April 17, 2003: Homily- John 6: 23-29

AFTER JESUS WASHED THE FEET OF HIS DISCIPLES HE SAID TO THEM: "DO YOU KNOW WHAT I HAVE DONE TO YOU?" Because they did not understand he explained that they were to serve one another rather than seek advantage from others. Only in this way would they prove worthy followers of him who was about to give his life for all of us. Earlier in his Gospel John records a long discussion on the Eucharist in which Jesus also seeks to impart a more elevated motivation to his hearers and goes on to explain that he will give his body to be their food unto everlasting life.

WORK FOR THE FOOD THAT LASTS FOREVER. With these words our Lord sought to raise the horizons of his audience from material concerns to spiritual realities. More specifically, he has in mind to create the desire for a communion with his person. For, as he subsequently makes clear, faith in in the Eucharist is faith in his person. The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.... I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in will never thirst. This doctrine proved to be too elevated for the crowd who had seen the miraculous powers of Jesus manifested the day before in the multiplication of the loaves. Even many of his disciples found this teaching too much for them. The proclamation of Jesus’ claim to be the heavenly bread that bestows unending life not only on the soul but also on the body became a test of faith.

This teaching was already adumbrated in the sacred writings and in Jewish tradition. Ben Sirach states that He (God) gave them knowledge and the Torah of life as their heritage (17:11) and in 4 Ezra 14:30 the Jewish author refers to the Bread of Life. The Torah was referred to quite simply as bread by Rabbi Jehosua in his interpretation of Proverbs 9: 5 where Wisdom says: Eat of my bread (cf. Strach-Billerbeck Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 2:483). Jesus as Teacher of the Father’s sending imparts the bread of life in his words. In the Eucharist, he himself becomes the life-giving bread, source of a new, divine life.

The liturgy presents this passage of the Gospel to us during the Easter Season by a deliberate design. We do well to reflect on it today, Holy Thursday, when the Eucharist was instituted. Faith in the Eucharist is intimately associated with the death of our Lord, but even more with faith in the resurrection itself. The Eucharist depends entirely on the resurrection, for it consists in the risen, glorified body of the living Lord Jesus. Both these mysteries, The Eucharist and the death and resurrection, when first announced met with unbelief on the part of the majority of disciples. In neither instance, however, did the Lord soften his words so as to modify the demands made on faith. At the resurrection, he ate in the presence of his apostles and showed them his wounds to demonstrate the reality of his flesh and to convey the identity of his person with the Master who had taught them. In his discourse on the Eucharist, he insists all the more that this bread he offers is truly living body and blood. Consequently, it is his full divinity and his living, glorified humanity at the same times.

In other passages of St. John’s Gospel we are reminded of this same fundamental truth. He who drinks of the water that I will give will not thirst in all eternity, he declared to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob (John 4: 13, 14). I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will not die in eternity John 12: 25, 26).

In the course of the discourse with the crowd who pursued him because he had fed them with a miraculous bread, Jesus urges his hearer to labor for the bread that is eternal. Later when they ask him what they must do to perform the work that God requires of them, he gives a reply that is calculated to make us reflect: This is the work of God that you believe in the one he sent. Belief in the Lord Jesus does indeed require labor, the work of the heart. This interior work is no less a struggle against the thoughts of the flesh and of this world than that bodily labor by which a person struggles to obtain the necessities of life, symbolized by bread. Belief in the Eucharist requires a confrontation with the worldly mind-set that narrows down the possibilities of life to what is material and even visible. Proof that satisfies our limited intelligence is not forthcoming for any of the divine mysteries. But faith in the person of our Lord, in his word and in his authority, opens up the inner eye of the heart to behold divine truth and to discern in them the gift of a higher, nobler life that is limitless because it is a sharing in the glorified state of our risen Savior. All that we do to maintain and deepen our faith in these mysteries is the work of God. May we spend the best of our energies, our time and our labor in striving to obtain this bread that so nourishes us as to enable us to grow into citizens of the Kingdom of God.

  Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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