OS 19B 1 Kings 19: 4-8, Ephesians 4: 25-5:2, John 6: 35, 41-51
Elijah was frightened and alone when he sat down under that solitary broom bush. He wanted his life to end. Rather than giving him a pep talk the angel said to him, “Get up and eat.” Elijah noticed a freshly baked cake, and a jar of water, and he ate and drank. And after another time, he had the strength to go for forty days and nights to Mt Horeb where he would encounter God in the sheer silence.
In contrast to Elijah’s journey, today’s gospel reading shows people doing all they can to avoid going anywhere. The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel is the story of the feeding of the 5,000 and reflections and reactions to that sign. Last Sunday we heard the responses of the crowd. Today we hear the responses of the Jews. (In John’s Gospel the term Jews is a code name for the opponents of Jesus and should not be understood as referring to all Jewish people.) They object to Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
St Augustine says of these people, “They had weak jaws of the heart, they were deaf with open ears, they saw and stood blind, not recognising that what God gives us, is not what we make of things ourselves.”
The Jews tried to understand Jesus in their own traditional terms. They couldn’t see how a man with a known address and parentage could be the bread that came down from heaven. His claim that he was the bread of life and that the manna that their ancestors ate in the wilderness could not prevent death was offensive to them.
We don’t come to this story with the world view of those Jews. But we bring our own questions and criteria, never the less. We wonder how Jesus could feed so many people from five loaves and two fish. Such a thing does not square with our understanding of how the world works, with our ideas of economics or science or history. Yet as St Augustine said,” What God gives us, is not what we make of things ourselves.”
John’s Gospel tells us that the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” This is not like the manna that came down over night, that the people ate, and then they died. Jesus takes a small number of loaves and fish and with them feeds a great crowd. That sign points to the mystery of the incarnation. One baby boy was born to Mary because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Jesus said to the Jews, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” People, who have control of their life and are in command of their choices and decisions, will find this troubling. People whose lives are falling apart, like Elijah, will simply reach out for the food. St Augustine says, see how he draws, not by imposing necessity, but by grace enabling the inner palate of the soul to find its greatest pleasure and delight in partaking of the truth.” And when the crowd was satisfied, Jesus told his disciples to gather up the fragments left over so that nothing can be lost.
In the last supper Jesus said to his disciples, “Do this to re-member me.” This is not simply to recollect but also to bring back together the body, to re-member so that nobody will be lost. Our celebration of the Eucharist is a re-membering and it needs to be reflective of our practical daily life as the body of Christ.
In our daily life we speak the truth, because we know we belong to each other. There are things that anger us, just as they did Jesus, but we do not let our passion lead us into sin. We give up stealing so we can work honestly and have something to share with the needy. We use our words to build up so that they give grace to those who hear them. We put away bitterness and malice. We are kind, tender-hearted and forgiving. Indeed we seek to be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
This journey to find God is demanding and unless we get up and eat the bread of life, like Elijah, it will be too much for us. We have been drawn us here to this Mass today, indeed that we might find God.
Some words of Pedro Arrupe:
Nothing is more practical than finding God: that is, than falling in love in quite an absolute way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekend, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.