucharistic teaching only after Jesus had completed his mission, offered his body and blood to the Father on Calvary, and been raised. Just as God-given manna fed and sustained the Hebrews’ physical lives in the wilderness, so Jesus, God-in-flesh, gives his glorified flesh and blood to feed and ensure his disciples’ eternal life in the kingdom. Many disciples–in Jesus’ time and in John’s time–rejected Jesus sacramental teaching as “too hard.” In Jesus’ time they murmur against Jesus because they do not want to believe that Jesus will die; in John’s time they cannot believe his continuing presence with them in the Eucharist. Their faith is too weak to trust in God’s superabundant love.

At today’s decision point, the crowds, the Jews, and many disciples reject Jesus and “go back to their old lives.” Jesus asks the Twelve–his inner circle–if they, also, will go. Peter professes his faith: “We believe you are the holy one of God.”

Like Joshua in the first reading, Jesus presents his mighty acts and promises to the crowd, RCIA participants, and the believing community, and asks each one of us to choose. What Jesus says is hard. We think we know Jesus, the Word of God; but when we hear him in the Liturgy of the Word, sometimes we don’t want to believe him. When Jesus re-presents himself and gives himself to us in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it’s hard for us to believe his is intimately and physically with us. Discipleship is difficult: Jesus presents us with seeming impossible requests and unreachable challenges. Do we have faith in God’s superabundant love? Or will we also go away, back to comfortable, easy lives?

—Terence Sherlock

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16 August 2015: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Prv 9:1-6 Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7 Eph 5:15-20 Jn 6:51-58

 

The bread of life: Eucharistic mystery

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue our five-week meditation on the Eucharist and discipleship.

Today’s first reading is from Proverbs, a collection of “wisdom sayings” that personifies Wisdom as a woman. Wisdom invites seekers to forsake foolishness and to dine on her bread and wine; these choices lead to long life and understanding. Some rabbis taught that the messiah would feed people choice food and good wine without work or cost. “Eating bread” and “drinking wine” foreshadow the Eucharistic images in today’s gospel.

Today’s gospel continues the Bread of Life discourse. The reading (Jn 51-58) begins with last week’s final verse and concludes the discourse. It includes the following elements:

  • More than manna: Jesus connects himself (“I AM the living bread”) to the wilderness manna (“coming down from heaven.”) Jesus goes beyond being simply the manna, because whoever “eats this bread” (believes in him) “will live forever.”
  • The bread is Jesus’ flesh: John introduces a post-resurrection understanding of Jesus as the living bread: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” John presents two meanings here. First, Jesus’ ministry will end (“I will give my flesh”) in his sacrificial, salvific, and transformational death (“for the life of the world.”) Second, Jesus will establish a continuing presence through the Eucharist (“I will give my flesh“) to continue his mission though the believing community (“for the life of the world.”) The crowd argues (literally “fights”) about this saying. How could Jesus turn bread turn into flesh? Even if Jesus could do this, food laws forbid Jewish people from eating human flesh and drinking any type of blood.
  • The Eucharist leads to eternal life: Jesus further shocks the crowd by teaching: “the one feeding on (literally ‘chewing’) my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life.” Only when you “consume my flesh and blood” do you “remain-in-relationship with me.” This is no longer a metaphor about Jesus as the new Torah and divine Wisdom that doesn’t perish–the Eucharistic reference is clear and complete: “consume my body,” “drink my blood.” The divine Word became flesh to bring life to the world (Jn 1:3-4); Jesus, through his physical death and resurrection, gives his glorified flesh and blood to believers in the Eucharist so we may have eternal life and share in Jesus resurrection (Jn 6:54). Jesus has and can give life because the living Father sent him. By consuming Jesus, the believing community shares the Father’s life–they “remain” in relationship with the Father and Jesus.
  • Jesus concludes his teaching: Jesus sums up the difference between the manna (“your ancestors ate and died”) and the true bread (“whoever eats will live forever.”) Next week, we’ll hear the crowds’ and the disciples’ reactions.

Today’s readings confront RCIA participants and the believing community with the mystery of the Eucharist. The first reading tells us that dining on Wisdom’s bread and wine will lead to long life and understanding. The gospel calls us to look beyond the sign of manna and see the reality of the true bread from heaven. The Eucharist is not simply a sign or a metaphor, but the reality of Jesus himself. We have eternal life and remain-in-relationship with Jesus and the Father only when we consume his resurrected body and blood. Do we believe? Do we live this belief?

—Terence Sherlock

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9 August 2015: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

The bread of life: real food for our wilderness trip

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue our five-week meditation on the Eucharist and faith.

The first reading from 1 Kings is a story about Elijah, a prophet in the northern kingdom (Israel). In a contest between God and Ba’al (the chief Canaanite god), God and Elijah defeat Ba’al and Ba’al’s priests. Queen Jezebel forces Elijah into exile. In the wilderness, Elijah prays for death because he has been unable to turn the Israelites back to God. God gently touches and tenderly feeds Elijah with miraculous food to sustain Elijah for his long trip to Mount Horeb/Sinai.

The gospel continues John’s “Bread of Life” chapter (Jn 6). Last week we heard the beginning of Jesus’ teaching (or discourse) on the meaning of unperishable food: faith in Jesus as the continuing revelation of God, the new manna, the bread of life. Today’s gospel includes the following elements:

  • The crowd murmurs and objects: The crowd “murmurs about” Jesus because he says he is “the bread coming down from heaven.” The word translated here as murmur is the Greek word γογγύζω (“gog-GOO-zoh”), Exodus (Ex 16:2) uses γογγύζω to describe the Hebrews grumbling or complaining to Moses about starving in the wilderness. John uses γογγύζω to connect the crowds’ complaint with the Hebrews’ complaint. In both cases, God provides the people with manna or bread from heaven. The crowd also complains because “they know” who Jesus is–Joseph’s son–and “they know” his father and mother. A contemporary translation would be: “Who does this guy think he is?” The crowd rejects Jesus as a qualified messenger and they complain about his message.
  • Jesus corrects the crowd’s misconceptions: “Stop grumbling!” says Jesus. You may think you know who I am because you know my father and mother, but my heavenly Father is the one speaking here. The Father’s work is to bring everyone to faith in Jesus (Jn 6:29); the result of faith is eternal life–“raised on the last day.” Like a good rabbi, Jesus supports his assertion with scripture: “They shall all be taught by God.” (Is 54:13). Jesus, who is from God and who has “come down” teaches the people–but they must listen to learn. Only when they stop murmuring and listen can they hear Jesus, the new living manna coming down from heaven, tell them about the gift of eternal life. Jesus is the bread of life–the new Torah, God’s teaching that gives eternal life.
  • Jesus raises the discussion to a higher level: “I AM the living bread. The bread I will give is my flesh.” Jesus goes further: not only is he the new manna–the new Torah–coming down, but he will also give the world his flesh to eat (literally “consume” or “devour”). In this Eucharistic teaching, Jesus promises to give his crucified and glorified body (and blood)–himself–to those who believe.

Today’s readings ask each RCIA participant and every believing community member to examine his or her faith and idea of God. Elijah was worn out from his work and mission and wanted to give up. We might have expected God to thunder against Elijah and punish him for his lack of faith. Instead God treats him tenderly, feeding Elijah for his forty-day journey. Jesus offers us–often tired and discouraged–eternal food, himself as food for our journey. Can we stop grumbling about God long enough to hear what God is telling us? Can we stop seeing the Jesus we want long enough to see Jesus as he is?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 August 2015: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15 Ps 78: 3-4, 23-24, 25, 54 Eph 4: 17, 20-24 Jn 6: 24-35

The bread of life: the sign explained

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue our five-week meditation on the Eucharist and discipleship.

The first reading from Exodus recounts God’s mighty act of feeding the Hebrews in the wilderness. We find the chosen people in the desert about a month after leaving Egypt. They grumble to Moses that they have nothing to eat. God promises to give the people “bread from heaven”–manna. God feeds the chosen people with manna daily for forty years, until they reach the promised land.

The gospel continues John’s “Bread of Life” chapter (Jn 6). Last week we heard Jesus’ sign of the multiplied barley loaves; today we hear Jesus’ teaching (or discourse) on the sign’s meaning. Last week’s gospel ended in the wilderness; today’s reading picks up the next day in Capernaum. The gospel includes the following elements:

  • Perishable vs eternal food: The crowd follows Jesus because he gave them bread yesterday. Jesus tells them “stop looking for food that perishes” and rather “work for food that eternally endures.” The crowd would recognize Jesus’ reference to “eternal food” as God’s word and wisdom found in the Torah.
  • This is the work of God: Because he says they must “work for eternal food,” the crowd asks Jesus how to “accomplish the work of God.” The crowd expects Jesus to outline pious works described in the Torah. Instead, Jesus says they must “believe in the one whom God has sent.” That is, God’s work is the act that God accomplishes in a believer’s heart: faith in Jesus.
  • A sign like the wilderness manna: The crowd asks for a sign: “If you are the one who is sent, what do you do?” The crowd suspects that Jesus thinks himself greater than Moses, so they bring up the story of Moses giving the people manna in the wilderness: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (Ex 16:4, today’s first reading).
  • The Bread of Life discourse begins: Jesus corrects the crowd–God, not Moses, gave your ancestors manna. Manna was a manifestation of God’s care for the chosen people’s physical needs in the past. Jesus brings the crowd into the present by telling them that my Father now gives you the true bread from heaven–that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. In God’s ongoing care for the people, the “true bread” feeds more than their physical needs. The true bread is not simply manna, but the Son. The crowd demands “this bread always,” still thinking it is physical food. Jesus’ answer raises the discussion to a higher level: “I AM the bread of life.” Jesus is the continuing revelation of God–the new Torah. Jesus is also nourishment; through the Eucharist his presence continues in the ekklesia, the believing community.

The readings ask each RCIA participant and every believing community member to examine his or her discipleship. The Hebrew people experienced God’s ongoing care through daily manna. Although the manna stopped, God’s care continued through the Torah’s words. We of the believing community–who believe in Jesus, the one whom God sent–also experience God’s ongoing care through daily bread. Is our discipleship based on the past-perishable bread now stale and tasteless? Or do we choose our discipleship daily-eternal bread based on faith that finds Jesus revealed daily in word and sacrament?

—Terence Sherlock

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26 July 2015: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
2 Kgs 4: 42-44 Ps 145: 10-11, 15-16, 17-18 Eph 4: 1-6 Jn 6: 1-15

The sign of bread in the wilderness

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we begin a five-week meditation on the Eucharist and discipleship.

The first reading, from 2 Kings, tells the story of Elisha the prophet and his multiplication of barley loaves. The Lectionary editors chose this story because it parallels today’s gospel. In both readings a hungry crowd is present; only a small amount of food (barley loaves) is available; someone says that it isn’t enough to feed the crowd; the prophet ignores the objection and orders the food to be distributed; the crowd has enough to eat; and there is some left over.

This week the gospel author changes from Mark to John. Beginning this week (and for the next four weeks) we hear from Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6). This discourse has many themes, including Eucharist, messiahship, faith, and discipleship. Today’s gospel describes the sign that sets up the rest of the discourse; it has four elements:

  • The timing. John tells us “the feast of Passover was near.” John wants us to connect Jesus’ sign of the multiplied barley loaves with the Passover events: the Passover meal, freedom from slavery in Egypt, the Sinai covenant, and the manna in the wilderness.
  • The question. Jesus’ question to Philip (“Where can we buy food?”) stretches Philip’s understanding and faith. Philip gives a limited physical solution (“Two hundred days’ wages”). Andrew also gives a physical solution (“five barley loaves and two fish”). Philip and Andrew know their solutions are insufficient (“not enough,” “what good are these for so many”). Jesus’ solution is a spiritual sign that results in a superabundance (“more than they could eat.”)
  • The sign. Jesus’ sign of the multiplied barley loaves prefigures the Eucharist. John uses the same formula (“took, gave thanks, distributed”) that we find in the Last Supper accounts–“he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it.” When Jesus “gives thanks,” John uses the word εὐχαριστέω (“yoo-kah-ris-TEH-oh”), the same word we use for the Eucharist. John presents this event as both an actual sign by Jesus and a liturgical sign for the believing community.
  • The response. After experiencing Jesus’ sign, the crowd realizes that Jesus could be the “Prophet-like-Moses” foretold in Deut 18:15. In Jesus’ time, some rabbis taught that the messiah would give the people manna just as Moses gave the people manna in the dessert. Jesus knows that the crowds follow him because of his signs, not because they understand who he is. He rejects the crowds’ definition of messiahship and departs alone to the mountain.

Today’s readings present a complex sign. We can understand the multiplied barley loaves simply as an act of power–Jesus uses his power to feed the stranded crowd. But immediately we are presented with other ideas: God’s concern for our material needs (“Jesus distributed the loaves”), our role as disciples in feeding others (“where can we get enough food?”), our understanding of who Jesus is (“make him king”). RCIA participants and the whole believing community recognize this sign as an invitation to relationship with Jesus through the Eucharist. We find ourselves hungry on a mountain in the wilderness. Are we following Jesus because he gives us bread, or because he gives us himself? Do we make Jesus into a temporal ruler, or let him be the messiah? Do we anticipate Jesus’ response, or let his unexpected abundance come to us?

—Terence Sherlock

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