For a few weeks during Year B, the Sunday lectionary takes a break from the Gospel of Mark to bring us the Bread of Life discourse from the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Beginning with the multiplication of the loaves and fish, the narrative brings us to the next day, when Jesus is back at his home base in Capernaum, preaching in the synagogue. The people, stirred on by the previous day’s miracle, are coming to Him seeking more free food.
He proceeds to teach them about the Eucharist, the true bread from Heaven that they should seek. For many of us Catholics, the Bread of Life discourse is familiar – perhaps too familiar. I have to admit, at times my brain shuts off when I begin to hear the words, knowing what comes next. As we continue through the chapter for the next two Sundays, let us receive the Word with renewed zeal and pray for gift of gratitude for this teaching.
Gratitude that we hear it.
Many of my convert friends admit that they never heard a sermon on the Bread of Life discourse before becoming Catholic. Without a Eucharistic theology, John 6 is hard to explain, so it’s no wonder that it’s often skipped over when the pastor needs to choose the next sermon series. This Sunday, when there’s a temptation to zone out because I know what’s coming next (Jesus is going to talk about eating and feeding on his flesh five times in seven verses), I’m going to be grateful that we are hearing this beautiful Scripture proclaimed.
I’m also going to ask God to open my ears to hear something new. This past Sunday, my pastor pointed out that in the beginning of the discourse, Jesus focuses on teaching that He is divine. Unless we accept Jesus’ divinity, we can’t begin to understand how He can give us His flesh and blood. He speaks of coming down from Heaven, and He tells them that He is fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 54:13: “All your children shall be taught by the LORD.” As many times as I had read John 6 and heard it proclaimed at Mass, this was a new insight to me, and it reminded me once again how rich and living the Scriptures are.
Gratitude that we understand it.
If you don’t read John 6 with the eyes of faith, it might be tempting to explain it away as spiritual and symbolic language. The more we delve into it, we see that such an interpretation is difficult to square with the language Jesus was using (he uses a word that actually means to gnaw), His repetition, and His unwillingness to “correct” his listeners’ “misunderstanding” (who leaves a miracle worker over symbolic language?). We should be grateful that we understand what Jesus was saying – as much as we can understand it, anyway! But even an intellectual understanding doesn’t make acceptance easy. It’s a hard teaching, and we have to continually pray for those eyes of faith.
Gratitude that we can live it.
The Eucharist is our lifeblood as Christians, as Jesus reminds us again and again in the discourse. We must never take the gift of Jesus’ flesh and blood for granted, nor the gift of the priesthood that brings us the Eucharist. In this vale of tears, humans in the Church can cause plenty of them. But the Church brings me Jesus, and the Eucharist is our food for the journey through that vale. Even amidst the scandals in the Church, we must be grateful that sinful humans are capable of giving us the Eucharist, and we must be grateful to those men who sacrifice so much to act in the person of Christ for us.