Gospel: John 6:41-51
The Promise of Eternal Life
Do you have life insurance coverage? Why is such coverage important to you and your family?
"Life insurance is the bet you pay against your death."
The idea of life insurance is illogical but necessary in our society. Despite the mean jokes about insurance salespeople (and my apologies to lawyers, politicians, and car salespeople), they provide a valuable service. We pay them in life, so they will care for our loved ones if we should die unexpectedly. It's a gamble, but one many of us are willing to take.
If so many of us accept the illogic of life insurance, why do so few of us accept the offer Jesus makes: trust me and live forever. He makes us this offer in Eucharist.
41-42 Because Jesus said, "I am the bread that comes down from heaven," the people kept grumbling, "Isn't this Jesus, Joseph's son. Don't we know his father and mother? How can this Jesus now say that he comes down from heaven?"
44 "No one can come to me,
unless the Father who sent me
leads them to me.
45 It says in the Bible, 'God will teach everyone.'
Everyone who hears the Father and learns from him,
comes to me.
46 It's not that someone has seen the Father.
Only the One from God has seen the Father.
The one who trusts God has eternal life.
48 I am the bread of life.
49 In the desert, your ancestors ate manna (the bread God sent them),
and they still died.
50 But this is the bread that comes down from heaven.
If someone eats it, he will not die.
I am the living bread that has come down from heaven.
If someone eats this bread,
he will live forever.
Indeed, the bread I will give is my flesh
that will give true life to the world."
Like many other passages from John, this discourse wove many different themes together: the bread of heaven vs. manna, the source and witness of Jesus, the offer of eternal life. John artfully threaded these themes to present faith in its starkest terms.
41 The (people) were complaining about HIM because HE said, "I am the bread coming out of heaven." 42 They kept saying, "Is this not JESUS, the son of Joseph, of whom we know HIS father and mother? How does HE now say, 'from heaven I have come down'?"
6:41 "the (people)" is literally "the Jews." Since Jesus was a Jew speaking to Jews this statement might seem redundant. But, through the eyes of John's audience, the Jews were, at best, estranged brothers in faith. Jewish synagogues had ejected the followers of the Nazarene well before John's gospel appeared. John's gospel used the word "the Jews" to indicate Jewish communities controlled by the first century adversaries of the Christians, the Pharisees.
The gospel opened with discussion between Jesus and his audience in progress. The people "murmured" against the statement Jesus made. How could this local son claim so much? How could he hold himself so high as a prophet?
John used the "murmur" to compare the scene of Jesus' controversy with that of Moses' in Exodus 16:1-4:
They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and said to them, "Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." Then the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not."
In a subtle way, John drew two contexts together. In both scenes, the people "murmured." In both scenes, God offered the people "bread from heaven." However, here the similarities ended. In the scene with Moses, God gave the people bread in response to their complaints. In the scene with Jesus, the people complained in response to God's offer itself.
43 JESUS answered and said to them, "Do not complain with each other. 44 No one is able to come toward ME unless the one the Father who sent ME leads (to me). I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, 'All will be taught by God.' All having heard and having learned from the Father comes toward me. 46 Not that some one has seen the Father except the ONE who was from God. This ONE has seen the Father. 47 Amen, Amen, I say to you, the one who trusts has eternal life.
6:43 "who sent ME" is actually a participle. This is an awkward sentence in English. But, clearly, no one can come to God unless God leads him or her through the Spirit. The spiritual life is God's initiative, not ours.
6:45 "It is written in the prophets, 'All will be taught by God.'" This is a loose translation of Isaiah 54:13. In context, second Isaiah spoke of God's initiative among his people. God's activity would be blessing for the remnant returning from Babylon to Judea. Jesus used this verse to remind his audience that God still kept his promise, even in spite of their skepticism.
Instead of God commanding silence from his people, Jesus himself called for attention. The Galilean spoke for God. He had the power of the Father, for his ministry began as God's initiative. (If "I will raise him up on the last day" is dropped from 6:44-45, both verses refer to God's activity in the ministry of Jesus.) Indeed, following Jesus itself came as a gift from God.
How could Jesus claim such the support of God? Because Jesus (and only Jesus) came from the Father and had "seen" the Father. Jesus found his source directly in the Father. Hence, he claimed to witness for the Father (for he "had seen God and lived"). The power of resurrection stemmed from Jesus' source and witness (6:43b and 6:47).
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate manna in the desert and died. 50 This is the bread coming down from heaven so that someone might eat from it and he might not die. 51 I am the living bread having come down from heaven. If someone eats this bread, he will live into the (final) age. (Indeed,) the bread I will give is my flesh on behalf of life of the world"
6:51 "(Indeed)" is literally "also...but" This added emphasis to the statement.
The image of bread threaded the themes from 6:44-46 together: God's initiative in the ministry of Jesus, the source and witness of Jesus, and the power to raise up the faithful. As THE food staple, bread represented life. As the heavenly bread, Jesus would feed the world by 1) "coming down from heaven" (a reference to his source and witness) and 2) giving bread to the faithful so that "he might eat and not die" and might "live into the final age" (a reference to the resurrection).
Ultimately, the Father gave this bread (i.e., the life of Jesus) for "the life of the world." In other words, salvation became an extension of creation, for the death and resurrection of Christ would usher in a new time and new creation. Followers would receive the "bread of life" as a result of the Father's invitation.
Catechism Theme: The Eucharist: Pledge of the Glory to Come (CCC 1402-1405)
The "Bread of Life" is a foretaste and a promise of life with God. When we receive the Body of Christ in Communion, we taste the Kingdom. We respond to the invitation of the Father to come to his table, we "feast" upon the life of his Son, and we "inebriate" ourselves with the Spirit. Although what we receive is veiled in the form of bread and wine, it points toward a time of fulfillment, when a new heaven and a new earth will appear, when God's people will be gathered to praise his name and live in his very life.
What spiritual experiences have you had in Communion? How has the Eucharist helped you live, renewed your faith, and given you hope?
What a life insurance policy Jesus offers us! In the bread and wine of Eucharist, he gives us the means to life everlasting. It is not a hedge against the unexpected, but a sure promise that we will live despite what will happen.
The cost is so small, yet so few want to pay. It seems parting with our money is easier than parting with our trust. Yet, who else should we trust with our lives?
Who else should we trust? On a piece of paper, write down a list of the people you trust in life in one column. In the other column, write down why you trust them. Where does God fit on that sheet? Use this exercise as a reflection on the place of God in life and his offer to you that the Eucharist represents.