(Ordinary Time – Cycle B)
One of the signs of God’s presence among his people that journeyed in the desert was essentially bread. Jesus, living sign of the Father, has made his presence eternal in the world precisely because he is “the bread of life” that strengthens human fragility and gives to man and woman his true fullness. This Sunday, we take up again the reading of the celebrated sixth chapter of John’s gospel, in which the humanity of Jesus is source of disagreement and murmuring among the Jews. To accept Jesus as “bread of life” it is necessary to open one’s self up to the interior teaching of the Father, thus “no one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (Jn 6,44).
The first reading (1 K 19,4-8) shows that moments of crisis and of fear can be suffered even by great men of God, as in this case of the prophet Elijah, that flees fearful before the threats and the persecution of the powerful Phoenician queen Jezebel that dominated at that time in Israel (1 K 19,3: “He was afraid and fled for his life”). The prophet’s crisis, nevertheless, becomes a moment of grace; thus God visits and nourishes him, changing that moment of death into a new beginning. Elijah relives, in a certain way, the epic of Moses that fled from the Pharaoh to save himself and found the Lord on Mount Horeb (Ex 2,11-3,4), and the experience of Israel that, despite her rebelliousness and unbelief, was fed by God in the desert (Ex 16). The fact that Elijah lays down and desires death shows the dramatics of the moment that he is living: “I have had enough. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 K 19,4). As many other believers of the Bible, Elijah complains before God and expresses the disgust of his existence, the exhaustion of the struggle, the temptation of the last retreat. Probably, he has experience that his prophetic ministry and his efforts to fight against worship of Baal in Israel have served little. The reality has not changed and now his life is threatened. It is precisely in that moment of obscurity and of tiredness, when the prophet turns to listen twice to the word of the Lord through an angel: “Get up and eat.” God, in effect, is capable of turning the limits of death into the beginning of new life. The messenger of the Lord invites him to eat and offers him a frugal and simple meal, a food of pilgrims (“a scone baked on some hot stones” and “a jar of water”), but at the same time a mysterious food by origin and for its effect. Elijah ate “and strengthened by that food he walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 K 19,8). Before eating, the flight of the prophet ended in death; after being fed in the desert, that miraculous food brought him back to the experience of Moses and of Israel that journeyed to meet the Lord on the mountain.
The second reading (Eph 4,30-5,2) today opens with an allusion to Isaiah 63,10: “but they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit.” Israel in the desert rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit. For Paul, this is the root of all vices: unbelief and rebellion before God. Starting from this, he offers an essential catalogue of six vices that ruin relationships with one’s neighbor: grudges, temper, wrath, anger, indignation, injury, spitefulness (Eph 4,31). Continuing on, he proposes a list of virtues centered in love, in the imitation of Christ: goodness, pardon, and compassion. This is the newness of the Christian life, that the Apostle defines with an exception and daring expression: “try then, to imitate God” (Eph 5,1).
The gospel (Jn 6,41-51) places us before the crisis that was suffered by the Jews before the humanity of Jesus that proclaims himself as having “come down from heaven” (Jn 6,41). The typical verb in the Bible to express the unbelief and the temptations of Israel in the desert is the verb “to murmur.” Now the object of the murmuring-unbelief is the human dimension of Jesus that contradicts and makes absurd his pretension of being “the bread that came down from heaven Surely this is Jesus son of Jesophe. We know his father and mother. How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (v. 42). On one hand they assure “to know,” but they are incapable of accepting and contemplation the mystery hidden in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The visibility of the flesh and of the humanity that should be an instrument of grace, a transparency of the loving presence of God in the midst of men and women, becomes for the eyes of the unbelievers an obstacle that impedes recognizing in the “son of Joseph” the Son of God. It is not sufficient “to know” to experience God and accept his ways. It is necessary to open one’s self humbly to the mysterious action of the Father that “draws” (Greek verb: elkô: to attract, to drag) to the truth of Jesus: “no one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me” (v. 43). This “to attract” or “to drag” of which Jesus speaks remembers the action of Yahweh that, as loving Father, “draws with cords of love” Israel his son (Hos 11,4). Faith is a gift of God. It is the fruit of the loving action of God that captivates and enamors the believer. It supposes, before all, toe experience the energy of attraction that is possessed in the word of God: “It is written in the prophets: They will all be taught by God, and to hear the teaching of the Father, and learnt from it, is to come to me” (v. 45). The evangelist takes from the text of Is 54,13 to reveal the mystery of the interior word of the Father in the heart of man and woman. To overcome the scandal of the Incarnation and of the Cross, to abandon our little way of seeing things and open ourselves up to the ways of God, it is necessary to hear the intimate and loving voice of the Father. At the root of Christian faith is, therefore, the docile listening of the world of God that converts us into the Father’s disciples. A discipleship that is not founded on “seeing,” but rather on “hearing.” Rightly, Jesus affirms immediately: “Not that anybody has seen the Father, except the one who comes from God: has seen the Father” (v. 46). The man or woman that has allowed him or herself to “be drawn” the Father through faith, will not now see death, but rather walk toward full communion with God: “I tell you most solemnly, everybody who believes has eternal life” (V. 47).
The text ends taking up again, according to the style of Jewish homiletics, the antithetic parallelism between manna and the bread from heaven, developed before in verses 31-35. In contraposition with the manna, that the Israelites ate and died, thus they did not enter into the land, is exalted the transforming and “divinizing” strength of Jesus, true “bread come down from heaven,” seed of future resurrection and of the renewed creation. The believer that lives in communion with Jesus, that has made placed his faith in him and his food and nurtures it with the bread of the Eucharist, participates in his life (Jn 6,48-49). In the end, Jesus makes a tripe affirmation: that he is the living bread come down from heaven, that whoever eats of that bread will live forever and that the bread that he will give is his “flesh” (v. 51). The term “flesh” (Greek: sarx) does not indicate the substance of the human organism, but the mortal condition of Jesus. It is the same vocabulary used by John to indicate the Incarnation of the Word: “And the word became flesh” (Jn 1,14). This makes reference therefore, to the vivifying effect of the Incarnation (“bread come down from heaven”) and the saving dimension of the death of Jesus (“I will give for the life of the world”). To eat of this bread is, before all, to adhere with faith to the person of the Son, Savior of the World. In the Johannine reflection is brought together marvelously the history of Jesus (Incarnation-death) and the time of the Christian community, that in the Eucharist relives the real presence of the Lord and his saving sacrifice.