XIX Ordinary Time
San José Parish
August 9, 2015
Two weeks into this long conversation between Jesus and the crowd of Jews, the famous “Bread of Life Discourse,” and we may very well ask ourselves this question: What does this reading have to do with real life? What’s it to me? Who cares? A tough but fair question. When we hear passages of this sort from the Bible, we are caught between two extremes: either complete boredom or pious reverence. The key, however, to make such passages come alive again rests in the murmuring Jewish crowds.
We pick up today with the murmuring of those incredulous crowds. When we hear about the unbelieving Jews in the NT, it is all too easy for us to condemn them or to dismiss them for the obvious truths they are turning away from in Jesus. We don’t understand what their hang up is. Yet, the Jews scoff and protest at Jesus’ words. They pull their hair and wring their garments. They scoff, we don’t, but why?
For all their faults the Jewish people understood one thing well, that articles of faith have direct and clear ramifications in life. For them (and for us), faith made specific claims on real facts and events in history, and so had a direct effect on the way one leads his life. Their story (as well as ours) is one of God freeing them from slavery under the Pharaoh in Egypt and literally fighting for them in establishing them as a nation in the promised land. There was no separation between faith and “real life.” Indeed, faith was a matter of life and death!
So when they heard this man, Jesus, say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” they murmured. They heard Him loud and clear, and took His statement to be making a very concrete claim, that somehow He was food come down from heaven. That is a radical claim! The Jewish crowds were right, then, to think “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?” Certainly not bread. “Do we not know his father and mother?” Of course, definitely not from heaven. “Then how can He say…”
So they murmur, yet we hardly bat an eye. Often times we are hard of hearing when it comes to the Gospel, not because our ears are stopped up with earwax, but because we are tuned into the wrong thing. It might surprise us to know that there is a theological school of thought behind our tendency to let such radical claims by Christ slip by unnoticed. In this extreme view of the Gospel, the factual content of the message is down played in favor of the emotional appeal it makes; am I moved by what it said. Here, the Word of God is submitted to the ever changing human heart, bending or manipulating whatever is said until it moves us. Such a view in its extreme reduces Jesus to a sentimental guru who is constantly concerned about making us feel better. Thus, the historical nature of the Gospel—whether these things actually took place—doesn’t matter! This view is not concerned with the fact of the matter.
True faith a matter of both mind and heart is based on true things, facts, real historical events, that are demonstrable. Our faith has historical teeth. Our Creed makes factual claims that no one can ignore, no matter what their opinion. From the creation of the universe, to the empty tomb, to the Church and her sacraments which contain the very body and blood of Jesus Christ under the looks of bred and wine, our faith makes radical claims on “real life”. (Tangent: Of these three things, the Big Bang Theory, Evolution, and the Resurrection, the Resurrection is the most certain. We actually have eye witnesses, the 12 Apostles et alia, of the Resurrection. Yet we speak of the first two with the greatest frequency and certainty, though they only be theories. I don’t want to create a division here between science and faith, particularly since the Big Bang was developed by a Catholic Priest and Evolution by a man who had deep Christian convictions. But it is telling how the last one is the most certain yet most ignored). These are historical, factual, event-based claims. To the question what does such a conversation about the bread of life have to do with me some 2,000 years later, we reply everything! A man claimed to have come down from heaven and offering Himself as the bread life which would give eternal life, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. This is what the Jews understood. This is why they objected. This is why they murmured. Jesus made a radical claim on reality!
We know the dangers of such an extreme position. We know the danger of associating the presence of God with a mere sentiment or emotion. Emotions, sentiments come and go, here today, gone tomorrow. What if one does not feel the Lord’s presence, does that mean He is not with them? Certainly not. Emotions come and go, yet persons remain. This is the trouble or difficulty with marriage, an aspect we often forget. Love and affection ebb and flow day-to-day. There are happy moments in which intimate affection flows naturally like getting a job, moving into a new house, having a child, etc… Yet there are also sad, even angry moments, moments of desperation during trial and difficulty, like the loss of a job, financial difficulty, the loss of a child or family member. There are even weird moments which should be happy, but for some strange reason they are not. Through all of this, the other person remain. And so it is with God. Because relationships, particularly marriages, are based on real concrete hard fixed moments of love. We set our belief, our trust, upon these solid rocks and the waves of uncontrolled passions and escaping emotions will not prevail against them. Again, emotions come and go, but persons remain.
This is good new, really good news. Never can our faith be whisked away and ignored. Never can our faith be some passing fairy tale or nice thought. Never can our faith be outdated or have nothing to contribute. Never can one truly say faith has no connection to “real life” because faith makes a claim on it. And so listen again: “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” (Jn 6:51).