I Kgs 19:4-8, Eph 4:30–5:2, Jn 6:41-51
Homily starter anecdote: # 1: Insatiable thirst for fountain of youth: Shortly after Columbus discovered America, rumors spread in Spain that the New World contained a fountain of youth. A sixteenth century Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, first Governor of Puerto Rico, fitted a ship and sailed to America to search for this legendary fountain but never found it. Cocoon is a 1985 American science-fiction fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Ron Howard about a group of elderly people rejuvenated by aliens. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocoon_(film). In the movie ‘Cocoon‘ there is a group of senior citizens. These old people experienced a return to their youth when they bathed in a swimming pool used by aliens from another planet. Their exciting experience prompted them to accept an invitation from the aliens to go back with them to their planet. The senior citizens were told that once they reached the alien planet, they would live forever. In today’s Gospel Jesus promises a fountain of youth claiming that those who eat the Bread from Heaven will live forever. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
Introduction: We are living in a world where people of all races and creeds hunger more for spiritual sustenance than for physical food. In response to the spiritual hunger of people in his own day, Jesus, in today’s Gospel passage from John 6, proclaims himself to be “the Bread of Life that came down from heaven.” It is through Jesus, the bread of life, that we have access to the Divine life during our earthly pilgrimage to God. The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, which contains Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, begins with Jesus’ miraculous feeding of his five thousand hungry listeners in a deserted place to satisfy their bodily hunger.
Scripture lessons summarized: Today’s Gospel offers us part of Jesus’ discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum on his return there after his miraculous feeding of the five thousand. During the discourse, Jesus reveals himself as the true “Bread of Life that came down from Heaven,” to give life to the world. “Manna” was God’s gift rained down “from Heaven” upon the Israelites to prolong their earthly life. Jesus proclaims himself the new and perfect manna, the Incarnate Son of God, literally “come down from Heaven.” This means that the Bread we consume in the Eucharist is more than just a guarantee that one day we’ll have eternal life. It actually gives us a share in that eternal life while we are still on earth. But some of those who had just witnessed Jesus’ ability to supply them with earthly food would turn away when he explained the source of his mysterious power and his Heavenly origin. The first reading describes the physical and spiritual hungers experienced by the prophet Elijah. In this reading, the Bread of Life Jesus speaks about is prefigured by the miraculous food with which the angel nourished the Prophet Elijah in the desert while he was fleeing from the soldiers of Queen Jezebel. After being nourished by the Lord, Elijah was strengthened for the long journey of forty days to Mount Horeb where God had given Moses the Ten Commandments. The refrain for today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 34), “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” invites us to come to Him in our fears and afflictions and discover how blessed we are when we “take refuge in Him.” The second reading presents Christ Jesus, the “Bread of Life,” as a “sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that, instead of seeking satisfaction in anger, slander, bitterness and malice, they are to nourish one another with compassion, kindness and mutual forgiveness. It is Faith that strengthens us to live in this way, doing the right thing in our relationships with others, in a world filled with terror and violence and in a Church marked by betrayal and disillusionment.
First reading, 1 Kings 19:4-8, explained: King Ahab of Israel married a pagan queen, Jezebel, who imported pagan worship into Israel. The prophet Elijah challenged 450 of the pagan god Baal’s prophets, defeated them in a public sacrifice-contest and killed all of them. The furious Queen Jezebel sent soldiers to kill the prophet. Today’s first reading expresses Elijah’s discouragement and frustration as he fled for his life. Collapsed in the only available shade, Elijah fell into a sleep of exhaustion while awaiting release through a speedy death. God heard His prophet’s prayer and sent an angel to feed him and strengthen him in his flight. The miraculous food provided by God sustained him through a 40-day pilgrimage to Horeb (Mount Sinai), where Elijah would be commissioned again as God’s prophet to carry on the struggle and to anoint his successor. Like Elijah, all of us learn to recognize our weakness and frailty and are able to experience God’s empowering grace which is capable of transforming our powerlessness and discouragement. The lectionary compares God’s strengthening of his prophet by the miraculously-provided food with His strengthening of us in our pilgrimage to Heaven by the Bread from Heaven, namely, the Holy Eucharist.
Second Reading, Ephesians 4:30-5:2, explained: The second reading contains St. Paul’s practical advice for peaceful, communal Christian living among former enemies, namely, the now-converted Jews and the converted Gentiles. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that their discipleship must be guided by the virtues of compassion and forgiveness, avoiding “bitterness, fury, shouting and reviling which would grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” That is how they should offer their lives as sacrifices pleasing to God, just as Jesus, “the Bread from Heaven,” offered himself as a “sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” It is Faith that strengthens us to live this way, doing the right thing in our relationships with others, in a world filled with terror and violence and in a Church marked by betrayal and disillusionment. Baptized Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to embrace, understand and meet the challenges of a committed life. To that end, bitterness, anger, slander and malice need to be uprooted in order to give “root room” for the kindness, compassion and mutual forgiveness that are to characterize believers in Jesus.
Gospel exegesis: Jesus’ unique claims: Jesus makes a series of unique claims in today’s Gospel passage: 1) “I am the Living Bread that came down from Heaven.” 2)” I am the Bread of Life.” 3) “The Bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world.” 4)“No one can come to me unless the Father Who sent me draw him.” 5)“I will raise him on the last day.” 6) “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God.” In short, Christ Jesus reveals himself as God and as the “Bread of Life from Heaven,” sent by the Father for our salvation.
Jesus’ claims challenged: Jesus’ Jewish listeners could hardly contain themselves when Jesus claimed to be the “Bread of Life” (v. 35) who “came down from Heaven” (v. 38). They thought they knew his father and mother (v. 42) and saw him as just another hometown boy – a carpenter by profession without any formal training in Mosaic Laws and Jewish Scriptures. They could remember when he had moved from Nazareth to Capernaum with a band of unknown disciples, mostly fishermen. Hence, they came to the natural conclusion: “either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse” (C. S. Lewis).
The complaint launched: In today’s portion of the lengthy Bread of Life discourse (49 of Chapter Six’s 71 verses), John re-emphasizes the similarities and contrasts between the old “manna in the wilderness” experience and this new notion of a “Bread of Life” that is directly tied to Jesus. In verse 41, John’s noting of the Jewish identity of the “complaining” crowd recalls for us their own unique history. Those listening to Jesus began to “murmur” against Jesus and his gifts of Heavenly Bread even as the ancient Israelites began to “murmur” or “complain” against Moses — first out of hunger (Exodus 16:2,7,12), then against the monotony of the manna diet (Numbers 11:4-6). [Many scientists think that these “flakes” were formed from honeydew secreted by a certain insect that fed on the sap of tamarisk trees (yum!). In the dry desert air, most of the moisture in the honeydew quickly evaporated, leaving sticky droplets of the stuff on plants and the ground.] Like the Israelites, we, too, complain when God fails to meet our expectations. Since the Exodus, manna has been the symbol of God’s providence and love for the Jewish people.
Jesus’ response: Jesus knew that the Jews were upset about his explanation that the multiplication of bread and fish signified that he himself was the Heavenly Bread that gives eternal Life. Jesus challenged the Jews to take a journey of Faith by seeing him, not as the son of Joseph, but as the one who came down from Heaven. Saying, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me …” Jesus told his listeners, and tells us, that everyone who has become his follower has done so because God the Father has called him or her to Jesus. It is an act of God that has brought us to follow the way of Jesus. Faith is a gift. To follow Jesus is to live by Faith: to believe in and use the means necessary to make those radical changes to one’s lifestyle that being a believer demands. Then Jesus offered the ultimate reassurance to every one of us who believes: “I will raise him up on the last day” (cf. vv.39, 40, 44, 54). This persistent theme serves to remind the reader/listener that only Jesus, the true Bread of Life, can impart the gift of eternal Life to the faithful. Jesus is a source of Life for us, giving himself to us by his own self-sacrificing love. Christ, the Bread of Life, is the love, justice and compassion of God incarnate. As Jesus, the “Bread of life,” has given and still gives “Life” to the world through his selfless compassion for, and humble servanthood to, others, we, too, can give that “Life to the world” when we look beyond our own needs and security to the good of others, giving from our treasure and even from our poverty, nourishing one another in the love, compassion and selflessness of the Gospel Jesus.
Faith in practice: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” Here Jesus clarifies that listening to God, and learning from God are key factors in our seeking Jesus and in our growing into strong believers and faithful servants of Jesus. The Good News is that God is willing to be present in our midst and to teach us. Jesus supports this point quoting Scripture, “And they shall be taught by God.”
The Holy Eucharist foreshadowed: Jesus’ dialogue with the Jews no longer deals with manna, but with His very Person: the Revealer who brings us God’s salvation. Although John’s Chapter 6 does not name the Holy Eucharist, Jesus’ words remind us of the centrality of the Eucharist as the primary source of our spiritual nourishment. Jesus knows quite well that we need both spiritual and physical food for life’s journey. He offers both to us. Thus, the meal that we share at the Eucharistic table provides the food for this journey (“viaticum”). Furthermore, He tells us that this Bread from Heaven is His Flesh, given for the life of the world. The Jews, as well as Jesus’ disciples, understood that he was speaking literally when he said that His Body was food. This statement appeared to some as outrageous and impossible. Later in the discourse Jesus, will insist that His words must be accepted literally, and that His Father will draw men to accept them. Hence let us accept Jesus as the Heavenly Bread, medicine for the sick soul, nourishment for a wounded spirit, light and strength for a weary mind and the source of new and eternal life.
The Bread from Heaven is also the word of God: In the Bible, bread appears several times as an image of wisdom, or Divine revelation: Isaiah says “You who have no money, come, receive bread and eat” (55:1-3); Proverbs invites everyone, “Come, eat of my bread“(9:1-6), and Sirach says, “Whoever fears the Lord and holds to the law will obtain wisdom… She will feed him with the bread of learning.“(15:1-3). This should make a lot of sense to us, because we read books and watch movies and television to learn about life (hopefully) and to increase our knowledge. In the same way, we need to read, reflect and pray over the Word of God privately so that it can nourish our souls and be our true “soul food”.
Life messages: 1) We need to eat the Living Bread from Heaven and be one with Jesus to become bread and drink for others: Jesus wants us to eat him because he IS Bread. “You are what you eat?” Jesus is Bread and he wants us to eat his Flesh. Thus, we bring him into the core of our being. He is ready to come into our lives, regardless of who we have been, or how unqualified we feel. Let us live the life of Faith … making changes so that He becomes the staple food of our spiritual life, not a side dish. Let us be people who recognize that Jesus, whom we consume, is actually God Who assimilates us into His being. Then, from Sunday to Saturday we will grow into Jesus, as he grows in us, our lives will be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we will become more like him. Thus, we shall share in the joyous and challenging life of being the Body of Christ for the world – Bread for a hungry world, and Drink for those who thirst for justice, peace, fullness of life, and even eternal life.
2) We need to accept the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist as an inspiring challenge. Based on sound tradition and the centuries-long teaching of the Magisterium, the Roman Catholic Church has consistently held fast to the belief in the Real Presence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the other sacraments as the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all sacraments tend.” In this most blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist “the Body and Blood, together with the soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ, is truly, really, and substantially contained” (CCC #1374). The Fathers of the Church explain that, while ordinary food is assimilated into man, the very opposite takes place in Holy Communion. Here man is assimilated into the Bread of Life. Hence, let us learn to receive Jesus, really present in the Eucharist, with due reverence, true repentance, proper preparation and grateful hearts. Let us remember that Holy Communion a) increases our intimate union with Christ; b) preserves, increases, and renews the Sanctifying Grace received at Baptism; c) cleanses us from past sin and preserves us from future sins; d) strengthens the theological virtue of Charity in us, thus enabling us to be separated from our disordered attachments and to be rooted in Christ; and e) unites us more deeply to the mystery of the Church.
3) We need to appreciate God’s love for us expressed in the Holy Eucharist. Pope John Paul II taught: “The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Presence of Christ, who gives himself to us because he loves us. He loves each one of us in a unique and personal way in our practical daily lives: in our families, among our friends, at study and work, in rest and relaxation. He loves us when he fills our days with freshness, and also when, in times of suffering, He allows trials to weigh upon us: even in the most severe trials, He lets us hear his voice. To celebrate the Eucharist, ‘to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood,’ means to accept the wisdom of the Cross and the path of service. It means that we signal our willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others, as Christ has done” Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (Holy Thursday, April 17, 2003).
4) We are participating in Christ in the Eucharistic celebration: The “Sacrifice of the Altar” is our participation in the entirety of Christ – his life, his ministry, his crucifixion and death for our sins, his Resurrection, and his Ascension to Heaven. We unite with him by offering our lives to him so that he ministers to the world through us. We sacrifice our will whenever and wherever it interferes with his, which results in our being raised up to new Life as we follow Christ to Heaven. Every Catholic Mass accomplishes this by providing us with our living Savior’s Body and Blood, crucified and Risen, here and now, in the form of edible food. As Pope St. John Paul II pointed out in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “The Second Vatican Council rightly proclaimed that the Eucharistic banquet of Mass is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’.” (Fr. Anthony Kadavil).