21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
John 6: 60-69
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Last in the Series
This Sunday is the last in the series of the Church’s reflection on the theme—Jesus: the Bread of Life. This Sunday’s gospel reading also is the last part of the chapter 6 of St. John that deals with the same theme. Thus, it might be good to take a look and see the thematic development of Jesus as Bread of Life.
On the 17th Sunday—the gospel introduced Jesus as the Bread of Life. This theme is read from a context of a crowd that was hungry and was fed from three pieces of bread and two fish, resulting to the crowd’s desire to make Jesus as their king. From this king-promoting crowd Jesus steered clear from.
On the 18th Sunday—the crowd, desiring to crown Jesus as King, were schooled properly by Jesus reprimanding them, “You are not seeking me because you saw the signs but because you ate and have your fill” (v.26). Jesus therefore invited them to a higher relationship with Him as the bread of life, “… work… for the food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give to you…” (v.27). The crowd is challenged to receive Jesus for who truly He is; not only for what petty benefits they get from him; but what Jesus can better give to them—eternal life,–“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (v.35).
On the 19th Sunday—Jesus identified himself as the living bread, the bread of life that has come down from heaven. While it is true that the Father has drawn us to Him, has instructed us about His son, still there is the need to listen and learn from the Father. Whoever accepts with whole heart the truth about Jesus as the bread of life, he will be raised up on the last day (v.44), he will not die (v.40), and will live for all eternity (v.51).
On the 20th Sunday—Jesus insists on the necessity to eat the flesh of the “Son of Man.” With the reception of the Eucharistic Lord, one receives divine benefits. One does not receive ordinary gifts that last only for a short while, not simple gifts that can be stolen by thieves. These benefits are those that are greater than life itself, “you will have life” (v.53), “… have eternal life” (v.54), Jesus … remains in him, and he in Him (v.56), and will live on account of Jesus (v.57).
The Challenge of 21st Sunday Gospel Reading (Jn 6:60-69)
The Bread of Life: A Stumbling Block for Some
After having talked lengthily about himself as the Bread of life–that has come down from heaven, and the living that if eaten will raise the dead on the last day and will give eternal life; and after having challenged the crowed to believe in Him and receive eternal life rather than be contented with making him a king because of the ordinary meals they can receive even if produced by miracles—Jesus now turns his attention to his disciples. He veers and addresses them because some were murmuring (v.61) and saying “this word is difficult, who is able to listen/accept it?” (v.60). He asked them point blank saying if it scandalized them to hear everything he has spoken of himself as the bread of life? Would they be willing to listen to God’s word about Jesus his Son being the life for the world? Would they accept to live for all eternity on the last day? Will they embrace the challenge of becoming bread to be broken and shared for others? Would the challenge of Jesus for them to become like him the bread for other be a stumbling block to their personal seeking for life meaning, interests and goals?
Indeed the consequent challenges that came with the acceptance of Jesus as bread of life and the life-giving bread to be received were hard and difficult for many even to some of his disciples. So we hear them leaving and no longer walking with Jesus (v.66).
Taking out the Stumbling Block to Belief
Jesus insists that indeed to believe in Him as the Bread of Life and to complete this belief in concrete living is one great challenge. For to live like the bread of life to be offered and sacrificed for others so that they too might live and have joy and peace is not a matter for the weak, the coward and the ego-centered disciple. To be the disciple of the bread of life is to be courageous in sacrifices, to be resilient in adversity and be thankful in blessings. To become the bread of life one has to receive the Spirit that gives life (v.63). In contrast, to live having the self or the flesh as the center benefits nothing. Thus one has to be open to the invitation and work of the Father in the heart of each one so that Jesus, as bread of life becomes alive in ones heart (cf. v.65).
Unless one receives the life-giving spirit and listens to the Father one can never receive truthfully the bead of life and one cannot become the bread of life for others.
A Disciple’s Response
Towards the end of the gospel narrative, Jesus now veers toward the twelve. He asked them, since some of the disciples have already left and found the challenge difficult and hard, “Do you not wish to go likewise?” (v.67). The response of Peter is one that reflects a heart that has become the temple of the Spirit and a conscience that has listened intently to the Father. This is the picture of an ideal disciple of the Lord, “To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life; and we have come to believe and have known that you are the holy one of God.”
When we therefore receive the communion, let this be the confession of the heart—You have the words of eternal life! You are the Holy One of God!