We come now to the concluding section of the Lord’s discourse on the bread of life in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Up to this, the rejection of his message has come mainly from the religious authorities, but now it is the disciples who are scandalised by his ‘hard’ teaching and move away.
Jesus has spoken of faith in terms of people “coming” to him, but now they are leaving, and this is described as a kind of betrayal. One wonders if this is the time when Judas began to doubt his master, starting a process leading to the devilish bargain with the authorities for thirty pieces of silver?
Jesus makes an odd remark here in response to the defection of these disciples: “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?” What has the Ascension to do with belief in Jesus as the bread of life? Is it not because the Ascension is a key aspect of the resurrection of Our Lord? These words are then followed by a contrast between the spirit and the flesh, which may well refer to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. Jesus is assuring his followers that the hard saying he has proclaimed will become clearer in the light of his death, resurrection, ascension, and descent of the Spirit.
The Lord is saying that, although physically absent from his community, he will be with them in the sacred meals they share together, the Eucharist. No wonder the resurrection appearances of Jesus often occur in the course of a meal. In the Upper Room, when he appears to Thomas, we are told the group were “at table” – not playing Scrabble but eating together – a kind of spiritual comfort eating!
The disciples on the road to Emmaus only recognise Jesus “in the breaking of bread” and Jesus appears on the shore of the lake to invite his friends to breakfast. Again and again, we get the clear message that Jesus yearns to nourish us with his divine / human life, to fill us to the full with his brotherly love. But only the Spirit can open our eyes to this reality, just as we need the same Spirit to enable us to call out “Abba, Father.”
At this stage, Peter enters the scene in response to the question of Jesus, “Will you too go away?” replying: “To whom shall we go, you have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know you are the Holy One of God.”
This is John’s version of the confession found in Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus asks Peter and the others, “Who do you say I am?” Note how the Lord often leads people to faith by asking challenging questions. Think of the threefold question to Peter, “Do you love me?” See how this statement of faith, a strong knowing, is given in the context of the teaching on the bread of life. We might say that the foundational statement of the Church’s faith is grounded on the Eucharist, the real presence of the risen Christ given to the world until the end of time.
Applying this message to our current situation we can mention the tragic situation especially in missionary lands where believers are deprived of the bread of life because of a shortage of priests. How privileged we are here in Multyfarnham, where in a small village there are two churches with daily Mass. And then, we have the shocking reality of so many baptised Catholics who fail to appreciate Mass and stay away, largely because they fail to understand its importance.
How absurd it is that some parents are happy to bring their children to McDonald’s, while depriving them of the bread of life? We come to the Eucharist partly to represent these blind souls who starve themselves and their loved ones of the fullness of life, the true manna from heaven.
Truly, indeed, participation in the Eucharist is a test of basic faith. Who shall we go to? Jesus or McDonald’s?