Most of us have had the delightfully frustrating experience of calling several persons on the phone and all four or five result in cheerful recorded messages about leaving our names and numbers. At that point I am even willing to call one of my community-members, just to talk to a real live person.
The modern technical world can often fail us and our desire to communicate. Personal prayer can seem like that; “Is there anybody out there?” We call usually to obtain something or some information, or just wanting to hear a voice on the other end. Prayer is not that, though it can be frustrating. We want something, some contact, some sense of a Reality out there, in there.
We might try taking time to hear or listen to God’s trying to contact us for the giving of something, or a someone. If we believe in a loving God, infinitely loving, and love desires out-reaching contact, then we are the contacted. The God Who gives bread just might have other more interesting items on the menu. This week we might take a little time to show-up, shut-up and not hang-up.
Elijah has been up to it to his ears. He has been confronting King Ahab and Jezebel. He then had all the false prophets slain. Jezebel makes a promise in a message to Elijah that by tomorrow she will have the dogs to her if by that time they haven’t devoured Elijah.
What we hear today in the First Reading is Elijah on the run, or at least he has been. He is tired and knows he does not have the strength to go on to Mount Horeb. He lies down under the sweeping branches of a Broom Tree. The angel visits him twice, wakes him, feeds him and off he goes renewed for the journey.
If we read farther in the text, we will find that Elijah does reach the holy cave of Mount Horeb, but then hears the wee small voice of God inviting him back to face the dogs. Quite an exciting life and relationship with the God Who calls, wakes, feeds and sends.
The Gospel opens with a Jewish flashback. Last week’s First Reading from Exodus presents the people of Israel complaining about the lack of God’s care in the form of food, as they wandered in the desert. Now the Jewish leaders are complaining, because Jesus has told them that He is the new bread come down from heaven. This is quite confusing for them, because they know the mother and father of Jesus. I find great sympathy for them. Jesus appears as the familiar person they know, but is acting in a most unfamiliar manner.
John’s Gospel is not a text which is used properly for finding the scriptural origins for the seven Sacraments of the Church. Actually it is a dramatic presentation of Jesus as the Holy Sacrament of the God Who has not been seen by anybody except “the one who is from God; He has seen the Father”. The “outsiders” those who just cannot take Jesus in as intimately as one eats bread, are reminded that the manna fed their ancestors, but they died. Now what’s this? Those who take in the whole reality of Jesus will never die. He is the Bread come down from heaven to offer eternal life! More confusion is poured upon His listeners. There are other listeners though.
This entire Gospel contains twenty-one chapters of leading and learning, comfort and call. It is written as well for the little “in-group” of believers of the John Community. This Gospel is written for them and for us as well. We do celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy and venerate the Real Presence in various devotions, but more basically, we believe! We have eaten of his word and reality.
There is an apparently disturbing line in today’s Gospel. It smacks of predestination. “No one can come to me unless the Father Who sent me draw him….” Jesus will raise those up on the last day. We do not hold to predestination, so what is all that about?
The mysterious, but sending God, offers Jesus as a divine Drawing Card. It is the laboring God, working through the “signs” in John’s Gospel, who attracts all through Him. John follows this statement with a scriptural reminder, “They shall all be taught by God.” God is at work through Jesus to attract all, but not all will see the “signs”, hear the “word”, drink the “water”, nor see the “light”. They do not wish to eat the bread come down from heaven in a similar way.
There is a fun, or not so fun, scriptural game we can play. Read through one of the four Gospels and underline any verses which you find that you wish Jesus didn’t say. If we are honest, at least in certain times, our work would shrink the Gospel into pocket size. What teachings could you not stomach? The not-so-fun would be lining up all these verses and begin praying or pondering why these particular teachings or images bother your insides. Many who listened to Jesus, like these leaders of the Jewish community, played the game often and some came to believe, even though there were still unanswered questions. We are still playing the game.
“The bread I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world, says the Lord.” John 6, 52
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