Jn. 6: 41 – 51 The Bread of Life Discourse [Continuing]
Fr. Ray Brown’s masterful Anchor Bible study of The Gospel According to John points out that there are two themes in the Bread of Life Discourse; one – the revelation of God in Jesus and the other is the Eucharist as the Bread of Life. Obviously the focus of this passage is on the Eucharist as the Bread of Life.
But we have a problem in hearing Jesus’ message; a problem that is due to a simple fact. We already have a set of ideas that communicates to each of us, differently, what the Eucharist means. And the meaning of the Eucharist for Catholics is a layered history that, unfortunately, is often times a history of the last few hundred years at best rather than the two thousand years of its actual history. But to every problem there is a solution.
The best way I know of entering into the meaning of John’s Jesus is to engage in a group discussion. In that context, the different meanings the we have from the reading come to light. Then questions can be asked, search for the actual words of the text requested [well required], and, it is during that process the meaning comes out. Otherwise, it is very likely that the passage will mean what it has always meant, reinforcing where we are rather than challenging us to move beyond ourself to a fuller self that God is calling us to become.
As you read, remember that for John “the Jews” is a technical term and doesn’t mean all the Jew then nor through out history. It is a term that John uses to identify those who both reject Jesus as the Messiah and are a seen as a threat to the young community’s identity and existence. For John who is writing to his community near the end of the first century, the rift between church and synagogue was real, personal, felt. Rising to the Level of our Times means to know that, make distinctions.
The disbelief expressed in this passage mirrors the disbelief that in the Synoptic accounts tells us occurred in Nazareth among Jesus’ own village community. They “knew” him which made it very difficult to “hear” him. We, actually, are much more likely to be like the disbelievers in this passage, not in that we disbelieve but that our belief makes it very hard to “hear” anything other than what confirms our belief. For the people of Nazareth it was very hard to “hear” a Jesus different from the one they thought they already “knew.” Something like this is going on with us today with regard to the Eucharist, let me explain.
Over the past 50 years or so, the meaning of the Eucharist has changed. Those changes emerged out of studies that predated the Vatican II by more than 50 years. The church recognized that we had grown out of touch with our much longer tradition of 2000 years. In response our church made a number of significant changes in our celebrations of the Eucharist. Just to mention a few changes our church made [by the way they didn’t ask us, they just made the changes.] So the church
- Turned the altar around
- Moved the tabernacle off the main altar
- Removed the communion rail, invited us to receive in our hands
- Celebrates the liturgy in our own language.
- Invited the creation of a whole new genre of music
- Required homilies to replace sermons [Very rarely has this actually happened.]
These were not, are not, incidental changes, minor things. They occurred, as I mentioned, because the meaning of the Eucharist for the global church had lost touch with its origins; origins measured by our two thousand year tradition not our two hundred year one. Now there is an effort to restore some of that prior meaning [pre-Vatican II]. So does the Eucharist mean what we grew up thinking it meant, does it mean what the changes in Vat. II were pointing to, does it mean what the latest set of changes infer. One simple example, did Jesus drink from a cup or a chalice? What difference does it make? Well, if makes no difference, why change to chalice? Something is going on, even if we don’t think so.
This brief slice of Catholic life as it is today is much closer to the kinds of things that John’s community was dealing with. He was struggling to lift his community out of the tradition that had formed his forefathers into a tradition that was being formed by the followers of Jesus. We are one of the first generation of Catholics to even know this, let alone do anything about it. And few indeed are those who know … Rise to the Level of our Time !!!
There is a subtle shift in characters from the previous passage to this one. Once again I will list the characters in our passage and ask the question, what role are they playing in the episode? As I say regularly, to understand the role of the characters is to begin with paying attention to what they say and do and what they don’t say and do but we would expect them to say and do under these circumstances. For example, we can’t really appreciate the murmuring that is reported if we can’t identify in our own life concretely when we murmured. If you have not murmured, you don’t have a clue to what is going on. To the characters:
- The crowd is now identified with “the Jews” – see above, please.
- Jesus [in John’s Gospel]
- is now thought of as the son of Joseph. They know his father and his mother.
- But Jesus says that it is the Father who has sent him; it’s only if you listen and learn from the Father, can you come to him. He is the only one who has seen the Father.
- He is the bread of life; the living bread come down from heaven. To eat this bread is not to die but to live forever.
- He is the one who will give his flesh for the life of the world.
- Disciples are not even mentioned in this passage
- A prophet is quoted.
- Jesus reminds them that their ancestors who ate the manna in the desert, nonetheless, have died.
Before we read though, let’s quiet ourselves, remember whatever we can from our previous readings, and, most importantly, pay attention to what happens inside of us as we read.
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said,
“I am the bread that came down from heaven,”
and they said,
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?
Do we not know his father and mother?
Then how can he say,
‘I have come down from heaven?'”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Stop murmuring among yourselves.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Your responses, questions, and / or comments are welcomed. You can add them by clicking on the comment link at the end of this post.