Aug 11, 2012

19th Sunday: Food for our Journey

"I am the living bread . . . from heaven"
1 Kng 19: 4-8
Eph 4: 30 – 5:2
Jn 6: 41-51

This past week we have witnessed an impressive display of power.  It is quite literally something outside this world.  A car-sized rover, after travelling for more than eight months and hundreds of millions of miles out into deep space beyond our precious home we call Earth, landed at a precise location on that closest red planet called Mars.  If one sat down and calculated all the possible scenarios for this perilous journey, it is a wonder both of scientific technology and impressive human genius.

Yet, despite all that expended power, it will not last forever.  That probe, traversing around that strange world, will need to recharge itself. And, like the more basic water we drink and the food we eat, eating recharges our batteries as we say. Fortunately, our folks at NASA are not strapped with searching how to supply water and food to humans on that space vehicle.

Our Gospel this Sunday provides for us an insight into what became and perhaps still is among Jesus’ most challenging teachings. Our Lord promises spiritual nourishment that will last forever: “I am the bread of life” he proclaims “. . . this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die . . .” Here Jesus compares himself to the generous manna from heaven of which we heard last Sunday. Jesus is like that food, provided by God for the wandering people in the desert with Moses, which gave them power for their journey ahead.  Likewise, he had provided water for them to drink; more food for their journey.

Then Jesus adds: “. . . whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  Now that is a food we would all enjoy - that which gives eternal life. To our Catholic ears we may hear an allusion to the Eucharist – the sacred Body and Blood of Christ.  However, to those of Jesus’ time, what they heard was scandalous, blasphemous, or mad on the part of Jesus. 

“How can he say I have come down from heaven?” the crowds wondered.  They knew his parents, Mary and Joseph.  “He’s just one of us!” they implied.  Yes, true but far more which they did not see, accept, or simply didn’t realize. There is the point of John’s Gospel and a challenge for us today. Do we see it?

To help us understand, John makes an important connection with the Old Testament.  It may help us to confirm our faith as it did for the early Christians.  That Jesus Christ is indeed “from heaven” and faith in him is food for our journey.

But, the people “murmured” about Jesus.  So too did the early Hebrew people in the desert complain about thirst and mutter to Moses about starvation.  Moses turned to God with whom he had a personal relationship and God, from heaven, provided for them.

Likewise, in the first reading we hear of the prophet Elijah, hiding in the desert in fear of his life after he killed the pagan prophets of Baal, about to despair.  Elijah relinquishes all his prophetic power and just wants to die.  But, God intervenes through his angel and provides for Elijah, food and water to drink, for his continued journey.

All this seems as background to the Gospel. Far more what Jesus supplies, his own person, his mission of death and resurrection, is like but more than water to drink, manna and quail to eat, or bread and fish to feed thousands along the hillsides of Galilee.  All this came from God.   Jesus from heaven like the manna now provides himself as the food – “bread from heaven to eat.”

We profess our loyalty to live in Christ and by Christ. In him we find food for our spiritual life journey.  The Eucharist is the place we go, the food we eat, for our journey.  There we find a real time encounter with the risen Lord in our midst and the people of God, our brothers and sisters in the faith, who are made into a community by Christ which lives in and through him.

But, this Sunday, it seems, we are called to reflect on our own perceptions of what Jesus has made.  We forget that the Church is both divine and human.  We murmur like the ancient people who could not see past Jesus’ humanity - “Who does he think he is saying these things?”

All we may see and become disturbed by is the sin of the Church – the human dimension in constant need of reform. If all we see is scandal, arrogant leadership, poor pastors and abuse of power, then we may as well despair like Elijah. But we forget the divine presence in the Church which makes it Holy. We don’t see beyond the humanity.

John’s Gospel invites us today to look beyond and look in to the fullness of who Jesus is: God from God, light from light, true God from true God.  If we do that, then Jesus and living in him and through him in his Church is the bread that provides power to “live forever.” 
Almighty ever-living God,
whom, taught by the Holy Spirit,
we dare to call our Father,
bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts
the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters,
that we may merit to enter into the inheritance
which you have promised.
(Collect for Sunday)