Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
August 9, 2015
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“I am the bread of life.” John 6:48
The people who first heard Jesus say those words thought He might be insane. The results are not much better today. If we are to believe studies, even many Catholics in America are not sure whether they believe Jesus gives us His Body and Blood as food. The Church in its wisdom gives us the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John to read now in our cycle to remind us of what Jesus said, why Jesus said it, and why Eucharistic faith is important.
The object of Jesus’ teaching here is Eucharistic faith. He wants us to accept and to believe that He is “the bread of life.” When the crowd listening to Him expresses disbelief, the reaction of Jesus is revealing. He does not correct their misapprehension, because in fact it is not a misapprehension. Jesus is in fact “the bread of life.” That is what they heard, and that is what He said, but that is what they cannot accept. And when they “murmur” (John 6:41) about it, Jesus does not say He’s sorry because they cannot accept the teaching. Jesus does not retract or alter what He said. Instead, He repeats the teaching. “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48). Then, He adds this clincher: “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).
This episode in the Gospel reminds me of what happens when a teacher makes an assignment that the students think is too demanding. Who does not remember that experience in a classroom? The teacher tells the students that the research paper is due in six weeks. The students protest that this is not enough time. The teacher does not retract. The teacher does not apologize. What the teacher says goes. It is the assignment. It will not be compromised. And that is exactly what happens in the Gospel when Jesus speaks of Himself as “the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die” (John 6:50).
Jesus explains that if we really read the Scriptures we would know what He was talking about. He refers to our ancestors having eaten manna in the desert. Read Exodus 16. The manna descended upon the ancient Hebrews as a gift from God. But they died. Now there is another, better gift of food from heaven for “eternal life” (John 6:47). “[W]hoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:51). And what is this bread of eternal life? Jesus answers, “[M]y flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
Eucharistic faith is serious teaching. Our Lord taught it, and He did so without compromise. If we say we believe in the truth of Sacred Scripture, then the teaching on the Eucharist is perhaps one of the most declarative and definitive teachings we have from our Lord. Selective reading of Scripture is a dangerous thing. Part of the message is left discarded. Perhaps we need to be reading John 6 more frequently. Perhaps we need to take it more seriously. Perhaps we need to consume the Word of God more completely.
May our Eucharistic faith increase.