Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Loya, James.jpeg

Joseph A. Loya, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

1 Kgs 19:4-8
Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Eph 4:30–5:2
Jn 6:41-51

I begin with a personal confession: The Gospel of John is the most difficult of the four Gospels for me to comprehend. As with many other Scripture readers, I more easily and quickly take to the swirling, colorful and noisy action scenes that characterize the Gospel of Mark. Luke painted beautiful and solemn word tableaus in mind and heart (especially beloved are his scenes related to the Christmas story). To read Matthew is to sit upon a mount at the feet of the Greatest Teacher, One Who instructs through references to familiar examples from daily life. In John’s Gospel one encounters significant and profound extended discourses employing powerful – and challenging – symbols and metaphors.

Today’s passage is set in the synagogue at Capernaum. Some of Jesus’ disciples were included amid the general audience that listened to His preaching. It is a scene which itself is set in the Gospel of John shortly after Our Lord fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, followed by His walking on water to the western side of the Sea of Galilee. Crowds pursued Him by boat to search Him out. His words in Capernaum encompass a teaching known as “The Bread of Life.” The ones whom Our Lord is addressing were stymied by His words of Good News; certainly, they were not yet ready to realize that they were in the presence of the “Logos,” the “Good Word” that Jesus WAS in His being. Upon hearing His words, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” the confounded and unsettled listeners raised questions among themselves that seemed to them completely natural and thus appropriate: Before He says anything more, is this not a man we know? Is this not the man we know by the name of Jesus? Do we not know from whence He came? Do we not know that His father’s name is Joseph? Do we not also know His mother? How then can He say, “I have come down from heaven”?

A preeminent Christian orator of the 4th to early 5th centuries, Saint Archbishop John Chrysostom (Chrysostom means “golden-mouthed,” owing to his preaching prowess), urged hearers of today’s Gospel to realize that in this very type of natural questioning, members of Jesus’s audience revealed their openness to receiving spiritual and saving supernatural truth. (Were they to simply ignore Him and go about their business, no Good News could be received.) Before the reception of His spiritual truth, all such natural questioning must cease, thus Our Lord’s command, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.” Then Christ speaks His Message and His Truth:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day…..
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died….
I am the [spiritual] 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.

 Please be aware that in a verse that soon follows today’s appointed verses, John conveys that many of His own disciples (!) said among themselves, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Again, from the sainted golden-mouthed Archbishop: “He calls Himself the bread of life, because He maintains our life both which is and which is to be, and says, Whosoever shall eat of this bread shall live forever. By bread He means here either His saving doctrines and the faith which is in Him, or His own Body.”

From our present post-Resurrection, baptized-in-faith station, we can hear and appreciate, plus offer thanksgiving as we do in every Mass, that Jesus’ Self-identification as the Bread of Life refers to the Holy Communion we receive for the restoration and transformation of humanity and all of creation. Thus, through faith, the subject of Christ’s “hard saying” in the synagogue – The Bread of Life – is His True Eucharistic Presence and our nourishment unto eternal glory. As the Responsorial Psalm bids, let us “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”