Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jn. 6: 51 – 58 The Bread of Life Discourse [Continuing]

Background

This passage concludes the church’s focus on the Bread of Life Discourse from John’s Gospel. We may notice that the passage begins by repeating the last verse from last Sunday’s reading and excludes the last verse in the biblical version of this passage; v. 59 which reads: “These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.”

Although this verse [v. 59] isn’t even in our reading, I think it offers a clear example of the challenge in hearing God’s word; discerning what is temporal and what is eternal in God’s word. This verse makes clear the setting in which John places Jesus’ great message on Bread of Life Discourse – in the synagogue. Now “the synagogue” speaks to John’s community who have experienced a real, personal, break with their brother and sister Jews in the synagogue. In a way what “the synagogue” communicated to first generation Christians is very concrete to their situation. The question to ask can, should, this break up, strife, etc. be generalized? Our answer probably would be no. But historically has our answer been no?

When we think of all the strife and struggle between Christians and Jews that have occurred over the centuries; and add to that the strife between Christians and Muslims there is an underlying tow to the message that, in my opinion, actually distorts the very message that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are inviting us to incarnate, make real, live. In other words our very historical and social reality further complicate the challenge to hear God’s message. What was historical to the first generation of Christians was not necessarily what was the eternal word of God. How do we discern, then? Let me offer a suggestion.

It wasn’t until the Second Vatican Council, that the universal salvific intention of God’s plan was given great prominence. So we can read in Gaudium and Spes, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, at paragraph 22, the following:

All this [the redemptive act of Christ] holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way.(31) For, since Christ died for all men,(32) and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery. [Emphasis Added]

The “paschal mystery” is being offered to every man [human being.] This is a vision that spans 2000 years but is not spelled out till the last 100 years and is yet to be understood, believed, and, most importantly, lived by the social group that is the church; that is not to say that individual Christians have not lived it out. It is a call from our passage to this day into our future; the true meaning of a 2000 year old tradition, alive and inviting, summoning, beckoning. Who can this God be who loves all of us so . . .

Now let us turn to that passage in its detail, read maybe in the light of the previous few paragraphs. Our too familiar questions: first who are the characters and what are their roles, when does this occur, and what is the plot, theme, purpose of this passage; these are our basic questions but there are others, many others.

Our Characters

  1. It is the crowd later are identified again as “the Jews,” who are quarreling among themselves but with a quite sensible question, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” [What can this mean?]
  2. Jesus who dominates the passage as the one who speaks throughout nearly the whole of the passage. [It is only in John that Jesus speaks such as this.]
  3. Father – again it is Jesus who speaks of the “living Father [who] sent me and I have life because of the Father.”
  4. Ancestors – who ate and still died. [But how did the Christians understand this in light of the fact that they too were dying?]

My refrain:

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 Reading

Jesus said to the crowds:
“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.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Your responses, questions, and / or comments are welcomed. You can add them by clicking on the comment link at the end of this post.

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4 Responses to Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

  1. Tim S. says:

    When I was younger, I never looked at what Jesus said from the view point of the crowd. I imagine that many turned away from Jesus saying, “What is this guy talking about…canibalism?!”. We know today, that He was talking about the Eucharist, but I imagine this confused many back then.

  2. Dick says:

    Tim,
    As I mentioned in my background, we already have a determined understanding of what the “Eucharist” means. I would think that if each of our group were to state what it means to them, we would discover some common, shared meaning but a lot of different meanings too. And none of those meanings existed in the community that first heard Jesus nor even the first generation of Christians. In fact, the notes point out something, [6:54–58] Eats: the verb used in these verses is not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: “munch,” “gnaw.” This may be part of John’s emphasis on the reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus (cf. Jn 6:55), but the same verb eventually became the ordinary verb in Greek meaning “eat.”.

    Also in my background, I attempted to invite us to think what this passage could mean for all human beings, not just for Catholics with their defined meaning already given by our church even if not understood commonly, nor for Christians who have an even more diverse meaning of the “Bread of Life Discourse” but for all human beings. In other words, what was the Vatican II first telling us is a teaching of our church, and secondly indicating that “only God knows” how, which leaves us with the question, well how?

  3. Tim S. says:

    Dick,
    To tell the truth, I’ve always had trouble with the Eucharist being the actual body and blood of Christ. Maybe it is the scientist in me that struggles with it. I don’t know. So, what the Eucharist means to me…conflict and struggle. Recently, I have come to accept it. And in the past I have had a healing experience after I took the sacriment. It is one of the mysteries that I struggle with.

  4. Dick says:

    Tim,
    It might help if we ask a different question first. What did Jesus mean when he said that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst”? Or what did it mean when Paul heard Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” In each of these and in many other passages, there is some kind of identification between Christ and other people. Maybe the most challenging for me is “I was hungry, thirsty, sick, in prison … whatever you did to these the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me.”

    These like the Eucharist are a question of meaning. What can they mean? Let me know what you think? Remember we believe that Jesus is both God and man, even today; that is at the heart of our Christian faith. As Paul said, if Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain. [empty] Of all people we are the most to be pitied. Just to be clear, I firmly believe that Jesus rose from the dead, that he is God’s very Son and that he is like us in all things except sin. Plus a few other things …

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