John 6:51-58, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last night someone who had gone to an anticipated Sunday Mass bumped into me and surprised me with his reaction. He said: “The Bread of Life?! Again?!”
He’s right. This is the third Sunday that the Gospel reading has been about the Bread of Life–and what he doesn’t know yet is that it won’t be the last. Next Sunday will still be about the Bread of Life! I told him, “If you think listening to it for the nth time is hard, try writing a homily about it for the nth time!”
But later I got to thinking: If you read between the lines of his question, what I think he was trying to tell me is: “What’s the point? Why rub it in? After the second time, we get it already!”
But do we? I thought about that, and suddenly I wasn’t sure I “got it.” I scoured the Gospel readings of the past weeks just to check, and came to the following disturbing conclusion: I just think I understand. But maybe I don’t–at least not completely!
We’ve always associated the “Bread of Life” with the Eucharist–and rightly so. This sacrament is one of the most beautiful that is offered to us because it is through the Eucharist that we can become one with the Lord in a more-than-spiritual way. We who believe in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist know that in a way we don’t understand, we receive his actual body and as a result, he becomes near to us beyond our imagining. But if this is all the Lord wants to tell us, does he need several Sundays to convince us?
Actually, what bewilders me about today’s Gospel reading is not that he is asking us to eat his body and drink his blood. We know that already. We’ve done that–and do that each time we attend Mass! What puzzles me is that he doesn’t tell his disciples how they’re supposed to go about doing this strange thing he’s asking them to do. In other words, he doesn’t explain!
Putting myself in the disciples’ shoes–which is one way of praying over the Gospels–I can’t help but wonder: How does the Lord expect his disciples to believe such an outrageous–and not to mention, scandalous–claim? Swallow it hook, line, and sinker? I mean, a little catechesis wouldn’t hurt.
But maybe that’s his point. Maybe he’s telling us that there are times in our lives when he simply wants us to take his word for it. Sometimes we don’t understand why things happen the way they do–or why certain things happen at all. In those occasions when we find ourselves incapable of controlling our world and unable to understand, the Lord wants our trust.
When Jesus was asking his disciples to accept this difficult teaching on the Bread of Life, he had just performed one of his most awesome miracles by feeding five thousand hungry men. Could it be that on such difficult occasions, he’s asking us to believe not by understanding but by remembering, by recalling the wonders he has worked in our lives?
Come to think of it, understanding doesn’t always lead to faith. But remembering can! It’s our memory of God’s generosity and blessings in the past that will strengthen our faith in him and when necessary, help us to swallow even his most difficult of messages and the most painful of experiences hook, line, and sinker.