Twenty-First Sunday In Ordinary Time, August 23, 2009

Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Ephesians 5: 21-32

John 6: 60-69


Jesus discourse on the Bread of Life in John 6: 1-71, which has occupied us in our Sunday liturgies throughout August, now draws to its close. You remember that on August 2nd we heard the crowd challenge him to produce a sign like the manna of old. In reply, Jesus insisted that their understanding of that experience was incomplete: the giver of the manna was not Moses but my Father; not only that, but it is my Father [who] gives you the true bread from heaven. In other words, this bread-giving is not something that happened long ago and far away; its not simply about an unusual snack from bygone days! Rather, it is about relationship, it is covenant. A moment later we heard Jesus spell it out even more clearly: this true bread is the One who comes to give life to the world. Not so surprisingly, this beautiful teaching awakened their desire: Give us this bread always, they said. But most had no idea what they were asking for.

The next two Sundays led us deeper into the discourse. When Jesus declared openly that he himself was the bread come down from heaven, and the bread of life, the people began to murmur, and when he made it clear that he wasnt talking in metaphors (My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.), many of them had had enough. As this weeks pericope opens, we realize that now, in fact, its no longer the crowd thats murmuring (a word that reminds us so much of the desert experience of Israel) but rather that its his own disciples, deeply scandalized by his hard language. Jesus, however, doesnt ease up in order to make what he has to say any more palatable. Instead, he makes a reference to whats coming next: how will you react when you see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? In Johns gospel, when Jesus talks about mounting or ascending, or being lifted up, we know that hes pointing to the Crucifixion the vehicle that will bring him to glory. (The disciples dont get this allusion, of course, but we do. If we choose, we can allow it to add yet another dimension to this Eucharistic discourse. ) And even before they absorb all of this, he presses on, telling them outright that one of them will betray them. Talk about hard language!

And then, just when it could almost be too much to bear, the tone seems to shift a bit, allowing us to take his last words in this gospel passage as a reflection of his deepest desire. Although they can be read simply as a continuation of the challenging, tough line hes been taking throughout, they could also reveal a man who genuinely wants to know what his friends will do. Jesus knows what he will do; he will give himself for them and for the life of the world. But what will they do? For that matter, what will we do? He is indifferent neither to their choice nor to ours; each matters to him, the One who will give life to the world. So what, in fact, will we do? As we go deeper into todays Eucharistic celebration, deeper, too, into the week ahead really, into our lives we can pray to find ourselves in Peters reply: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.

Sr. Nuala Cotter, R.A.