19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2021

My Dear People,

Some of Jesus’ listeners objected to his claim to be the Bread from Heaven because they knew his earthly family (6:41-41). With an allusion to the book of Exodus. Jesus treats their response as rebellious grumbling (6:43), and the theme of God’s working within people is developed. The Father works within people by teaching them and drawing them to faith in Jesus (6:44-45). Jesus exhorts his hearers to yield to the work that God is doing and so come to the Son, the only one who knows and reveals the Father. By believing in Jesus and receiving him,  one receives the gift of eternal life that he offers (6:46-47). 

John identifies some within Jesus’ audience as the Jews. They challenge Jesus’ claim to have come down from heaven because they know his father and mother. They are thinking primarily in earthly terms and not the heavenly terms to which Jesus summoned them (6:27).

Jesus does not regard this as innocent questioning, but as murmuring. This Greek word describes the rebellious grumbling of the Israelites against the Lord and Moses in the wilderness (Exod. 17:3; Num. 14:26-35). In effect, Jesus is telling his listeners that their hearts are as hard as those who murmured in the desert, to whom Moses declared, “Your grumbling is not against us, but against the Lord” (Exod. 16:8 LXX). 

Jesus again points to the truth: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him on the last day.  Developing his earlier remarks about God’s work in 6:29, 37, Jesus speaks of the Father  as working to bring people to faith in him. He instructs them to yield to his “work of God” and so receive the gift of eternal life through faith in him.

Jesus supports this claim with the prophets, freely citing Isa. 54:13: They shall all be taught by God. Being taught by God involves listening to the Father, yielding to him, and thus being brought to Jesus. The Father’s action is secret and hidden, but it has an attracting power to bring us to the Son, the one who is From God and who alone has seen the Father. Only the “Son, God, who is at the Father’s side” (1:18) can truly reveal the Father (see Mat. 11:25-27)

Jesus reiterates the connection between receiving him in faith and receiving the gift of eternal life: Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  All people have access to God’s gift of eternal life through Jesus, and we receive this gift already in the present through faith in him. 

Jesus spoke of  “food that endures for eternal life” (6:27) and then was challenged by the crowd to perform a sign greater than the manna (6:30-31). Jesus went on to speak of the “bread of God. . . which comes down from heaven” (6:33) and identified himself as this heavenly “bread of life” (6:35). Jesus now returns to the manna, and his discourse crescendos in the revelation that the bread from heaven that gives eternal life is the crucified and glorified flesh of Jesus himself (6:48-51). With strong realism, Jesus teaches that he gives this very flesh as nourishment to believers in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his body and blood (6:53-58).

Returning to the themes of manna and life-giving bread, Jesus compares himself as the bread of life with the manna.  The manna was a providential gift from the Lord to sustain the Israelites in the wilderness. But despite the wondrous nature, the manna did not give eternal life: Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died.  However, the bread of life from heaven does what the manna could not: it gives eternal life, so whoever eats this bread will live forever. The food that gives immortality is an allusion to the tree of life in the garden of Eden. According to Genesis, the tree of life’s fruit could give immortality. After their sin, God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden to keep them from eating this food (Gen 3:22-23). Now Jesus says that anyone who eats the bread he gives will live forever. Jesus opens the way to paradise and offers the food that gives immortality. 

Yours in Christ, 

Fr. Vincent Clemente


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