John VI: 27-46
Today’s Gospel actually overlaps with the one read on the first Sunday in Amshir as it begins with verse 27 with which the other lection concluded, where our Lord warned the multitude not to labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life. They asked him what they must do to do the works of God and the Lord responds by telling them that they must believe in Him whom He has sent. They understand that He is referring to Himself, so their response is to ask Him what sign He will give them that they may believe in him. They reminded him that Moses had given them manna – a miraculous food – during their wandering in the wilderness, rather forgetting that in spite of it providing sustenance on a daily basis for 40 years, they had been notably unappreciative of this miracle and had complained about it, saying they loathed this “light bread”. Our Lord tells them that it was not Moses who gave them the bread; but that the true bread from heaven comes from His father and gives life to the world. It is clear from their answer, imploring that He gives them this bread always, that they are still thinking in material terms. We recognise the same response in the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well when our Lord tells her that whoever drinks of that water shall never thirst and she initially thought that He meant natural water.
However, He declares that He Himself is the bread of life and all who come to Him shall not hunger and those who believe in Him shall never thirst. He makes it quite clear that He is not talking of physical bread which merely satisfies bodily hunger; but he is talking of that bread which as St Cyril of Alexandria states, “refashions the entire living being to eternal life. The human being, who has been created for eternal life, is now given power over death.” St Cyril goes on to explain this rather well by asking the question, “what then does Christ promise?” It is nothing corruptible, like earthly food, but rather “that blessing in the participation of His holy flesh and blood that restores humanity wholly to incorruption so that it should need none of the things that normally drive off the death of the flesh, for example, food and drink” and goes on to encourage the faithful to regular communion lest “they exclude themselves from eternal life in as much as they decline to be enlivened.”
The motivation of love which underpins the incarnation is movingly expressed by our Lord’s words, “this is the will of the father who sent me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day” and “then everyone who sees the son and believes in Him may have everlasting life.”
Sadly, they still fail to comprehend his meaning and murmur among themselves asking how He can talk about coming down from heaven when He is the son of Joseph and Mary. How are we to understand the fact that some people so readily opened their hearts and accepted our Lord’s ministry, whilst others appear to have been deaf and blind to all that he said and did ?
Perhaps the key for us in understanding this are His words towards the end of this passage, “No one can come to me unless the father who sent me draws him.” This image of people being ‘given’ or ‘drawn’ by God shows that belief is no accident and is certainly not the work of human reasoning. It is indeed a gift and, like all gifts it is free. But why, we may ask ourselves, do some receive the gift and others do not? Is it like some divine lottery? Saint Augustine suggests that it depends on our state of heart and that the humble person who delights in the truth, and seeks after blessedness and righteousness will be drawn to God by love. He writes, “Give me one who loves, who longs, who burns, who sighs for the source of his being and his eternal home, and he will know what I mean.” True goodness is actually a very compelling and attractive quality but we sometimes find it difficult to recognise it because the people we expect to manifest it, don’t seem to be any better than the rest of us, and the answer is they’re probably not, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans III: 23). Yet equally even the most difficult people we encounter will have some redeeming quality and be capable of some selfless act, some little kindness, some inner integrity.”
In the Song of Solomon (III: 1-2) we read, “By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him. ‘I will rise now,’ I said, ‘and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love.’ I sought him, but I did not find him.” The church has always understood this as representing the yearning of the soul for God with some writers suggest that the night symbolises our spiritual darkness through the absence of God. I have always loved the words of the 18th century hymnographer, Bishop Thomas Ken,
“Heaven is, dear Lord, where’er Thou art
O never then from me depart;
For to my soul ‘tis hell to be
But for one moment void of Thee.”
May we all recognise that call from God and let it draw us ever closer to Him that we may find Him and by receiving spiritual nourishment may be raised up on the last day and have everlasting life.