Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
August 12, 2012
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Every parent knows what a struggle it is to make children eat certain foods. Parents will sometimes disguise the food. They know that if they tell the child exactly what it is they are eating the child will rebel and not eat it. If the food is unusual—and there is plenty of that in Southwest Louisiana—then parents will sometimes reveal only part of the true identity of the “mystery” food. I remember when I was a child, a common food served was cow tongue. Mother would prepare it with plenty of seasonings, stuffed with garlic and delicious gravy to accompany it. It was quite tasty. When she would be asked what it was, she would answer, “Beef.” That seemed to satisfy everyone. She spoke the truth. She just didn’t reveal the whole story.
In the Gospel today Jesus tells us the whole story. He is preparing us for the full revelation of what it is He will give us as food for eternal life. He knows that some will rebel, He knows that some will reject the teaching as outrageous, and He knows that many will walk away. However, Jesus always reveals the entire truth. He doesn’t “sugar-coat” it. He tells it like it is, regardless of the consequences.
Today’s Gospel is part of the “Bread of Life Discourse” that we are reading in this cycle of Year B. The reading begins with this verse: “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41). Because Jesus says this, “[t]he Jews murmured about him” (John 6:41). How can He say He came down from heaven? This becomes a stumbling block. However, the more astounding is yet to come.
Jesus harkens back to an episode in the Old Testament journey of the Hebrew people in the desert. There God fed them with manna (Exodus 16:13ff). The people were hungry, and God gave them quail and manna, a flake-like substance which covered the ground in abundance. On this they fed. God had given them food. Jesus says that just as God fed their ancestors with manna, so now God will feed them with another food from heaven. Then, Jesus really challenges them. If they thought His saying that He came from heaven was difficult to digest, Jesus says, “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” (John 6:51). Jesus is the new manna. God fed the Hebrews with manna, and the manna becomes a paradigm. The manna is a foretaste of what God is really going to do. He will feed them again with the body and blood of His Son, the true food come down from heaven.
Make no mistake about this teaching. Jesus is telling the whole story. You will hear more of this Gospel next Sunday. Jesus will repeat this teaching at least six times in the space of seven verses in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John. Jesus means what He says. If a parent tells a child six times to eat his vegetables, then the child can safely assume that the parent means it. Jesus, unlike the parent who might disguise the identity of the food, reveals the whole truth. He risks rejection of His teaching, because He will not compromise the truth of what He is saying. As Catholics, we cannot forget this point.
Followers of Christ were to come to the Eucharistic celebration and remember and relive what Jesus did for them in salvation. The Cross and Resurrection were to be represented to them. The Paschal Mystery of Jesus was to save them, and the Cross and Resurrection were to be made present in the Eucharistic meal that Jesus had shared with His closest followers at the Last Supper. This is why He says in today’s Gospel, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:44). Eucharistic faith and union with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is a matter of life and death.
Jesus is not like a shrewd parent who tells his child a half-truth. He tells us exactly what it is we participate in when we come to the Eucharist. What is true corresponds to what is real, hence the insistence of the teaching in the discourse of Jesus. Reality is what it is all about, but not reality as the world would define it. Moderns are confused by what they call “virtual reality.” There is no “virtual reality” when it comes to Jesus. The reality for the person of faith, for the true follower of Jesus Christ, is that He suffered, died and arose from the dead for us poor sinners. And the reality is communicated in the remembrance of that life giving suffering, death, and resurrection. He gave us the reality of His flesh and blood as food and drink, to remember His presence in our lives, so we would never forget Him. However, there is more. This reality gives us life, eternal life. Reality and truth—that is what it is all about, and it is that life-giving reality and truth that the listeners of His day and even some today cannot accept. They will walk away. For those who believe, however, they possess a treasure, “so that one may eat it and not die” (John 6:50).