19 SUNDAY B

 
Background:
jesus at family do

While the setting of today’s Gospel is in the active ministry of Jesus before Easter, it is clearly Eucharistic in intent and represents St. John’s mystical reflections on the meaning of the Eucharist as a bridge between God and us.

It is not an easy parapet on which to preach, though the Elijah story in the first reading is a nice companion piece. Both in their own way emphasize God’s loving care for us, come what may.

St. John has in mind through this whole section which we read for the next several weeks the attractiveness of Jesus and the human propensity to turn against him when something happens we don’t like.

Story:

Once upon a time there was this doctor who was magical. He was witty, intelligent, sensitive, and a brilliant, brilliant diagnostician. He also had the political skills of a precinct captain and tons of Irish charm. He was adored by hospital staff, trusted by his colleagues (who often went to him with their own medical problems), worshipped by his patients. In addition to his medical responsibilities he helped the hospital where he worked in its many administrative problems.

His reputation and his hard work brought many patients to the hospitals and its various laboratories. He became an important part of its success. Everyone said to him that they did not know where they would be without him.

Then as the years went on he contracted a disease which slowed him down. The bean counters at the hospital said that he was now costing him money. The nun in charge fired him. But look at all I’ve done for you, he said. That was then, this is now, she replied. (Andrew Greeley)

Introduction to the Celebration

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever .“Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me . . . whoever believes has eternal life."

John 6: 41-51

THE WORD:

The word for today is onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is the name of those words that imitate the sound they are referring to, like fizz, and crackle and hiss, and murmur. Murmur is the word we hear today in the Gospel and which we heard many times in the Old Testament account of the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. Those people were really great murmurers, or horrible ones depending on your point of view. God delivered them from the slavery of Egypt through the miracles performed by Moses and the people murmured that they would be caught by Pharaoh’s troops and die in the desert. After God saved them by parting the Red Sea, they murmured that there would not be enough food for them to eat in the desert. After God gave them manna, they murmured that the food was boring and wanted better grub. Literally speaking, they may have been on to something here because manna was probably a byproduct of desert insects.
From time immemorial bread has been the “staff of life,” the basic and most important food in everyone’s diet.
To the “murmuring” Jews (“murmuring” as their ancestors did in the desert), Jesus tries to help them see the deeper meaning of his claim to be “bread come down from heaven.” Christ is the “bread of heaven” that transcends this experience of life to the life of God. Christ the bread is the love, justice and compassion of God incarnate; God, our “Father,” is revealed in him.

The operative verbs in today’s Gospel are “believe” and “trust”: God provides for and sustains our faith in his gift of Jesus the Bread of life in the same way that First Testament wisdom nourished all who paid heed.

Thomas O'Loughlin

In today's gospel we hear Jesus describe himself as 'the living bread that comes down from heaven, anyone who eats this bread will live forever.'

We have gathered here around this table so that he can share with us his Living Bread. We have gathered for his meal at which his food is his own life: life that he shared with us to sustain our lives as children of our heavenly Father.

Michel DeVerteuil

In this passage, Jesus again draws lessons about life from the feeding of the five thousand.
I remind you that all teaching of Jesus recorded in the gospels is intended to speak to experience, and we must therefore appeal to our experience to discover its truth. This can be difficult with passages like these: one reason is that the language is not the kind that we use ordinarily. Some expressions - such as "eternal life," "being drawn by the Father," "living bread," "flesh" - you will have to bring down to earth for yourself, applying them to what you have lived yourself.

There is, however, a more important reason why we may find this passage difficult to relate to experience: it contains deep teaching, speaking of a level of experience that we seldom reflect on because we all tend to live at the surface of ourselves.

In meditating on these passages then, you must remember deep experiences. You will naturally think of deep conversion - for example, a retreat that changed your life, a Life in the Spirit Seminar, or a prayer moment that you have never forgotten.

But you need not stay with prayer moments. You could think of other deep experiences - a movement, for example, or a leader who touched your life. The passage will help you understand these experiences and put them in the context of your growth as a person.

As always with gospel stories, you can focus on the person of Jesus, letting him remind you of someone very important to you and in the process, of the kind of person you yourself would like to be; or then you can focus on the journey the people were called to make, recognizing a journey that you or people you love are making or have made.
Remember also that the fruit of your meditation is that you find yourself repeating the actual words of the passage prayerfully and with great gratitude to God for his grace.

It is not possible to meditate deeply on a passage like this all together - divide it up and take one section at a time. You will usually find that one section is all you can go into over a week, although you may be able to connect the other sections after a time. I would suggest diving the passage as follows:

-Verses 41 to 44 describe a journey that Jesus invites the people to make.
- In vs. 41 and 42 they are 'complaining': their lives are so ordinary that God could not possibly be with them. All they can see is 'the son of Joseph' whose father and mother 'they knew'.
- In vs. 43 and 44 Jesus asks them to look beyond that same ordinary reality and recognize two things: a) that the meeting with him is not by chance but by God's grace; and b), that it is a meeting that has great significance, not merely here and now, but for all eternity.
What encounter in your own experience resulted in your making that kind of journey? What kind of leader is able to challenge people to make such a journey?

- Verses 45 and 46 speak of a similar journey, this time as one of 'hearing' or 'being taught' or 'learning'. We can know right teaching, but in an abstract way; when we come to Jesus, we learn God's lessons personally as if he had taken us aside and given us individual tutoring. Identify a moment when you made that journey and who was the Jesus you 'came to'. Verse 46 makes an interesting comment on the process: we don't have to have seen God, only the one who came from God.

- Verse 47. Take this verse by itself, as a reflection on a fact of life. 'Believes' is left vague, and so you are free to take it in as wide a sense as you want, of any act of faith. On the other hand, you can also take it to refer to real faith.

Think of people who have risked their lives, their careers or friendships for the sake of non-violence or for the liberation of oppressed people, or for honesty. Remembering them, you gradually discover the meaning of 'having eternal life' and you will feel a kind of awe as he reflected on the power of that kind of faith, 'I tell you most solemnly'.
Remember world-famous people, but don't limit yourself to them: remember members of your own family or your village community.

A negative way of appreciating this powerful verse would be to reflect on the emptiness of a life without faith. "If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live" (Martin Luther King).

- In verses 48 to 50 Jesus speaks of himself as bread. This is a metaphor that is quite frequent in the Bible to describe the teaching of a leader. Jesus makes a distinction between two kinds of teacher or leader. There are those who when they find people in the wilderness are content to give them manna after which they die. Jesus is a different kind of teacher: through his teaching people are set free from within themselves so that they live. His teaching gives unlimited depth to a person's life.

- In verse 51 the teaching is repeated but Jesus makes a new point which he will make clearer in the following passage: the bread he gives is his flesh. Make sure you bring this expression down to experience. 'Flesh' in Bible language means various things. Here it clearly stresses that Jesus is a source of life by giving himself, not abstract teaching but his own self-sacrificing love. The word goes deeper and says that Jesus did not give himself in power but in weakness, and this of course is a tremendous lesson about giving life to others.

HOMILY POINTS:

 Manna is the manifestation of God in our midst. Manna is generosity and kindness, consolation and support, the constant, unconditional love of family and friends. Manna is food for our own journeys to God. God sends us manna in many forms every day of our lives; the challenge of faith is to trust in God enough to look for manna, to collect it before it disappears, and to consume it and be consumed by it.

As Jesus, the “Bread of life,” gave “life” to the world through his selfless compassion and humble servanthood to others, we, too, can give “life to the world” when we look beyond our own needs and security to the good of others, giving not from our treasure but from our poverty, nourishing one another in the love, compassion and selflessness of the Gospel Jesus.

To receive the Eucharist worthily, we must allow ourselves not only to consume but to be consumed by the life and love of God

To his Jewish hearers, Jesus’ most astounding and revolutionary teaching is that God, Creator and Lord of all life, is our Father: God is not a mysterious cosmic tyrant to be feared but the loving Giver of life whom we can approach in confidence. The boundaries and differences that separate people are eclipsed by the realization that every man and woman shares the same humanity, becoming one human family under the “Fatherhood” of God.

1. It is tempting to think of being a Christian in terms of striking a deal with God. I, for my part, will do this and that, these actions will show that I trust in God, 'love God' (whatever that means), and profess that I believe all things I ought to believe (just tell me what I am to believe and I will do it —and if you want me to sign something to that effect, I will do it!). If I do all this, then God will reward me with eternal life, or, at the very least, stop me going to a place of eternal punishment.

We, preachers, have often connived with this sort of presentation of faith: its simplicity as a piece of communication for the 'simple faithful' seemed to justify its blasphemy of placing God and the creature on a single plane of commutative justice. It was connived at in little 'pious practices' which were let be understood without any of the subtle distinctions found in learned books in Latin. The practice of 'the Nine [First] Fridays' was one such: if you did these, then it was understood you would not die without a priest; and then once the priest got to you, you could confess, be absolved, and everything would end up all right.

In this sort of presentation, faith is a deal rather than a relationship; it is something that occurs at fixed moments in the way one visits a service station rather than a pilgrimage; it is on the edges of ordinary life rather than at life's core; and it is an individual matter of survival rather than relating to the whole community of the People of God.

2. So the first task in getting a congregation to hear today's gospel is to try to alert them to how we all fall into these false images in relationship with God. We all, to a greater or lesser extent, tend towards:

• reducing faith to doing a deal with God;
• reducing faith to fixed moments in life;
• reducing faith to being peripheral to life;
• and reducing faith to being a matter of individual survival.

3. Then the task is to see how Jesus presents the relationship of being a Christian in today's gospel.
• The Father has not struck a deal with us, but in his love has sent his Son among us: we are called to a relationship of love with God.

• A relationship with God is on-going: he loves us at all times and without exception, so we cannot think of 'holy moments' and 'ordinary moments': God's love abounds and envelops every aspect of our lives. Jesus, the Son of the Father, has come among us and lives with us as one of us.

• Jesus is the Bread of Life: it is he who sustains us throughout our pilgrimage of life.
• It is a community that ate the manna in the desert, and it is a community that is sustained by Christ the Bread of Life – this is why we gather and we pray and we eat and we drink.
4. Discovering the whole extent of God's loving involvement in our lives is the task as great as life itself. We can never fully grasp this mystery while we live; but we must be careful never to betray it by reducing that life-long and life-giving relationship to miserable meanness of human dealings.

5. We can grasp the horror of reducing faith to commerce by noting how jarring this sentence is: The Lord has come offering life in abundance, Love's gift; he did not come selling tickets for places in a life-boat.

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Sean Goan

One of the techniques used frequently in the gospel of John is that of misunderstanding. In the case of Nicodmeus and the Samaritan woman they misunderstand his words about being born again (3:4) and living water (4:15) and this leads to further revelation or explanation by Jesus. Now those who hear Jesus saying that he is the bread of life come down from heaven fail to grasp the significance of the statement and insist that they know where he is from. Jesus, however, continues with his revelatory discourse and shows how he is indeed the one sent by God to give life. To believe in Jesus is come to life, a life that never ends. We come to this life through believing in Jesus who offers his life (flesh) for the sake of the world. Until now, in using the symbol of bread the focus has been on believing in who Jesus is, but with the change in language from bread to flesh there will be a shift in meaning towards a reflection on his death on the cross and the Eucharist. The gospel of John does not make for easy reading because of its layers of meaning and great depth but it offers great inspiration if we but try.

REFLECTION

We are invited to recognise ourselves in the Elijah story as people who, if they are to be faithful on the journey, need to be sustained. We can easily become dispirited either at our own shortcomings or at the failings of others. However, as we are often reminded in the scriptures, we must learn to rely not only on our own resources but on the guiding presence of God that directs our life. It is probably true to say that it is almost a necessity in our journey of faith that we come to a low point. In the biblical tradition and in that of the church, all the heroes and heroines come to a stage where they too have to acknowledge their own weakness and utter dependence on God. This does not come easily to us because it can seem like failure. That is when we need to remind ourselves of what the Lord said to Paul: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' (2 Cor 12:9)

PRAYER REFLECTION

Lord, we often complain about
- our bad health, our failures
- the friends who let us down, our parish community
- society today with its materialism, its selfishness, its crimes.
How can anybody say that you are with us?
But Jesus tells us to stop complaining;
unless you were drawing us we would not be where we are.
The people we live with, the situations we find ourselves in,
all are your gift to us and they can raise us up to your presence.
In fact they can raise us up on the last day.

"Our prayer has had a beginning because we have had a beginning.
But it will have no end. It will accompany us into eternity
and will be completed in our contemplation of God." Carlo Carretto

Lord, we thank you for moments of deep prayer;
we can only come to them because you draw us there
and we know that they will take us beyond the last day.

Lord, we thank you, those of us who preach the Word,
for calling us to be part of this mystery.
People are there, listening to us as they listen to other speakers,
but they cannot really come to us unless you draw them.
On the other hand, those words of ours, poor though they may be,
can raise them up so high
that they are beyond the reach of death and of all that can harm them.

Lord, we have known Jesus all our lives,
but for a long time he was someone far away who taught abstract truths.
Then, one day, we experienced conversion
and it was as if we understood life for the first time.
We understood, then, what was written in the prophets: "They will all be taught by God."
Teachings that had seemed abstract we now heard addressed personally to us,
and we really learned from them. That is what it means to come to Jesus.
We know that no one has seen you,
but we have met the one who came from you and has seen you.

"Gandhi's impact is not measured over two years, or four years or twenty years;
the ideas he has given us are imperishable." A disciple of Gandhi
Lord, how true it is that one who believes has an eternal life.
When we put our trust in absolute values
- truth, justice, the equality of all men and women, the care of little ones -
we are taken out of ourselves, out of our present history
and become part of eternity.
Lord, many people take it for granted that their destiny is to be inferior to others;
they are convinced that
- they will always fail,
- they will never overcome their faults,
- they will remain forever in bandage.
There are leaders who encourage this attitude,
content to give people bread in the wilderness and let them die there.
Lord, send us leaders, spiritual guides, like Jesus
who will give us a different kind of teaching,
feeding us with another kind of bread, one that comes from you,
and help us to experience that we have it within us to be free and creative,
that we are born not to die in bondage but to live forever.

Lord, our culture leads us to think that people can only help others
by their power, their wealth or their achievements.
We have even come to think that Jesus helped people like that.
But the bread that he gave others to eat was his weakness, his flesh:
- he made himself vulnerable to children
- he asked the woman at the well for water and Zacchaeus for hospitality
- on the cross he was so human, so much 'flesh'
that the good thief could speak words of encouragement to him.
It is by sharing our weakness that we give life to others.

Lord, we thank you for our mothers:
they gave us their flesh that we might live.

Lord, our churches are big and beautifully decorated, with imposing statues.
But the heart of all is Jesus under the form of simple bread.
It is still true that he gives his flesh for the life of the world.

Lord, we pray for our leaders, in the Church and in the State.
Teach them that they cannot give life to others by their words,
but only by giving their flesh.

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Larry Gillick, S.J.

A PONDERING

Actions reveal and flow from attitude.

Our actions, generally, are seldom spontaneous. There are roots within our minds to why and how we do things. Violent, gentle, reckless, or reverent actions just don’t happen. They form life-patterns which reveal the energy or spirit behind them which we can call the attitude.

As young religious we were formed to have “modesty of the Eyes”. There was also a “modesty of the Ears” as well. We were encouraged to be aware obviously, but discerning, reflective and reverent about sights and sounds around us. Upon hearing a sharp noise behind us we were taught to let it be or turn to it slowly and less nosily. Seeing was one thing, the necessity to watch, be in on, was something else.

The act of visual restraint was not as important as the attitude of self and sense control. This attitude is a reverence for what is around us. Not everything is a stimulus which demands a reaction, a need to know. The attitude of discerned concern is gained by a discipline which leads to being present to the present gracefully and receptively. If we want to know our attitude, we can be more attentive to our actions. If we want to know why we have patterns of actions, we can check what attitudes do they reveal.

 REFLECTION

 For Elijah, life was charmed. Many miracles accompanied his being the prophet of the Lord. Things did not always go his way, or at least it seemed that way to him.

 To understand our First Reading, we must step back a little into the previous chapter. Jezebel had moved Israel’s religious alliance to Baal, a fertility god. She had created a large group of prophets to support that cult. Elijah is sent to confront this arrangement and he does. He challenges the prophets to a bull-burning contest. They fix a bull for a sacrifice to Baal and then they call down the power of Baal to set fire to the pile of wood and flesh. Elijah prepares a similar fixing. All the people of Israel gather around and fall to their faces in submission and belief when the God of Israel sets fire to Elijah’s preparation, but the bull of Baal remains uncooked.

 The story is not ended there. Elijah marches these one hundred and fifty false prophets out into the desert and slaughters them all. When Ahab, Jezebel’s main-man reports this to her, she sends a messenger to tell Elijah that before a day is done, he will be done to as he had done to the prophets of Baal. Elijah has taken off for Mount Horeb in fear for his life. Our reading begins at the end of one day of this fear-flight.

 God has asked much of Elijah and this predicament plunges his spirit into darkness and doubt. He wants to quit and turn his life over into the eternal hands of God. Of course God has more for him to do and so very gently wakes Elijah and feeds him twice. He has memories of God’s touching him, caring for him, and so he gets up and goes on. That’s all for this reading, though there is much more adventure for this person of faith.

 Two weeks ago we heard the Gospel’s relating the miracle of Jesus’ multiplying five loaves and two fish to feed a multitude. After that, Jesus had sent His disciples across the lake while He prayed. A storm came up and He came up alongside them and calmed their fears and the storm. When they arrived on the other side, a crowd who had been fed, met them wanting a little more of the action.

The remainder of this sixth chapter of John’s Gospel centers around the murmuring and arguing about Jesus’ words about His being from God and His being nourishment for eternal life. It is the beginning of this debate we listen to in today’s Gospel.

The feeding of the multitude forms a stage setting for this debate with the Jewish leaders who religiously remember the feeding of the Israelites in the desert after the Exodus. Jesus knows this too and reminds them of a past deed, once done, and the ever-present nourishment which He is. They believe they know Him, but He knows them too and speaks to them the new words of God’s old love.

John’s Gospel presents Jesus often as saying “I am” proclamations. When He came to the floundering boat on the lake after the feeding, Jesus calmed their fears by saying simply, “Fear not, I am.” Jesus tells His debate friends that He is the bread come down from heaven, the “bread of life”, and that those who do eat of His absolute totality will have eternal life. John does not present a narrative of Jesus’ instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper. This was not an important issue at the time of the Gospel’s being written. What was important, (and still remains important) was the acceptance or taking into ones life, the person and life of Jesus. Our believing in the Eucharistic’s Real Presence is not the issue within this chapter. The feeding calls to mind for the Jews, the historical feeding. The central theme of the chapter is how the apostles took Him into their boat as He came toward them.

Allow me to say it clearly, I am not debating the real Presence, nor the importance of receiving communion. The chapter is bigger than this. Jesus is presented as offering Himself as human and divine and His loving desire for all men and women to take him into the boats of their passages and journeys. The living in Christ and Christ living in the lives of all humanity is why He came. The past deeds of God are being continued in Jesus Who came that we may have life and life is this: believing that He was and is sent into the world.

So Elijah wanted to give it all up and the apostles were being swamped with fear. Most of us have been there and were tempted to do that as well. God sends angels to “touch” us, gives us “Bread from Heaven” and always the urging to “get up and eat” and then get up and get on with the living. Our comfort is more than that we receive the Eucharist, but that we have taken Him into our boats and allowed Him to sweep us from underneath the “broom tree” and keeps us as His real presence in our real days. Elijah moaned, “This is enough, o Lord! Take my life,” Jesus says to us, “I am enough! You take my life, eat it all, live it all and you will be already living the eternal life I came and come to share.”

ILLUSTRATIONS:

1)    Clothed in Human Flesh

Next to the Bible, my favorite book is Harper Lee's award-winning novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird." I love both the book and the movie. The main character, the one who tells the story, is a little girl named Jean Louise Finch, who goes by the name of Scout. Her father, Atticus Finch, is the town's lawyer and a man of deep principles and integrity. I always wanted to grow up and be like Atticus Finch.

One day, Scout came home from school and told her father about some problems she was having with the teacher and several other students. In an effort to help her get along better with others, Atticus gave her this advice:

"First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

That's exactly what Jesus did. Clothed in human flesh, Jesus felt pain as we feel pain. He suffered as we suffer. He even experienced death. Jesus climbed into our skin and walked around in it.

Billy D. Strayhorn, Beyond Skin Deep

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2)    Our Christian Landmarks

 During World War II allied armies marched into Germany on their way to Berlin. Retreating German soldiers switched road signs and destroyed landmarks in an effort to confuse their enemy. And, to an extent, it worked, for many a G.I. followed a false marker only to end up in the wrong place. That just goes to show the need for landmarks, the importance of reliable signposts by which to steer.

Here locally, landmarks like the courthouse, the river, the college, or the bridge are important in helping us find our bearings. Why, if some villain came in one night and removed our signposts, the next day would become a bewildering jumble of uncertainties, and we'd all be lost.

The text is about landmarks. It refers to the Jewish custom of setting boundary stones to mark out property. Just as we do today, so our Hebrew forefathers did then. Wells, fords, buildings, and stone sentinels were their guides. Hence the strict law: "Remove not the ancient landmark which your fathers have set."

We live in a day of rapid change, and this law is being grossly ignored. Our history is being bulldozed to clear the way for development. Some professors are twisting the guideposts in the minds and hearts of our students. Traditions are forgotten, manners ignored. The result is a kind of chaos -- social confusion and rootless individualism. We live in a society that's lost its bearings and is adrift on a sea of change.

The Lord's Table is a landmark. For nearly 2,000 years Christians have been gathering to eat this meal. And, for all, it can be the means of getting one's bearings.

Stephen M. Crotts, Sermons for Sundays after Pentecost, CSS Publishing


3)    A Reminder of Our True Home

The influence that food can have on us appears in a Chinese story originally told by Linda Fang. She presented this story at the Smithsonian Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C., March 19, 1988.

At the foot of a great mountain in China lived a father and his three sons. They were a simple and loving family. The father noticed that travelers came from afar eager to climb the dangerous mountain. But not one of them ever returned! The three sons heard stories about the mountain, how it was made all of gold and silver at the top. Despite their father's warnings, they could not resist venturing up the mountain.

Along the way, under a tree, sat a beggar, but the sons did not speak to him or give him anything. They ignored him. One by one, the sons disappeared up the mountain, the first to a house of rich food, the second to a house of fine wine, the third to a house of gambling. Each became a slave to his desire and forgot his home. Meanwhile, their father became heartsick. He missed them terribly. "Danger aside," he said, "I must find my sons."

Once he scaled the mountain, the father found that indeed the rocks were gold, the streams silver. But he hardly noticed. He only wanted to reach his sons, to help them remember the life of love they once knew. On the way down, having failed to find them, the father noticed the beggar under the tree and asked for his advice.

"The mountain will give your sons back," said the beggar, "only if you bring something from home to cause them to remember the love of their family."

The father raced home, brought back a bowl full of rice, and gave the beggar some as a thank-you for his wisdom. He then found his sons, one at a time, and carefully placed a grain of rice on the tongue of each of them. At that moment, the sons recognized their foolhardiness. Their real life was now apparent to them. They returned home with their father, and as one loving family lived happily ever after.

Today we gather in this church to receive a reminder of home, a taste of food that will help us remember who we are. I mean the bread of life, our Father's gift to us. This is the food of God's kingdom, and reminds us that this kingdom is our true home.

Charles Hoffacker, Food from Home

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4)    Missing the Point

The German theologian Helmut Thielicke told of a hungry man passing a store with a sign in the window, "We Sell Bread." He entered the store, put some money on the counter, and said, "I would like to buy some bread." The women behind the counter replied, "We don’t sell bread." "The sign in the window says that you do," the hungry man said. The woman explained, "We make signs here like the one in the window that says ‘We Sell Bread.’" But, as Thielicke concludes, a hungry man can’t eat signs.

Life sometimes fools us too. Bread isn’t always found where it seems to be. Today’s Gospel lesson picks up where we left off last week in John 6. Like the crowds looking for something else or that man looking in the wrong store, we often miss the point when God offers us enduring life in Jesus.

Michael J. Heggen, The Bread of Life

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5)    Spirit and Life

Years ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick, then at the height of his influence as minister of the Riverside Church, New York City, was making a tour of Palestine and other countries of the Near and Middle East. He was invited to give an address at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, where the student body comprised citizens of many countries and representatives from sixteen different religions. What could one say that would be relevant or of interest to so mixed and varied a group? This is how Fosdick began: "I do not ask anyone here to change his religion; but I do ask all of you to face up to this question: What is your religion doing to your character?"

This was a call to consider one of the great issues of human belief: religion and life, Christianity and character, word and spirit. Emerson once said, "What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear a word you say." Jesus' discourse in this whole sixth chapter of the Gospel of John had two foci - spirit and life. "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." By this he meant that those who appropriated his spirit, i.e., fed upon him as the bread of life, would find, thereby, a fulfillment and satisfaction no other means could give.

Donald Macleod, Know the Way, Keep the Truth, Win the Life, CSS Publishing Company
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6)    A More Wholesome Grain

Turkey Red Wheat. The hard wheat from which a high quality flour is made has an interesting history. Mennonites lived in the Ukraine, a part of nineteenth century Russia. Because of their opposition to war arising from their Christian faith, they decided to emigrate when Russia introduced military conscription. As families packed to leave, they selected the best of their Turkey red seed grain and filled a trunk to take with them.

When the Mennonite refugees migrated to the prairie provinces of Canada and the plains states of the United States, they brought the seed with them and found the prairie land receptive. From these trunks of wheat have come the hard flour that is preferred for many purposes over the soft wheat which was the only kind available earlier. This wheat made the prairies a breadbasket that has shipped wheat and flour all over the world.

William E. Keeney, Preaching the Parables, CSS Publishing Company
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7)    Human Knowledge

Listen to this statistic: Knowledge is exploding at such a rate--more than 2000 pages a minute--that even Einstein couldn't keep up. In fact, if you read 24 hours a day, from age 21 to 70, and retained all you read, you would be one and a half million years behind when you finished (Campus Life)

 An amazing statistic. Now tell me when do you suppose this information was compiled? It will alarm you that these statistics do not take into account the Internet…



 8)    Homily from Father James Gilhooley

 Henry Fehren tells a wickedly delicious story. It is set in Africa, but it also could be your own community or my own.

A great chief was planning a mammoth banquet. He invited everyone in the phone book. This was to be the party of the season and then some. All the best people would be there - even Tarzan and Jane. The invitation spelled it out loud and clear. The chief would supply all the meats, salads, and an overflowing dessert cart. But each guest had to bring a bottle of wine. It was your standard BYOB affair. Each couple's wine would be poured into a huge vat and so there would be plenty for all. 

One enterprising couple decided they would save a few dollars and bring but a bottle of colored water. No one would know they were El Cheapos. Party day arrived. All the guests put on their party clothes. One man wore a T-shirt that read: "Life is brief. Eat dessert first." They came to a giant tent and poured their wine into the vat. The time came for the first toast - to the chief of course.  The Baccarat crystals were filled. Everyone raised a glass to drink deeply. Disbelief registered on the face of all. They sipped again, but they were right the first time. Each couple had had the same brainstorm. They had reasoned their bottle of colored water would be lost in the giant vat.  Yes, everyone had brought a bottle of water. They got back exactly what they had brought - a glass of water.

Fehren cleverly applies his story to those people who cry out in something approaching pain, "I don't go to Mass because I get nothing out of it." They are a nickel a dozen at the college where I was chaplain. In turn, I am sure the students were simply articulating what they heard at home from Mom and Dad from a very early age. 

The story line indicates very nicely, thank you, that such people get nothing out of the Liturgy precisely because they bring nothing to it. They approach the church with empty spirits and holes in their minds. They come as empty vessels. Given those givens, what did they really expect to get from the Eucharistic celebration? All they bring with them is a bottle of colored water. Some come with a bottle with a hole both at the top and the bottom. Can you think of any other slice of life where we get something when we bring nothing?

    Dolores Schirh writes: "'Eat my body. Drink my blood.' is not just another metaphor...When Jesus said, 'I am the vine,' He didn't tell us to eat twigs. When He told us, 'I am the light of the world,' He didn't tell us to eat light bulbs. But when He said, 'I am the bread of life,' He said, 'Eat this bread.'" 

Thus we come to the Eucharistic celebration because the Teacher invites us. We come to participate in a divinely free banquet. We certainly do want to be raised up on that famous last day that today's John 6:44 promises. Each of us wants to say with Gerard Manly Hopkins: "In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am at all at once what Christ is...and this Jack...is immortal diamond." And it is later than anyone of us dare think. 

Check out what He does not promise. Christ does not say the celebrant will behave like a vaudeville comedian. He has never been quoted as saying the music will be of Mozart quality. Nor does He promise the Liturgy will be something choreographed by Barishnykov and the church structure will be designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Even the flowers may be faux.

If one is getting the body and blood of the most provocative person in recorded history, are we really coming up with a bad hand? And, if we feel we are, are we not saying something about our own empty selves? Each weekend everyone of us is invited to attend a banquet. And, unlike the one thrown by the African chief, we do not even have to bring the wine nor even a bottle of colored water. Relax and party!

The emperor Napoleon was asked what the greatest day in his life was. It was expected he would mention one of his great victories. But he answered the day of his First Communion.

And, while you party, reflect on the words of St Francis de Sales. "Only two kinds of people need frequent Communion - the not so good that they might become better and the good that they might stay that way."

 9)    Two Fat Ladies.

Clarissa Dickson Wright is a British celebrity chef She and Jennifer Paterson, are best known as the Two Fat Ladies  on the British television cooking show  of that name.  They  preached the joys of cooking that accurately, if irreverently,  described them both.   The  show  was  heavy on  humor as  well  as calories.  Avoiding popular low-fat diets, the two fat ladies  sought to reclaim traditional home-cooking.  They themselves  were the best  advertisements for their recipes, which usually featured heavy doses  of butter and cream.   The  two fat ladies  are part of a growing trend to forget food deprivation and  just  say  yes  to bacon. Dietitians now  argue that fat-free foods are high  in sugar and calories - which explains why  people  on low-fat or no-fat  diets get  fat.    Gwen   Shamblin's  The  Weigh   Down   Diet,  which  advises using   spirituality  to  avoid overeating, has  already sold  more than 1.2 million copies  to overweight Christians.    The  bottom line  is  that people  are scrambling like  crazy to find the diet that is  right for them.   But there is  another diet not many people  talk about, presented in today’s gospel: the "Bread of Life Diet."  It's spiritually high-carb, but offers full nutritional value.  Jesus  says, "I am  the bread of life," and  promises that people  on  his  program “will never hunger or thirst again!”  These  are extravagant claims, like  the kind  you  might find on soy  milk or fat-burners. But Jesus can deliver on what he promises. 

10)  He died arguing with them that the canisters were empty. 

John  Krakauer wrote a book  entitled Into Thin Air, the story of an expedition to Mount Everest during the spring of 1996  which resulted in a great loss of life. One of the most unfortunate stories was about a young man  named Andy  Harris, who  was one of the expedition leaders. He  had  stayed  at the peak  past  the deadline that  the leaders themselves  had  set, and  as  he  was coming down, he was  in  dire need  of oxygen. He radioed his  problem to the base  camp  telling them what he needed  and  told them that he had  come  upon  a cache  of oxygen canisters left by  some  of the other climbers, but they were all  empty. The  problem was  they were not empty - they were absolutely full, but because  his brain was  already so  starved for oxygen and  he  wasn't thinking clearly, he  died  arguing with them that the canisters  were empty  when   in  reality they were full. The  problem was  that the lack  of what he  needed   so disoriented his  thinking that, even   though he  was  literally  surrounded by  what he  needed, he  never took advantage of it. The very life that he needed  he held  in his  hand. He just  didn't take it. What  oxygen is to the body  the bread of life is to the soul. Without that bread, you  will  never satisfy your real spiritual hunger which is why  every day we need to feed daily  on the bread of the word of God. 

11)  Pastors  bread of life:   

President  Woodrow Wilsons father was  a preacher who  eked out a meager living. One day, when  he was  riding his  horse, he stopped  to chat with a member of his  parish. Thats a handsome looking animal you  have  there, said  the latter admiringly.  But why  is that your horse is so  big  and  strong and  you  are so  thin?” Perhaps,  replied Wilson, it  is  because   I feed the horse and  the congregation feeds me.

12) I am  going  to be a preacher: 

After his return from church one  Sunday a small  boy  said, "You know  what, Mommy? I'm going   to be  a  preacher when  I grow up." "That's fine," said  his  mother, "but what made  you decide   to be  a  preacher?" "Well,"  said  the boy  thoughtfully. "Since I have   to go  to church every Sunday anyway, I think it would be more fun to stand up and yell  than to sit still and listen."